White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has gained enormous name recognition with the American people in a matter of months through his meetings with the White House press corps. Spicer has often appeared as a man with a gun to his head, perspiring as he attempts to steady an increasingly uneasy ship. But sympathy should be limited. While Spicer likely thought his boss would adopt a modicum for presidential tact once in office, he is fulfilling the role of Chief Misinformation Officer so crucial to the authoritarian mentality.
Since the outset of this administration, Spicer has been satirized as the American version of Baghdad Bob. During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, or Baghdad Bob, stood before the press and declared the existence of an alternate reality. Al-Sahaf’s press conferences are the stuff of legend; with the minister insisting the invading forces stood no chance against the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.
Spicer’s press conferences often echo Al-Sahaf’s. In his first press conference, Spicer literally brought photographs of Inauguration Day to insist claims of diminished crowds were false propaganda from the Left. Think about that; a White House Press Secretary came before the American people to argue against the objective reality that President Obama had a larger crowed at his first inauguration.
While in America we have the liberty of laughing off this joke, as Trump has yet to be anything other than a paper tiger, Spicer’s deception is of a brand that should frighten. Spicer does not just spend time debating facts or intentionally misinforming the people to ameliorate the public perception of the shady underpinnings of government. That has been done before by press secretaries from every administration of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Instead, Spicer focuses on defending the ego and image of his boss. As Bill Maher pointed out on his show, “Real Time,” the motto of the Trump Administration is one of popularity and ego: if someone is obsequious and flattering to Trump, he is in clear favor. If one criticizes Trump in a way that hurts his ego, he is a political exile.
An example of this sort of thing played out to it’s absurd end is the North Korean Kim family. The North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, his father Kim Jong-il and his grandfather Kim Song-il famously claimed comically-outrageous personal feats. From shooting under a 40 on a round of golf, to being physically perfect, the Kim family rely on a cult of personality to keep power. They are enabled, by way of their omnipotence, to execute those who disagree with them or those who simply threaten the ruse. However, most outside of North Korea recognize the Kim family’s absurdity. Thankfully, they posses limited geopolitical power.
These comparisons, of course, have an element of dramatization. Trump, for his innumerable flaws, has yet to install authoritarian policies in earnest—whether due to personal choice or the relative rigidity of U.S. democracy. However, an American president dabbling in nationalist authoritarianism, even if solely in speech, has more impact on world affairs than Kim Jong-un on his worst day. Spicer, as his mouthpiece and public face, is complicit in this madness.
The best comparison for Trump and Spicer is that of the President’s ultimate inspiration, Vladimir Putin. The Russian “leader” is a man whose ego is on full display in his nation, with Putin’s KGB background and love of machismo making up the entirety of his public image.
While it appears all but confirmed that Trump’s camp either colluded with the Russians during the election or at least benefitted from their meddling, Trump’s adoration of Putin would likely have flowered regardless. Putin silences critics and journalists through assassination and arrest—a power Trump probably expected to see explained by a leather-bound journal in the Resolute Desk. He leads through ego, with foreign policy decisions, such as the annexation of Crimea, being based as much in geopolitical history as projected ego.
Sean Spicer, as press secretary, serves as the con-man in chief. Fortunately, Trump’s lack of intelligence and penchant for rambling, coupled with American liberties, has made poking holes in Spicer’s press conferences easy. Spicer deserves no sympathy from the American people. He is not the man trying to apologize for his drunken friend’s behavior, but the one paying the tab. He is an enabler, just as all of Trump’s cronies appear to be, and history will remember him as such.