Sean Spicer

A Note Aside: Something About Perspective

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Composite: President Donald Trump photo by Reuters, 2017; Puti-Toots protest image.

This is called a digression, and it is not hard to guess its provenance. The other name for this exercise is, writing yourself into a hole. Still, the brazen stupidity of the Trump administration is mystifying unless we reconcile ourselves to some aspect of the irrelevance of norms insofar as we are dealing with a phenomenon akin to the nexus of gaslight and sincerely held belief and overlooking some aspect of perspective that would otherwise explain why the grace of subtlety, or even the tired comfort of basic competence come to seem anathema in #DimensionTrump.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempts to demonstrate the difference between government and the Republican health care agenda during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., 7 March 2017. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)Note aside: It is hard to figure what to do with an inchoate question having to do with the idea of new and old guards, or, such as it is, institutional traditionalism and institutional insurgency. Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has already spent time with the Mueller investigation; while his reputation as a low-skill bullshit artist was well-established during his time as RNC flak, he still bore some connection to an older way of doing things in the Republican Party. That is, with the jig up, it appears he told the Special Counsel’s Office what they wanted to know, and might well end up with no greater culpability than his reputation already earns him. It is hard to imagine how Sarah Huckabee Sanders would answer the Mueller investigation, but appearances, as such, are what drive the amorphous question about generational differences among conservatives. Where the old guard parses carefully and others might seethe at the appearance of will, there is a newer phenomenon by which people simply give voice to their violations as if it has never occurred to them that such behavior is problematic.

White House Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway speaks to Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, 22 January 2017. (Detail of frame from NBC News)Remember the proposition of alternative facts; it is one thing to wonder if we are laughing at absurdity or genuine malady. This is #DimensionTrump; the President will hang his comms shop to boast of obstructing justice; Donald Jr. hands over emails that appear to convict him. With Hope Hicks on the record, apparently, that part of her job was to lie for the White House, and one former Press Secretary having already spoken with and given documents to the Mueller investigation, it starts to feel impossible that Sarah Huckabee Sanders would avoid the Special Counsel’s Office, and we might wonder what happens if she works to evade under question. One need not be Sam Nunberg to suggest the White House Press Secretary “does Trump’s dirty business”, or that, Huckabee Sanders is “terrible”, at her job.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)Perhaps it is a difference of cognizance. Some will rail against criticism or even criminal charges because they must, despite their culpability. There are those, however, who will never understand why their culpability is culpability. If we recall a time not so long ago during which conservatives fixated on the proposition of “sincerely held beliefs” entitling exemption to obligations under law—e.g., discrimination in bakeries, hospitals, &c.—then we might propose, in the moment, to witness what we might otherwise hope is the crest of that wave: Can we imagine Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempting to hold out under scrutiny from the Mueller investigation, according to sincerely held beliefs in alternative facts?

At some point, someone in the #trumpswindle is going to throw down explicitly that, certainly, they said this and did this other thing but it’s not illegal because they say so.

At what point does it occur to these people that, yes, they really can get in trouble for what they are doing? How many will recognize the danger before Mueller calls them in? How many will never understand why this is happening to them?


Image note: Top — Composite of President Donald Trump (Photo: Reuters) and Puti-Toots (Credit: Unknown).  Right — Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters); White House Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway (Image: NBC News); White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

Nuzzi, Olivia. “Sam Nunberg on Mueller, His Media Spree, and His Message for Trump”. New York. 6 March 2018.


The Days of Our Trump (The Lost Chapters: White House Raw)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President-elect Donald Trump delivers his first official news conference since winning the November election, 11 January 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The point is not to doubt the Associated Press report from Zeke Miller and Catherine Lucey:

Bannon’s departure from Breitbart came as a shock to some of his allies. One said Bannon was telling people as recently as Monday that he expected to stay on.

Inside the White House, Bannon was viewed as the keeper of Trump’s nationalistic flame, charting the progress on the president’s promises to his base on dry erase boards in his office. But Bannon was marginalized in the months before his ouster over Trump’s concerns that the top aide was being viewed as an Oval Office puppeteer.Cartoon by Matt Bors, 9 February 2017.

