On Monday, President Donald Trump's second White House cabinet meeting (and the first one open to the press) turned bizarre really quickly. Right at the beginning, cabinet members took turns complimenting the president. Yes, really.
Though it began with Trump asking each person to state his or her positions, the display that followed devolved into a contest of who could best massage the president's tender ego. Never one to turn down nice words, the president smiled right on through the parade of off-putting compliment-shaped introductions that frequently bordered on reverent.
Vice President Mike Pence peppered some praise to kick it off:
It's the greatest privilege of my life to serve as a vice president to a president who's keeping his word to the American people.
Chief of Staff Reince Priebus leveled-up the adoration even more, thanking the president for the "opportunity and the blessing that you've given us to serve your agenda." (O Captain! My Captain!)
Others who contributed to the gushing display included Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, who said he was "privileged" and "deeply honored" to be there, and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue who told Trump that the people of Mississippi (where he'd just visited) "love [him] there."
Between other compliments offered (entirely without any fear or pressure, one can only imagine), Trump thanked them or gave them other kinds of Pavlovian positive reinforcement. "Good job," he told EPA chief Scott Pruitt. "Very good, Daniel," he said to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.
Not one to be left out, Trump also had some praise for himself to offer. Claiming to reporters that (other than FDR) "there's never been a president that's done more in this time ... who's passed more legislation, who's done more things than we've done." Though, given the sheer quantity/quality ratio of bills he's signed — and the numbers of his predecessors that claim isn't really precise.
Of course, it didn't take long for critics of Trump and his oft-discussed ego to get wind of the love-fest. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer rigged up his own board-meeting parody (with a gaggle of interns complimenting his hair and tv appearances before dissolving into hysterical laughter) and posted it to Twitter early Monday afternoon.
However, the exchanges also had other cabinet experts raising eyebrows, in less tongue-in-cheek ways. Chris Lu, former White House Cabinet Secretary under President Barack Obama, noted how different this meeting was compared to what he'd seen in his tenure.
"I ran 16 Cabinet meetings during Obama's 1st term," Lu tweeted around noon on Monday. "Our Cabinet was never told to sing Obama's praises. He wanted candid advice not adulation."
While no one is likely surprised to hear that Trump's ego could alter the structure of a major meeting of political minds, here's hoping no one ever has to witness things getting so very weird like this again.