If there’s anything this country loves, it’s a good comeback story. With very few exceptions, there aren’t many actions or behaviors that we won’t sweep under the rug if the offender is appropriately contrite. Sometimes an act of contrition isn’t even required — the mere passage of time is enough for many to collectively change their minds about someone.
Take, for example, George W. Bush, who was widely derided by the left during his time as President as a hapless idiot at best, and a war criminal at worst. And yet, despite never having acknowledged his failures as Commander-in-Chief — for example, lying to gin up enough support for a costly and deadly war that continues to damage America’s global standing — we’ve apparently decided to let bygones be bygones. Now, many of Bush’s former most vocal opponents are pining on Twitter for a return to the Bush era; At least he was a good man, they say.
Part of the reason for this is the aforementioned passage of time; we’re far enough removed from the Bush administration that we’ve forgotten some of the details of his incompetence. Bush no longer resembles the man he was while in office; his public image now is that of a kindly old man who spends his time painting crappy pictures of dogs. And part of it stems, of course, from the fact that no matter how bad Bush was, Trump is unquestionably worse by several orders of magnitude.
On the one hand, this behavior is an encouraging testament to our capacity for forgiveness. On the other, forgiveness does not and should not entail a complete absence of consequences. Which is why Sean Spicer’s appearance at Sunday night’s Emmy awards is problematic.
In case you didn’t watch the Emmys (and why would you), Spicer made a surprise appearance to reprise his role as White House Press Secretary. According to POLITICO, Spicer “rolled out his ‘old’ podium and poked fun at himself […] not so subtly referencing his first appearance as White House press secretary where he sternly declared to the press corps that the crowd for Trump's inauguration was the largest in history…"
I have a few problems with this.
First, whose idea was it for Spicer to try and rehabilitate his damaged public image by referencing the very actions that damaged his image in the first place? Second, why does he get to kick off the Sean Spicer Career Revival Tour in front of a friendly audience? And why are we falling all over ourselves to say “He made fun of himself! Sean Spicer is good now!”?
The prevailing narrative seems to be that Spicer is a decent guy who was put in a tough situation; therefore, according to this logic, he deserves a second chance now that he’s out. For one thing, to my knowledge, Sean Spicer wasn’t kidnapped and press-ganged into joining the Trump administration. When he began his tenure by telling a bald-faced lie to the assembled reporters and the American public about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd, I don’t believe he did so at gunpoint. He put himself in this situation of his own volition — he wanted the power that comes with being the third-most visible person in the White House, and he got it.
Furthermore, Spicer’s lies weren’t the exception; they were the rule. He gladly peddled whatever falsehoods his boss wanted him to with no regard for the facts; he abdicated his responsibility as a representative of the White House by willfully misleading the American people. Given his apparent lack of compunction about doing so, I don’t know how “decent” a person Spicer could possibly be.
Sure, Spicer negotiated his exit from the Trump administration. But does anybody really believe that he did so because he had an attack of conscience? His constant (and obvious) lies had already compromised his ability to make anyone believe a word he was saying, thereby making him expendable as Press Secretary. Despite his lying frequently and without reservation, the only “redeeming” (if we can call it that) quality is that he was shitty enough at it that he got caught. I don't see how it's suddenly okay that Spicer is suddenly making cute little references to both his blatant lying and general inability to do his job like it's all in good fun.
Sean Spicer was not a prisoner in the Trump administration; he was a willing participant. He did not escape its clutches; he was bad enough at his job that he was about to lose it, but was allowed to depart on his own terms to avoid (further) embarrassment. If he wants to rehabilitate his image, a good start would be to express regret for his role in promulgating the Trump administration’s lies to the American people.
Apparently, the bar for forgiveness is a lot lower than I thought.