Thursday August 11, 2022
June 12, 2017
I'm reading Mark Leibovich's “Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump's Washington and the Price of Submission,” and all of it is still infuriating. But unlike other “What assholes these Republicans be” books (cf., “Dark Money,” which I want to try again), I'm able to get through it. One of the joys is learning how painful this was to most traditional Republicans: the Reince Priebuses and Paul Ryans of the world. Even if they worked with Trump, as Preibus did, they hated him. That was the trade-off. That was all of their trade-offs. And some drank the Kool-Aid.
So many awful things happened so fast, they tend to blur in the memory. Leibovich, for example, goes pretty deep into the first full cabinet meeting of the Trump administration, June 12, 2017, whose point, it seemed, was not to do the people's work, or even the GOP's work, but to kiss Trumpian ass. I'd forgotten it but remembered seeing it and being mostly disgusted, slightly amused, and a bit amazed that they would grovel so quickly:
- “It's just the greatest privilege of my life to serve as the vice president,” Mike Pence said after Trump gave him the honor—and greatest privilege—to open the testimonials. Not just any vice president, Pence said, but one serving “the president who's keeping his word to the American people and assembling a team that's bringing real change, real prosperity, real strength back to our nation.” ... No one did complete submission the way Pence did: the hushed voice, the bowed head, and the quivering reverence for “my president,” “this extraordinary man.” He was constantly referencing Trump's “broad shoulders” ...
- “Mr. President, it's been a great honor to work with you,” gushed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson.
- “I am privileged to be here, deeply honored,” said Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta. “I can't thank you enough for the privileges you've given me and the leadership that you've shown,” added Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.
- “Thank you for the honor to serve the country,” said Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO who was enduring a particularly unhappy tenure as secretary of state. This came shortly after Tillerson had privately derided his boss as “a moron,” according to NBC News.
It's both creepy and comic. It's like an authoritarian regime but the sitcom version. The fear isn't that the Great Leader will chop off your head but will tweet nasty things about you. Then you'll lose the support of assholes (the base) and won't be able to keep doing the thing that you hate doing. Or maybe you won't be able to imagine that perfect future for you: Speaker of the House, Veep, Prez. Right.
The one cabinet officer who kept his dignity, according to Leibovich, is the man Trump chose because his nickname was “Mad Dog”:
The outlier to the praise parade was Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who was seated directly to Trump's right and spent much of the session staring down at his hands. When it was his turn to speak, Mattis pointedly did not mention the president and could barely manage to look at him. “Mr. President, it's an honor to represent the men and women of the Department of Defense,” Mattis said. Trump turned away, not pleased. After a few seconds, Trump shifted back and leaned in close to Mattis's face in an attempted LBJ-style intimidation move.
“We are grateful for the sacrifices our people are making,” said Mattis, staring straight back. He spoke in a determined monotone, then raised his voice slightly as if to accentuate his nonparticipation in this debasement.
Leibovich has a good conversation about the book, and the awfulness, with Al Franken on Franken's podcast.