Thursday June 15, 2017

Trump's cabinet meeting shows 'sense of unreality', says historian

U.S. President Donald Trump recently held his first full cabinet meeting, five months after he took office in January.

U.S. President Donald Trump recently held his first full cabinet meeting, five months after he took office in January. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

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U.S. President Donald Trump's first full cabinet meeting caught the attention of late-night television hosts and political pundits for its unusual format.

On June 12, the White House invited reporters to watch as the president asked each cabinet member to introduce themselves and offer words of praise for his past five months in office. The event raised questions about the role flattery plays when it comes to politics, especially in the current administration.

Political satirist Terry Fallis and author of The Best Laid Plans, refers to the meeting as a "festival of fulsome flattery."

"It was embarrassing to me. And clearly Mr. Trump enjoyed the whole thing," he tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. 

Magic 8 - Terry Fallis

Political satirist Terry Fallis calls Trump's recent cabinet meeting a 'festival of fulsome flattery.' (Tim Fallis)

"I feared that he was going to ask them to go around the table a second time at the end," he adds.

During the meeting, heads of the executive branch such as chief of staff Reince Priebus, thanked Trump for the opportunity and the blessing to serve "his agenda and the American people."

Fallis says this display of adulation "reveals the narcissism ... that is driving this presidency," adding that since Trump has taken office, political satirists have found it difficult to write fiction that competes with reality.

"Despite the great performances we see on television every night from Stephen Colbert and others who do a very good job of satirizing, it does make it a challenge when we can't create something as unbelievable and incomprehensible as what we see unfolding in real life."

''I think it just underscored the sense of unreality that surrounds the Trump White House.' - Historian and Drake University law professor Anthony Gaughan

Historian and Drake University law professor Anthony Gaughan agrees with Fallis, commenting that Trump failed to do what he intended, which was to project "an image of success" for his presidency.

"I think it just underscored the sense of unreality that surrounds the Trump White House," he says.

According to Gaughan, cabinet meetings have historically served as photo ops for presidents and a way to showcase unity within the administration.

But the latest spectacle in the White House was particularly unusual. Gaughan suggests Trump felt the need to demand their support and loyalty because he's not "completely convinced that they do have a positive view of him."

"Otherwise, why would he have gone through this charade?"

Gaughan says there has never been another president in history who has been under this much pressure so early in the presidency. He says Trump's been "under siege" from the first week that he took office, now facing an FBI investigation regarding Russia ties and potential obstruction of justice.

"I think the president has a sense that things are slipping away from him," he explains.

"And this cabinet meeting … reflected one effort on his part to try to retake control of the narrative."

'If you just listen to what you want to hear … you could become one of the worst presidents in history.' - Lynda Shaw, cognitive neuroscientist and business psychologist

Some commentators have said Trump's cabinet members were acting like sycophants in the way they were praising him at the meeting.

Lynda Shaw, cognitive neuroscientist and business psychologist, agrees with the description, defining a sycophant as "somebody who will say anything to please the person they're speaking to, whether they believe it or not."

She says by surrounding yourself with sycophants, you are putting yourself at risk because they might just tell you the things you want to hear, rather than the things you need to hear.

This could pose significant problems for political leaders like Trump because they could make bad decisions for "not being told the truth about what's going out on the street."

As for Trump and his "sycophants," Shaw offers a warning about the downfalls of accepting flattery.

"You need to know the truth. You need to know what's really going on out there."

"And if you just listen to what you want to hear … you could become one of the worst presidents in history."

Listen to this segment at the top of the web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal and Donya Ziaee.