The White House did not immediately respond to the news of Bannon’s ouster, but press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders last week called on the conservative site—which has been a steadfast backer of the president—to “look at and consider” parting ways with Bannon.

This is, after all, the story that comes to them. Nothing about those paragraphs really needs to make any sense, though, beyond the grammar and syntax. The Beltway-culture relationship between saying one expects to stay and actually departing soon thereafter does seem at least apparent on this occasion, and everything about what is going on at present is stage-managed to what seems an unprecedented degree.

More directly, this is #DimensionTrump; this is #WhatTheyVotedFor. Maybe next week we can tune into White House Raw and watch Huckahulk blindside celebrity guest announcer Moochtastic with a folding table yanked from under a stack of file folders full of blank paper. Bad Boy Bannon will turn up managing the Spicey Spice Redemption Redeemed Tour, and #DonnySmalls will punch Linda McMahon in the teeth because he thinks it will get good ratings.

And if that really was the report, neither would the point be to doubt the reporters. Be careful out there; trying to follow the news is getting dangerous.


Image notes: Top — President-elect Donald Trump delivers his first official news conference after winning the November, 2016 election, 11 January 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  Right — Cartoon by Matt Bors, 9 February 2017.

Miller, Zeke and Catherine Lucey. “Bannon to exit Breitbart News Network after break with Trump”. Associated Press. 9 January 2018.

Incompetence (Paging Mr. Trump)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Carter Page in Moscow, Russia, 12 July 2016.  (Photo: Reuters)

There are days when the primary argument against the idea we really are witnessing this debacle is, really, it just seems impossible that anyone could possibly be so bad at this. It seems even more impossible that the Trump administration should be inflicting so many wounds against itself. To wit, the lede from Reuters seems, by comparison, nearly harmless:

President Donald Trump sought to insert himself into congressional investigations on Russia on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to hear from one of his former advisers, Carter Page, to counter testimony by directors of the FBI and CIA.

Well, okay, we are discussing Carter Page, which is never quite as harmless as it ought to seem.

For instance, the lede and some detail from Roll Call:

President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused Democrats of resisting testimony from Carter Page, his former campaign adviser, because he “blows away” allegations they have made.

In two tweets, the president went on to say that this alleged change of heart by Democratic members comes because they have concluded Page “blows away their … case against him.”

Trump, referring to the FBI director he fired and the Obama administration’s last CIA director, wrote that his former adviser “wants to clear his name by showing “the false or misleading testimony by James Comey, John Brennan…”

A’ight, so, are we ready for the tricky part? Is there always a tricky part? Never mind.


Terrific (Even Spicier)

#SomethingTerrific | #WhatTheyVotedFor

White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers his first statement in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017. (Shawn Thew/EPA)

File under unknown unkowns:

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday it is “literally impossible” to predict the effects of the House Republican plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

“There are so many variables that are unknown,” Spicer told reporters. “It seems almost impossible.”


They aren’t really trying, are they?


Terrific (On the Rocks)

#SomethingTerrific | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump, joined by HHS Secretary Tom Price (left) and Vice President Mike Pence (right) explains his intention to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, 24 March 2017, at the White House, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by The Washington Post)

Robert Pear runs for the New York Times under the headline, “Pushing for Vote on Health Care Bill, Trump Seems Unclear on Its Details”. And the detail there, in turn:

After two false starts on President Trump’s promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Trump administration officials are pressing the House to vote on a revised version of the Republican repeal bill this week, perhaps as soon as Wednesday, administration officials said.

And Mr. Trump insisted that the Republican health legislation would not allow discrimination against people with pre-existing medical conditions, an assertion contradicted by numerous health policy experts as well as the American Medical Association.

“Pre-existing conditions are in the bill,” the president said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “And I mandate it. I said, ‘Has to be.’”

Steve Benen adds, for msnbc:

When Dickerson pressed Trump on whether he’s prepared to “guarantee” protections to those with pre-existing conditions, the president replied, “We actually have – we actually have a clause that guarantees.”

