Many are denouncing President Trump for saying last week that those who didn’t applaud him during his State of the Union address were “un-American” and possibly guilty of the capital offense of treason.
But where others see outrage, I see opportunity.
So in need of praise is this fragile man that the lavishing or withholding of this commodity could be a negotiating tool: He gets more applause if he brings less crazy.
His need for us to rise and put hands together is so potent that, last month in Nashville, he commanded an audience to “get up” and give him a standing ovation. He further informed them that “you are so lucky that I gave you that privilege” of voting for him.
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During last week’s State of the Union address, Trump applauded himself – noisily – several times and at one point beckoned to Democrats to applaud, putting his hands to his ears.
In October, Trump boasted no fewer than four times about the applause he had been given at a meeting with Senate Republicans: “Multiple standing ovations! … a love fest with standing ovations ... Really, they just gave me a standing O!”
During the campaign and even earlier, he tweeted about his O’s.
Conversely, the president is angry when he does not hear clapping. At a Republican congressional retreat last week, he complained that during his address, Democrats “sat there stone cold, no smile, no applause.”
By Monday, he had a solution: “Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”
But perhaps there is a different solution, short of sending two-thirds of Americans to the electric chair. I propose a national public service program based on applause.
We’ll call it AmeriClaps.
Millions of AmeriClaps volunteers will applaud Trump daily. In exchange, Trump will agree to cease governing, leaving that to members of Congress, governors and a board of overseers selected by random digit dialing. The contribution categories:
▪ Putin Level: These applauders will agree to clap for the president for 60 minutes a year, accompanied by mild praise of the sort given Trump by Russian President Vladimir Putin:
(“He is a very bright person, talented without any doubt.”)
▪ Congressional Level: These applauders will agree to clap for the president for at least five hours annually, accompanied by moderate praise such as that given by Republican lawmakers after the tax cut:
(House Speaker Paul D. Ryan hailing Trump for “exquisite presidential leadership,” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gushing over Trump’s “year of extraordinary accomplishment.”)
▪ Cabinet Level: These applauders will clap for the president for 24 hours a year, donating heavy-to-extreme praise of the variety bestowed in actual Trump Cabinet meetings:
(“We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda ... an incredible privilege ... just so thrilled ... what an incredible honor.”)
▪ Hatch Level: These applauders must commit to 52 hours a year of applause – one hour per week – and praise in the fawning-to-sycophantic range of the sort given by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch:
(“We’re going to make this the greatest presidency that we’ve seen,” Hatch said, “not only in generations, but maybe ever.”)
(Trump last week said he followed up with Hatch: “He actually once said I’m the greatest president in the history of our country. I said, ‘Does that include Lincoln and Washington?’ He said yes.”
▪ Pence Level: Only the most devoted AmeriClaps volunteer will be able to sustain this commitment: a pledge to applaud Trump an hour every day while also praising Trump once every 12.5 seconds, as Vice President Pence did at a recent Cabinet meeting.
(Examples include: “It is just the greatest privilege of my life” ... “You’ve restored American credibility” ... You’ve unleashed American energy” ... “I’m deeply humbled.”)
I personally can commit right now to Putin-Level service and would consider Congressional Level.
Democratic leaders should consider a Hatch-Level or even a Cabinet-Level contribution; you have nothing to lose but the skin on your hands.
Perhaps a brave few AmeriClappers will even attempt Pence Level – though I suspect that, given the choice, most would take the electric chair.
Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist. Follow him on Twitter, @Milbank