Maybe White House press secretary Sean Spicer cast his eyes toward the horizon and saw that the sky looked like it was going to rain indictments. Maybe the word “dignity” came up recently in his word of the day calendar. Either way, he’s gone. Instead of working for former hedge fund manager and new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, Spicer quit his job representing President Donald Trump.
Spicer’s planned demotion would be enough to make you feel pity for him — if you ignored everything else about Spicer and his job. After Spicer’s foully contemptuous and bullying introduction to the nation’s press, nothing was more appealing in some quarters than flirting with pity for the man whose boss undercut him repeatedly. That sort of light comedy is always entertaining for people — like the White House press corps — who would never truly be imperiled by what Spicer promoted and defended. Games are fun when you aren’t going to die.
Spicer already had an antagonistic relationship with Scaramucci — but even if he didn’t, he’d still have reason enough to leave rather than work for him.
“Mooch” talks with the subtlety of a ball-peen hammer to the temple. He’s the kind of guy whose explanation of the difference in height between himself (5 feet 8 inches) and Magic Johnson (6 feet 9 inches) can’t even be made up: noting that “standing on my wallet” isn’t enough to cover the span. His entire personality and demeanor seems extruded from central casting’s vision of “a crooked cabbie who robs tourists on the way from JFK.” He’s the kind of unbearable jerk who has made so much money that he doesn’t think that people like you have earned the privilege of hearing him put in the effort to tell convincing lies.
In short, Scaramucci seems like the sort of boss who would only make Spicer’s job terrible. And Spicer already has a boss like that.
The hallmark of Spicer’s tenure as press secretary — apart from stuttering mispronunciations and ritualistically abusing the press — has been him fumbling to explain away Donald Trump’s ceaseless stream of ad-libbed lies. Those were never the conventional, useful lies that grease the skids in Washington, but rather monumentally idiotic lies — like, on Day One, when Spicer asserted that Trump’s inauguration drew a record crowd. That is the job of press secretary under Trump: to do all the labor of hammering into the shape of truth whatever fantasy Trump’s sewer-stew of narcissism and breathtaking ignorance had convinced him should be reality instead.
Then, usually within hours, Trump would reverse course and undermine both his own claims and the press secretary’s makeshift defense of them, and thus humiliate Spicer in front of the nation.
Perhaps this is the story that Spicer will tell his children when he goes home tonight: “One bad boss made me tell lies, and a new bad boss was going to make me tell them unconvincingly.”
The story he probably won’t tell his kids is this: Before taking the White House press secretary position, their dad was the Republican Party’s communications director for six years. His entire professional utility was and is his ability to tell lies to people, and his goal was telling more, better lies for progressively more important people until he could retire at 55 with a multimillion-dollar nest egg.
Their dad then took a job for a man who was accused of sexual assault by multiple women and who bragged on tape about such assaults; who ridiculed a disabled man; who regularly stiffed contractors and betrayed compatriots; who has a rich, decades-long history of racist business practices and comments; who demonized an entire religion and every citizen of every nation south of the Rio Grande. And all Spicer had to do every day was wage ceaseless war against objective reality and try to engender in every citizen a malicious distrust of anyone trying to report on such a reality.
Their dad was vicious, lying scum, and the fact that his old boss and his new boss are worse doesn’t obviate his complicity in trying to destroy the very baseline idea of shared reality in service of a vain and cancerous meringue sowing fear and uncertainty among the citizenry, when his policies don’t merely immiserate or kill them. Their dad carried water for the worst president in American history, and now that the investigations are drawing further into the White House, Spicer can bail out and blame his new boss for wrecking the plane. Let it never be said that, when times got tough, their dad was just a liar: He was also a chickenshit.
Regardless of whatever yarn Spicer spins behind closed doors, we can be sure of this much: He won’t have to tell it for very long. Like the 24-hour news cycle that refreshes every day and discards old untruths as newer and sexier ones come into view, he will eventually be rescued from the pains of narrative consistency and self-reflection by some novel, beneficent entity.
Just when he might have to ask himself why he’s still repeating the same exculpatory delusion to people who cannot leave him and to four walls that cannot care, a knock at the door will come bearing a six-figure commentator contract — probably from CNN — where he can spend five days a week explaining the procedural intricacies of lying from the inside.
Because, to people like Spicer and the media gatekeepers, politics is just a game and that’s just how it’s played — and nobody minds playing when it’s always someone else who’ll lose.