There is no such clause. The Republican bill guts benefits for consumers with pre-existing conditions, clearing the way for states to do the exact opposite of what Trump said yesterday. (GOP leaders have been reduced to telling worried lawmakers that most states won’t take advantage of the option, but under the Republican blueprint, the financial pressure on states to roll back protections like these would be significant.)


#DimensionSteve (Just Another Day)

#wellduh | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of frame from FLCL episode 1, 'FLCL'.

From the mixed up files of Steve Benen:

#somethingterrific: “They’re ready, and arguably eager, to break their commitments, but they’re reluctant to talk about it.”

#artofthedeal: “It’s apparently Team Trump’s way of effectively saying, ‘Remember, we can re-take this hostage again at some point.'”

#ruleoflaw: “When a president with autocratic tendencies goes after courts for upholding the law, repeatedly questioning the legitimacy of decisions that go against him, it should make Americans a little nervous.”

#wellduh: “Never mind the incompetent failures, marvel at the ‘robust agenda of activity.'”

#wellduh: “Apparently, however, some took Team Trump’s rhetoric quite literally and reportedly started calling the hotline to report crimes committed by aliens—as in, extra-terrestrials.”

#wellduh: “What he refuses to appreciate is the fact that an American president says something, the world notices.”

#wellduh: “A woman in North Carolina illegally voted for Trump last year, casting a ballot in her dead mother’s name. A local Republican prosecutor has decided not to bring charges.”

#compromise: “But what’s striking to me is how much the larger conversation has changed since Obama left office.”

#wellduh: “We’re occasionally reminded that Sean Spicer isn’t great at his job”.


#DimensionSteve (Narrative)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks during the 2016 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 3, 2015 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

We might take a moment now and then to observe the power of narrative, and it is fair enough to acknowledge there is nothing new if we take the note from Steve Benen of msnbc:

When it comes to Donald Trump’s White House and issues related to the Nazi Holocaust, the president and his team have made some unfortunate missteps. There was, for example, the ill-advised statement honoring International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January. A month later, the West Wing had an odd quarrel with the Anne Frank Center.

Today, however, Team Trump broke new ground.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer compared Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler on Tuesday, saying that even someone as “despicable” as the German dictator “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempts to demonstrate the difference between government and the Republican health care agenda during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., 7 March 2017. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)Asked moments later to clarify those remarks, Spicer, speaking from the White House podium, said that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people the same way Assad used them.”

Spicer went on to say Hitler brought people into “Holocaust centers.”

All of this, of course, unfolded from the White House podium during Passover.

Part of what makes this so remarkable is how obviously wrong Spicer was. One need not be a historian to know Hitler gassed Holocaust victims. The reference to “his own people” made an unfortunate mistake worse. As for Spicer describing Nazi concentration camps as “Holocaust centers,” I honestly don’t know where to start.

(11 April 2017)

To the one, it really was an awkward circumstance even more unnerving to experience, even having heard or read about it. And, yes, the Press Secretary is a particularly unfortunate example of his office; Mr. Spicer can very much seem emblematic of Trump administration incompetence. There is no chic about Cheeky Spice’s reboot of the dignity of the office. There is, however, the added gravity of just how this White House has managed to create it’s own … er … ah … question about Jews. Of course, there is also this: We should not be surprised, although back then conventional wisdom thought going after Jews to their faces like that was a bad idea.

Still, though: If we call it a Kinsley gaffe, then what truth have we just glimpsed?


The Difference ‘Twixt Republicans and Government

#theUnion | #WhatTheyVotedAgainst

It is so easy to miss these little moments amid the cacophony. Steve Benen brought us this episode, eariler this month:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempts to demonstrate the difference between government and the Republican health care agenda during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., 7 March 2017. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)Apparently, the point is that the Republicans’ proposal, panned by practically everyone who isn’t an elected GOP official, is better – because it’s shorter. This was Spicer’s exact quote to reporters:

“People who have concerns about this, especially on the right, look at the size. This [puts hand on tall pile of paper] is the Democrats’; this [puts hand on short pile of paper] is us. There is, you can’t get any clearer, in terms of this [puts hand on tall pile of paper] is government; this [puts hand on short pile of paper] is not.”

