WASHINGTON – It’s about time somebody gives Donald Trump the credit he deserves. Even if that person is Donald Trump.
“We’re doing a lot of great things,” the president said at the start of a Cabinet meeting Monday. Further, he said, “we are getting tremendous accolades for what we’re doing.” What’s more, “the Justice Department is doing a fantastic job,” while the economy is growing “phenomenally,” except for the drag from those hurricanes – the handling of which, Trump would again say Monday, earns him an “A-plus” grade. He also boasted about his yet-to-be-passed (or even proposed) tax cuts – the “largest tax cuts in the history of our country.”
But the highest praise of all came for his Cabinet – or, rather, his own acumen in choosing this truly exceptional group of people seated at the table around him. “There are those that are saying it’s one of the finest group of people ever assembled as a candidate – as a Cabinet,” he said. (Trump’s candidate-Cabinet mix-up followed his Friday mishap when he praised parents who sacrifice for the “furniture,” rather than future, of their children.) “This is a tremendous amount of talent,” Trump continued. “We have just gotten really, really, great people. I’m very proud of them.”
And I’m very proud of Trump for recognizing the greatness of his Cabinet. But he is being modest. This isn’t just “one of the finest” Cabinets. There has never been a Cabinet like this before – and there probably will never be one like it in the furniture.
Sure, George Washington sat around the Cabinet table with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Henry Knox and Edmund Randolph. Abraham Lincoln won the Civil War with William Seward, Salmon Chase and Edwin Stanton. Franklin Roosevelt beat the Depression and the Nazis with Henry Morgenthau, Harold Ickes and Henry Stimson.
But Washington didn’t have a professional-wrestling executive in his Cabinet, nor an education secretary foresighted enough to warn the country about the danger posed to schools by bears.
Lincoln didn’t think to hire a Cabinet secretary who proposed abolishing the very Cabinet agency he runs, as Trump has found in Energy Secretary Rick Perry. FDR never had on his Cabinet someone he’d compared to a child molester, as Trump has with Ben Carson, his secretary of housing and urban development.
No matter how you measure it – billionaires, white men, oddballs – this Cabinet is extraordinary. Alexander Hamilton’s entire treasury probably didn’t have the amount of money EPA chief Scott Pruitt has spent on a soundproof phone booth, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has spent on her security detail, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife spent taking a government jet to Kentucky, where they viewed the eclipse, or tried to spend, requesting a government plane for their honeymoon.
They are so good that Trump doesn’t need to be modest about it. John F. Kennedy may have brought Camelot to Washington, but he thought it necessary to acknowledge the genius of his predecessors, declaring a White House gathering of Nobel laureates the most extraordinary collection of talent – except for “when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
Never before has a Cabinet been this obsequious. Recall Trump’s first Cabinet meeting? “Mr. President, what an incredible honor.” “I can’t thank you enough.” “It is just the greatest privilege of my life.”
Never has a Cabinet incurred so many probes and reprimands in so little time. U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley earned a reprimand for improper political activity, while Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s attempted intimidation of lawmakers has come under review, as have actions by Pruitt and Mnuchin.
Never has a Cabinet endured more humiliation with more aplomb. Two members (Reince Priebus and frequent-flier Tom Price) have already been sacked. Trump publicly eviscerated Attorney General Jeff Sessions and contradicted Mnuchin and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has routinely endured Trump’s criticism of his workers, and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has watched Trump savage her husband (Trump’s “friend”) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, recently disemboweled by Trump in tweets and, after the “moron” comment became public, challenged by Trump to an IQ test, sat silently at Trump’s right arm on Monday.
Tillerson, clinging to his job by his fingertips, has been so badly undermined by Trump that Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., says he’s been castrated. Tillerson denies he’s a eunuch. “I checked,” he said Sunday on CNN. “I’m fully intact.”
George Washington’s Cabinet was pretty good. But this? Best. Cabinet. Ever.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.