If you saw the video of Sean Spicer’s first presser, you might remember that he spoke of CIA employees enthusiastically cheering and applauding Trump.
Well, it turns out that the ones cheering weren’t CIA employees. According to CBS News, they were staffers from Trump’s campaign. Sean Spicer has denied this, but ABC News is standing by its reporting.
This leads me to a brilliant post by Richard Byrne at Crooked Timber, who reminds us who else used to hire people to cheer him.
Nero’s public appearances as a poet, actor and lyre-player scandalized Rome’s upper-and-middle classes. One imagines they sat in horrified silence or gave polite applause. Indeed, the gates were shut behind the audiences who assembled to hear Nero perform, with no one allowed to leave on pain of death. (Suetonius records that women actually gave birth at Nero concerts.)
Tepid applause wouldn’t do for an emperor so vainglorious. So claques were recruited and deployed to make sure that Nero received sufficient applause. Ancient historians who write about Nero revel in the details of these paid supporters. They were called the “Augustiani,” and offered up a continuous din of praise as the emperor performed. Their leaders were provided with 400,000 sesterces a performance to divvy up among the claque.
Nero is, um, not remembered as a great emperor, you might recall. He was also known for multiple marriages, although he murdered his wives rather than divorce them.
The Washington Post reports that Spicer’s much-derided press conference did indeed come about because Trump flew into a rage over coverage of his inauguration and would not be appeased. Yesterday he declared his inauguration day “a national day of patriotic devotion.” How Kim Jong-un of him.
What’s worrisome is that Spicer wouldn’t have blown his credibility with the national press on Day 2 of the administration unless it was vitally important to Trump.
And if media reports about crowd size are so important to Trump that he’d push Spicer out there to lie for him, then it means that all the tinpot-dictator, authoritarian, characterological tics that people worried about during the campaign are still very much active.
You know who obsessed about crowd size? Fidel Castro. You know who did not? George Washington, John Adams, Andrew Jackson, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, and every other man to ever serve as president of these United States of America.
Obviously, but again, what’s significant about this is that the old neocon “George W. Bush can do no wrong” crowd, the people who were a major source of “intellectual” cover for the Iraq War, can’t stand Trump. Trump’s plan to destroy press freedom doesn’t have a prayer without the entire right-wing media infrastructure behind him.
And today poor Sean Spicer was sent out to speak to the press again about Trump’s absurd and factually unsupported insistence that he only lost the popular vote because of illegal aliens.
This doesn’t remind me of Nero as much as it reminds me of Captain Queeg and his missing strawberries from The Caine Mutiny.
This is not to say the Trump Maladministration has not been doing some pretty alarming stuff, like ordering communications blackouts in several federal departments, for no apparent reason except to be sure nobody says anything Trump doesn’t like. Again, how Kim Jong-un of him. See also Nancy LeTourneau on “gaslighting.”