Spicer Returns To The Podium
In the case it bears repeating, the Trump administration does indeed have on its payroll an official White House Press Secretary. This would come as a surprise to anyone who, like me, has noticed lately the glaring absence of he whose job it is to deliver to our often bewildered, always curious republic the president’s passions, his intentions, his tweets, his decrees. For the past month at least, since June the 26th, Sean Spicer, whose very job fits the foregoing terms, has been away from the podium and out of the public eye. You’ll remember him (how could you forget) as the provocative, unapologetic voice box, the incendiary, inarticulate man to whom America and the world lend a daily ear.
His long-awaited, though perhaps not eagerly-awaited, re-appearance on Monday relieved the Deputy Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, of her temporary role. Sanders met the task as admirably as she could. In a month’s work, she proved herself capable, strong, incisive, and evenly tempered. She was polished, but not effete; eristic but not pugilistic. In her character, the essence of a press secretary is exhibited well. To contrast with Spicer, Sanders is a bit more trenchant than he and a bit more politically fluent. The daughter of a Southern governor, this is in some ways to be expected. It’s as if, through her veins, the genetic imprint of a conservative flows and the red-blooded zeal of the reactionary beats. Chastened, as doubtless she is, with a cool demeanor and a thoughtful mind, she’s able to combine in her person a forceful style. It’s a style that’s more effective than Spicer’s at conveying a message to a media habitually pining for a fight or, if that’s asking too much, at the very least a combative exchange.
Spicer is wont to stumble into such reckless fights. The issue being with him, quite unlike Sanders, is that, once there, he struggles to maneuver himself free. He’s all thrust, no parry, and such a style of attack is bound to invite innumerable wounds. His idiosyncrasy—at times useful, at others, fatal—is to adhere not to the facts, but to their verisimilitude. If done surreptitiously, this style can work, if not always, then intermittently. But there’s nothing subtle in his approach and nothing inconspicuous in his delivery.
All the worse is when he makes a statement or elaborates an issue about which he is visibly ill-prepared. Such was the case when he returned to the podium yesterday. While fielding questions about Donald Trump Jr.’s earlier meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer and, potentially, a Kremlin representative and emissary, Spicer seemed woefully lacking in his grasp of the situation. Trump Jr. himself had admitted recently that the scope of his and Veselnitskaya’s conversation exceeded the topic of adoption—the putative issue about which their meeting was said to be held. Originally, this was the official explanation for their having met at Trump Tower, but it said nothing of the clandestine circumstances in which the meeting was held, and it says little more about the lengths to which the Trump administration stretched to conceal the meeting from the public’s knowledge.
It was claimed, speciously but originally, that the meeting at Trump Tower between Don Jr. and Veselnitskaya revolved around the Magnitsky Act. Enacted during the Obama administration, the Magnitsky Act was implemented as a way for Russia to retaliate against the U.S. for the commercial sanctions imposed by the latter on the former. Implemented as such, the Act’s intention was to vitiate and affectively end the process whereby American families—roiled in their infertility—could adopt Russian infants and children. Had this, in fact, been the actual reason for the meeting, many, if not all, of Trump’s sins would’ve been absolved. Such magnanimity to think of the wretched, orphaned children—not even of his own land, but that of another’s—might’ve made a saint out of Don Jr. Instead, it made him into a fallen star. With the release of a long-winded email cache, Don Jr. unwittingly conceded that the controversial Magnitsky Act, and an opportunity to mollify its terms, was not the meeting’s purpose; it was nothing more than a slipshod red herring. To further impress this fact upon our collective consciousness, Don Jr. appeared on Sean Hannity’s television program to explain his perfidy more thoroughly. In front of the cameras, Don Jr. admitted that he went to the meeting in order to gather damaging kompromat on Hillary Clinton. To him, this was promised by Veselnitskaya and a Kremlin cabal supporting her from the rear. As if this weren’t enough, and as if his imbecility needed further proof, Don Jr. admitted sheepishly that he’d not even heard of the Magnitsky Act.
As you can see, on the topic of this issue, we were unanimously if not discouragingly aware. We knew well that the Trump Tower meeting was concerned not with trans-Atlantic adoption, but with compromising material and opposition research on an American political candidate. It was a shock, therefore, when responding to a question about this imbroglio, Spicer claimed in all seriousness that “there was nothing as far as we know that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for discussion about adoption” when the Trump Tower meeting took place. Had he really just said this? We might’ve hoped that Spicer was merely and innocently committing a sin of commission—an instance of superfluity when words are added when not needed. Surely, he intended in his remark to omit the words, “anything except for”.
This, however, seems not to be the case. He was neither misquoted nor misrepresented. Instead, in saying what he did, Spicer was continuing and giving credence to Don Jr.’s earliest deceit—a deceit, mind you, thoroughly debunked, undeserving of our time, and discredited by the President himself who said that anyone would take the chance to attend such a meeting under similar circumstances if opposition research was to be had.
Naturally and rather sadly, we’re resigned in our assessment of Spicer to two conclusions: one is that Spicer, the White House Press Secretary and the man to whom a nation turns for its dose, too often unfilled, of credible, veridical, and essential information is either uninformed is unconvinced. Be it the former, he can be improved; be it the latter, he’s too far removed. Maybe the administration and the people need just that—for Sean Spicer to be removed.