Let’s rank the sycophancy of remarks made by members of the Trump cabinet during that weird meeting where the President went around the table so his underlings could say something nice about him in front of the cameras.
Comments are rated from one to five bootlicks. (Some cabinet members offered only perfunctory praise of the President—or none at all—and are not included below. Going forward, they will probably also not be included in the cabinet.)
Jeff Sessions, Attorney General: “It’s an honour to be able to serve you.”
Pretty mild praise at first glance—but look again: Sessions purposefully chose to say “serve you” instead of “serve the American people,” which is the sort of nuance that Trump would notice. (Actually, it’s the only nuance he would notice.) In retrospect, this is exactly the kind of slyly flattering remark we should expect to hear from a man who resembles a Harry Potter house elf.
Mike Pence, Vice President: “The great privilege of my life is to serve as Vice President to a President who’s keeping his word to the American people.”
This is smooth. Suck up a little bit, then use the “keeping his word” reference to make it clear to everyone at the table—especially the President—that, yep, he’s totally willing to lie to keep his job.
Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy: “My hat’s off to you for taking that stand [on the Paris Accord]—for sending a clear message around the world that America is going to continue to lead on energy.”
By state law, all fawning, submissive remarks made by a Texan must include one (1) reference to a hat.
Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation: “Hundreds and hundreds of people were just so thrilled” that the President paid a visit to the department during Infrastructure Week.
Quality sycophancy is about much more than straightforward praise. This is a savvy remark because it plays to Trump’s belief that his mere presence brings joy and excitement into the otherwise bleak and unremarkable lives of average, everyday losers. She should have said someone fainted. He would have spoken of nothing else for two weeks.
Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff: “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing you’ve given us to serve.”
A fairly innocuous statement until we get to the word “blessing”—which positions Trump as a god-like figure bestowing his grace upon the worthy. In other words: exactly how Trump sees himself in his gold-leafed mirror each morning. For the record, news accounts about the internal workings of the Trump White House suggest that Priebus himself has so far primarily been “blessed” with 150 straight days of poop sandwiches.
Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture: “I just got back from Mississippi. They love you there. I want to congratulate you on the men and women you’ve placed around this table. This is the team you’ve assembled that’s working hand in glove for the benefit of America. These are great team members and we’re on your team.”
On the surface, Perdue comes off as a folksy lickspittle. AW, SHUCKS! CONGRATULATIONS ON PEOPLE ADORING YOU, SIR! But look closer and you’ll see his tragic mistake: Perdue offers praise to a number of human beings who are—and this is crucial—not Donald Trump. The first rule of Trump Club is don’t talk about anyone other than Trump.
Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services: “What an incredible honour it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can’t thank you enough for the privileges you’ve given me and the leadership you’ve shown.”
This isn’t fancy but it is brown-nosing at its finest—a master class in professional bootlicking. This man should have his own reality television series called Ass Kissers! (Each week, Price travels to a different workplace and instructs beleaguered employees on the finer points of being a slavish flunky). Given his moment to shine in front of the President, look what he packs into just two sentences:
• Hits the obligatory “incredible honour” line.
• Moves on to acknowledge his own role as a leader – but only in the context of praising Trump’s leadership and clearly positioning himself as an inferior.
• Brings it home with deferential statement of personal gratitude and yet another reference to the President’s leadership.
That’s some good toadying!