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The Age of the Suck-Up

No one has demanded praise from his associates quite like Donald Trump—who can ever forget the Cabinet meeting last summer and its one-upsmanship in extravagant flattery?—but in China this week, Trump showed he can turn on the flattery machine himself. As the New York Times reports: "While China’s trade practices are unfair, he said, that stemmed mainly from what he called the failings of his predecessors. 'Right now, unfortunately, it is a very unfair and one-sided one,' Mr. Trump said of the two countries’ trading relationship. 'But I don’t blame China, after all. Who can blame a country for taking advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens?'”

Without a doubt, the ascent of Trump brings with it a whole new era of bowing and scraping. But this calculated insincerity has always been a part of our society, as Mark and Deborah Parker make abundantly clear in their new book, Sucking Up: A Brief Consideration of Sycophancy. The Parkers address the sycophant in politics but also in the arenas of literature, film, and history—from King Lear's daughters to Dickens's incomparably slimy Uriah Heep. The result is "a pithy, tongue-in-cheek exploration of the history of flattery" (Washington Post) and "a short book with a fierce bite" (Kirkus). 

The Parkers will be speading the word via a variety of venues in the coming weeks. Both Parkers appeared on WVTF's Morning Edition (an excellent conversation—listen here), and Mark Parker was interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio—listen here. The next stop is an 11/14 interview with Connecticut Public Radio. A feature on the Parkers in the Washingtonian will hit the newsstands mid-November, and the coauthors are contributing regularly to a blog hosted by Psychology Today—the latest post asked if sucking up is something that can be turned on and off? Considering that sycophancy is not just an amusing game—like Dante, who reserved a special circle of Hell for flatterers, the Parkers see it as profoundly detrimental to society—it's a question worth taking seriously.

Sucking Up: A Brief Consideration of Sycophancy is available now.

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