Nearly four months later, Trump rages on publicly and Kelly remains by his side. So does Trump’s core group of Cabinet picks. Turnover in the Trump White House has been steady, but high-profile departures from the White House have been shown the door, not left in disgust. His staff, meanwhile, are so unwilling to confront him that they cherry pick positive news reports to try to keep him in good humor.

Congress Republicans are in lockstep, too. Early in Trump’s presidency, much ink was spilled (at Quartz as well) on identifying GOP senators and representatives who might curb his authoritarian impulses, stem his unconstitutional campaign promises, and make the president act more “presidential.” Nearly a year later, the overwhelming majority of Republicans in Congress have voted with Trump’s agenda over 90% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight’s calculations.

That’s just politics, DC pundits argue. Harder to argue away is Republicans’ frequent participation in numerous cringe-worthy public sessions where they lavish the praise and attention on the president. These salutatory gatherings evoke the cult of personality created around North Korea’s Kim family, or even Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. This one was on Jan. 4:

The media is being played

So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, how fine are the Emperor’s new clothes! Don’t they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!” Nobody would confess that he couldn’t see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.

At the White House Correspondent’s Association’s Christmas party in December, Trump press staff mingled with dozens of reporters over craft beers and a buffet, a CNN reporter traded compliments with a White House spokesperson, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a mock top 10 list of books by correspondents. She made fun of a Fox News anchor’s hair dye, took aim at former Office of Government Ethic’s head Walter Shaub’s complaint about Conway’s potential violations of the Hatch Act, and skewered one reporter for objecting to being called “fake news.”

The room lapped up the jokes, and then raised an appreciative glass with Sanders at the end as she toasted to the “country that we love.”

Since Trump has become president, right-wing news outlets like Fox News have transformed into full-fledged propaganda machines, while others from CNN to the Washington Post to NBC have become thorns in the president’s side, relentlessly pursuing the White House’s upsets, and investigating the Trump family’s conflicts. But on nights like that December evening, it’s hard not see a bit of performance in it all.

The Trump presidency has boosted reporters who once toiled in relative obscurity, and been great for the moribund American news business. This past year was CNN’s most-watched ever. The New York Times beat earnings estimates and attracted new investors. People are paying for news online again, and political media startups are raising millions.

Covering Trump’s most outrageous remarks, and giving airtime to his advisors, no matter where you are on the media spectrum, attracts readers and viewers. And that plays straight into Trump’s hands, said a former government official who was briefly part of the Trump transition team, but has since become disillusioned with Trump’s ability to govern.

The president’s love of any kind of attention allows him to manipulate the media by constantly shifting focus from his failures to himself. ”All news is good news as long as it contains the name Trump,” said the former official. “He doesn’t give a shit about NFL players taking a knee, but he rolled that conversation out for a month.”

“You guys have breaking news journalists who just cover his tweets—and then you want to go on this shame campaign and say ‘I can’t believe you said that, it’s so awful’?”

If the media really were to hold Trump accountable as president, they’d focus on his lack of governance, on the federal budget, on the cost of the border wall with Mexico, on US job creation, he said. “That’s what the American people care about,” he added, “not your moral authority.”

So how does this one end?

“But he hasn’t got anything on,” a little child said.

“Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “He hasn’t anything on. A child says he hasn’t anything on.”

“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.

The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.

In the Spanish original (Chap. VII), it isn’t a child but a black man who finally tells the ruler that he is riding naked through the streets. The King starts to beat the man, and stops only when the rest of the public tells the King the same.

Will anyone inside the White House, or from the Republican seats of Congress, risk a beating to stop the parade and tell the president that he’s failing as a leader? So far, it’s seeming unlikely. The House of Representatives is the primary government body that can start the process of unseating a US president, and last week its leaders decided to investigate the FBI as it probes Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections instead.

Even if they move to intervene, something dark happens when aggressive leaders realize they are in over their head, Harvard Business School fellow William George writes. “They become paranoid that someone else will try to knock them off their pedestal in the same way, or start to worry they aren’t good enough for the job.” In self-defense, they will

convince themselves and others that these problems are neither their fault nor their responsibility. Or they look for scapegoats to blame for their problems. Using their power, charisma, and communications skills, they force people to accept these distortions, causing entire organizations to lose touch with reality.

Just as the naked emperor decides to press onward through his parade, so might Trump double-down on his demands for adulation at the price of foreign and domestic policy, and on his scorched earth treatment of anyone who challenges the image he’s created for himself.

It’s a lesson that humans seem to need to learn again and again—a ruler who surrounds himself with sycophants will inevitably wind up naked in public.

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