Yet Pirro still felt compelled to one-up her guest. “He’s almost superhuman!” she gushed.
There is something grotesquely revealing about this frenzy of boot-licking. From the start, the Trump administration has been distinguished by an extraordinary atmosphere of sycophancy. Yet something seems to be changing. As the president’s travails deepen, his flatterers are redoubling their efforts. Now only the extravagant, the bizarre and the contorted will serve.
Witness Michele Bachmann’s breathless return to public fawning. Asked about the impeachment inquiry recently, she touted Trump’s manliness and readiness to rumble. “Our president of the United States — he is like nobody else I have ever met in my life,” she continued. “And he doesn’t scare easy and he’s gonna stare these guys down. They have no idea who they’re dealing with. ... He understands the difference between good and evil. We have not seen a president with greater moral clarity than this president.” Who could possibly worry about evidence when such an abundance of moral force meets transcripts?
The more Trump’s presidency deteriorates, the more his followers seem compelled to escalate their commitment. Fox host Lou Dobbs embodies the principle. “At every level, on every floor, this White House is energized,” he said in September. “There’s sunshine beaming throughout the place, and on almost every face. It’s winner and winning center, and our White House, our president, is at the top of his game.” He predicted that Trump “will be regarded as one of this country’s greatest presidents.” He wasn’t the only one. During Wednesday’s impeachment hearing, Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) saw fit to compare Trump to George Washington.
But what begins as a transaction ultimately changes the flatterer. Sycophants typically deceive not only their target but also themselves. Concealing one’s motives from others leads to concealing one’s intentions from oneself. For Jones, people are easily induced to suck up; they readily deceive themselves about what they are doing, and the same “hunger for approval” underlies the flattery, the flatterer’s self-deception and the target’s willing acceptance of ingratiation.
And so we witness how Trump’s self-dealing prompts a corresponding brazenness from his followers. Defending the landlord in chief’s announcement of his Doral Resort as the location for the Group of Seven meeting, David Marcus of the Federalist lauded it as a stroke of genius: Trump “is meant to bask in his own glory as a proxy for our nation’s.” Marcus pulled off the difficult feat of the triple suck-up: combining Trump’s mastery of “the art of the deal,” the “glory” of his presence and his mystical relation to the state. So brilliant a refreshing of the Sun King’s “l’état, c’est moi” deserves special mention in the current revival of vibrant flattery. (Small wonder that at least one of Trump’s defenders has described impeachment as equivalent to “regicide,” apparently failing to notice that we dispensed with monarchic rule 2½ centuries ago.)
The excess of flattery seems to have prompted something like self-reflection from former and present White House staff. John Kelly, while reminiscing about his final hours as chief of staff, recalled his advice to the president about his replacement: “Don’t hire someone that will just nod and say, ‘That’s a great idea, Mr. President.’ Because you will be impeached.”
Looks as though he was right. But that’s precisely what Trump’s toadies can’t admit — so they have to up the ante in response. “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great president,” said Grisham. Clearly such genius and greatness as Trump’s must be given their due — a tsunami of sucking up.
But as ever, when it comes to audacity in flattery, no one can compare to Vice President Pence. At an Oct. 10 campaign rally in Minnesota, he declared support for Trump an article of faith: “While you bring all that energy and enthusiasm, bring your faith, too. Bring faith in this president, whose drive and vision has made America great again.” Cleverly diverting faith in God into a flattering faith in the president, Pence imagines an apotheosis of Trump, a leader who ascends to heaven, presumably to make that great again as well. Other sycophants might strive to mesh genius and greatness, but only Pence can fuse all of it with divinity.
May God save the United States.