Political News

Sean Spicer's celebrity is proof we are doing it wrong

Posted August 21, 2019 1:08 p.m. EDT
Updated August 21, 2019 3:08 p.m. EDT

— On Wednesday, ABC announced that former White House press secretary Sean Spicer will be a contestant in the next edition of its hugely popular "Dancing with the Stars" show.

"The nice thing is Sean will be in charge of assessing audience size," joked show host Tom Bergeron, a reference to Spicer's false claim that more people had seen President Donald Trump's inauguration than any other in history. (Bergeron later tweeted that he had hoped not to have any political people on "DWTS.")

This whole saga basically proves the old adage that "humor = tragedy + time." It also proves that Spicer won -- and the rest of us lost.

See, before Trump was elected president, Spicer was a medium-level operative. He worked during the 2016 campaign as communications director at the Republican National Committee, the latest in a series of press jobs Spicer held on Capitol Hill over the previous decade. He was generally regarded by the Republican political class as a nice guy, someone who followed directions and could reliably execute the GOP's attacks on Democrats.

No one saw Spicer as the sort of guy who might wind up as White House press secretary -- the top job for any political communicator in the country. But Trump's victory was so unexpected, and the incoming President had so few close political allies, that Spicer wound up with the job. It was a perfect storm.

Once in the job, Spicer quickly understood -- to his credit? -- that the way to keep the job was to do and say exactly what the President wanted.

The most famous incident came when Spicer told incredulous reporters -- two days before Trump's first workday in office! -- that the President had drawn the "largest audience ever to witness an inauguration" and added that "attempts to lessen the enthusiasm for the inauguration are shameful and wrong." That a slew of photos of the National Mall made very clear that Trump's inaugural crowd was not, in fact, the biggest ever didn't seem to bother Spicer. Trump said it was the biggest so it was. Period.

Spicer's unblinking defense of Trump's indefensible claims in the days to come -- remember "covfefe"? -- turned him into, well a thing. He became part of pop culture. Most notably, he was portrayed -- in a devastatingly accurate impression -- by comedian Melissa McCarthy on "Saturday Night Live."

Under fire from Trump, who regularly groused about everything from Spicer's ill-fitting suits to his allegedly poor defense of Trump's record, Spicer eventually left the White House in July 2017. The final straw, apparently, was Trump's choice of businessman Anthony Scaramucci as communications director; Spicer resigned the day the Mooch hiring was announced. (The whole Scaramucci-as-communications-director thing didn't wind up working out all that well for Trump.)

And this is where American culture -- and its super-charging by Trump -- stepped in. Though Spicer had repeatedly and flagrantly not told the truth during his time as White House press secretary -- a job, by the way, funded by taxpayer dollars -- he had entered a different stratosphere. He was, in a word, famous. (And, yes, "famous" and "infamous" are now basically interchangeable in our culture.)

So, Spicer was suddenly -- and credibly -- shopping a TV pilot of a talk show featuring, yes, him. He wrote a book. He appeared at the Emmys! And now he is slated to be a celebrity participant on "Dancing with the Stars."

None of those things were imaginable for Spicer prior to his latching onto Trump. Like, not in a billion years. And yet, here we are.

Spicer has become a celebrity by not telling the truth. Doors have opened for his career because he stood at the podium in the White House press briefing room and said things he knew were false solely so he could please this President and keep his job.

In that, we are all the losers. By creating a culture in which people like Spicer can and will benefit from what he did while working for the US taxpayer.