Please note, this wasn’t a joke. Spicer wasn’t kidding around. In 2017, the chief spokesperson for the president of the world’s dominant superpower argued, in all seriousness, that the merit of a national health care plan can be measured in part by page numbers.

There really is something to the idea that the presidency of Donald Trump marks the arrival proper of internet culture in American society; usually this point takes the form of reflections on trolling, flaming, and people who like lulz. This is different. This has something to do with an idea called Poe’s Law, which pertains to the written word and, for instance, emoticons. The idea is that there arises a threshold at which, without some manner of hint or cue, it becomes impossible to discern ‘twixt satire and genuine representation. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer trying to illustrate the difference between the Republican agenda for government and actual government slouches toward this dark and nebulous quarter.


Image note: White House Press Secretary attempts to demonstrate the difference between government and the Republican health care agenda during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., 7 March 2017. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Benen, Steve. “By pointing to piles of paper, Spicer makes the worst argument of all”. msnbc. 7 March 2017.

A Brief Sketch (Not Quite Caviar)

#nihil | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), January, 2014. (AP Photo)

We should probably sketch this detail of the cycle:

• Press Secretary defends Attorney General:

Sessions called the report “false” in a statement last night, saying he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign.” He repeated this morning that he would recuse himself wherever it is appropriate to do so.

However, Spicer said that would not apply in this case.

“There’s nothing to recuse himself [from]. He was 100% straight with the committee,” said Spicer, adding that Democrats should be “ashamed of themselves” for playing “partisan politics” on this issue.

(FOX News)

• President defends Attorney General:

President Trump defended Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday night, insisting that the former Alabama senator “did not say anything wrong” amid swirling criticism over his testimony earlier this year about contacts with Russian officials.

Trump appeared to be referring to Sessions’ statements before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation, when Sessions said he had not spoken to Russian officials. It was revealed this week that Sessions twice spoke with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. last year.

“Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong,” Trump said in a statement posted on Facebook. “He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional.”


• The Attorney General runs to FOX News for a friendly interview:

Sessions explained that the question he received from Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) at his January confirmation hearing focused specifically on whether he had spoken with Russia continually about the presidential campaign. While Sessions has now admitted he met twice with the Russian ambassador last year, he said they did not have any such conversations about political campaigns.

Why, though, Carlson wondered, did former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s own Russian scandal not raise any red flags with him? After all, Flynn was eventually pressured to resign.

“It was never a thought,” Sessions insisted. It was “unrelated.”

The Russian officials and any one else in the room at the times of his meetings would corroborate that he “did not say one thing that was improper.”



Passthrough (Presidential Potsherd)

#PresidentPotsherd | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President-elect Donald Trump delivers his first official news conference since winning the November election, 11 January 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

“I assume ‘let’s blame Obama’ will become a popular rallying cry in far-right circles, because it’s vastly easier than dealing with the facts.”

Steve Benen

It is not quite correct to ask who is surprised. In truth, nobody ought to be surprised. Still, though, if we inquire, for the sake of some decent societal form, what brought on Mr. Benen’s line, well:

This week, the president has moved on to a new explanation: this is all Obama’s fault. USA Today reported this morning:

President Trump said that former president Barack Obama is “behind” the angry protests that have erupted at Republican town halls around the nation during an interview on the Fox News morning program Fox and Friends scheduled to air Tuesday morning.

“I think he is behind it,” Trump said when asked about Obama’s role in the protests. “I also think it’s politics. That’s the way it is.

“No, I think that President Obama is behind it,” Trump said, “because his people are certainly behind it and some of the leaks, possibly come from that group, some of the leaks – which are really very serious leaks because they’re very bad in terms of national security – but I also understand that’s politics. And in terms of him being behind things, that’s politics. And it will probably continue.”

This is, in many ways, the perfect Donald J. Trump Conspiracy Theory.

And this is the Donald J. Trump administration, after all.