Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
He crept out furtively like a swollen possum into the daylight, blinking in anticipation of a round of boos that never came. Less than two months after resigning as Donald Trump’s White House communications director, and four days after making his late-night debut on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”, Sean Spicer assumed his new place in the public consciousness—as Stephen Colbert’s special guest at the 2017 Emmy Awards.
“This is the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period!” Spicer yelped. “Both in person and around the world.”
It was a television moment that wasn’t, an absurd apologia for one of his most shameless lies to the American people and a nod to Melissa McCarthy’s SNL impression of him. It was also a harrowing glimpse into the not-too-distant future, when Trump administration officials may be warmly embraced by the same media they have devoted themselves to vilifying and discrediting.
In his six months as press secretary, Spicer trampled every norm and standard of decency he deemed expedient, all in the service of a president many medical professionals believe to be a sociopath. In addition to lying about Trump’s inauguration crowd size, Spicer argued that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad was worse than Hitler because “even he didn’t use chemical weapons against his own people,” unwittingly parroting Nazi-era propaganda about German Jews. He referred to concentration camps as “Holocaust centers” in the same press conference.
Spicer also told April Ryan, a prominent member of the White House press corps and one of its few black women, to “stop shaking her head,” among myriad indignities large and small. His punishment? A kiss from the “Late Late Show’s” James Corden and a teaching fellowship at the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School.
Spicer isn’t the only administration official to be handsomely rewarded for greasing America’s track to authoritarianism. Joining him at Harvard as a visiting professor is Corey Lewandowski, the lobbyist and former Trump campaign manager who was charged with battery after grabbing Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields’ arm at a campaign event in Florida last year, leaving her bruised and traumatized. (Lewandowski was never prosecuted.) More recently, he was sued for intimidating his neighbors with a baseball bat and threatening to use his political connections to make their lives a “nightmare.”
Lewandowski was a fixture on CNN until his resignation two days after Trump’s election, and it’s not difficult to imagine his return. The media landscape is littered with the alumni of the last inept and kleptocratic Republican administration; some have even emerged as leading voices in the #Resistance.
On any given night, Ari Fleischer, who sold an illegal war of occupation in Iraq as George W. Bush’s press secretary, can be found opining on Jeff Zucker’s network. David Frum, one of W’s former speechwriters, has landed at the Atlantic as a senior editor, where he pens features and books with titles like “How to Build an Autocracy” and “Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic.” And while Jeffrey Goldberg never served in the Bush administration, the tens of thousands of words he devoted to Saddam Hussein’s bogus ties to Al Qaeda have not disqualified him from becoming the Atlantic’s editor in chief.
The media have proven no less amnesiac in their assessment of the Trump administration’s acting officials. For all the stars adorning the lapels of John Kelly, H.R. McMaster and James Mattis, each has helped author enduring quagmires in Afghanistan, Iraq or both. And still they’re treated as the proverbial adults in the room, even as Trump’s presidency lists ever closer to military rule, with three generals assuming more and more responsibilities of basic governance. If none of these men can be held accountable for the deaths of thousands of U.S. soldiers and hundreds of times as many Arab civilians, what hope do we have of keeping a chastened Sean Spicer off of Carpool Karaoke? How many years away are we from Sarah Huckabee Sanders having her own show on MSNBC?
The Czech novelist Milan Kundera once wrote that, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” It’s a struggle Americans appear to have already lost.
Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.