In the end, Sean Spicer couldn’t even manage to resign on principle. The hapless, widely ridiculed and frequently dishonest White House press secretary defined by Melissa McCarthy’s searing “Saturday Night Live” portrayal left in fear of his new boss. The stated reason for his leaving apparently was the decision to hire Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director, another rich Trump flunky and surrogate who “previously had a tense and fraught relationship with both Spicer and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus,” The Post reported. In other words, Spicer quit rather than work for and possibly be fired by another Trump attack dog.
In a real sense, Spicer’s fate was sealed as soon as he agreed to show up at the White House briefing room, the day after President Trump was sworn in, to holler at the press and flatly lie, saying the president’s inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. If he would say that — debasing himself and lying to the press — he’d say anything. That of course would not be disqualifying in this White House; his problem was that he lied poorly and wrestled with the English language, making himself the butt of numerous jokes and YouTube highlight (low-light) reels.
There is a moral argument, I suppose, for men and women who chose to go into this administration to serve in Cabinet-level or sub-Cabinet positions out of a sense of obligation to the country. (The better argument is that working in this administration inevitably leads to enabling wrongdoing and horrible policy decisions, but I understand the rationale of those who disagree with me.) However, there is no moral argument for going directly into the president’s senior/political staff, which in this administration means defending indefensible conduct, denying reality and encouraging others to lie in defense of the administration. You cannot serve in a dishonorable White House honorably.
Spicer willingly embraced the effort to intimidate and silence the press. He accepted his role in trying to demolish objective reality. He relished the mission to discredit every independent source of information that might contradict the president. In doing so he, more than any predecessor, did harm to the First Amendment and to the White House. He lowered the standard set by administrations of both parties — spin, advocate and sidestep but never lie.
For young, ambitious men and women in Washington and elsewhere, Spicer is an object lesson. Ambition and yearning to be in the “know,” in the center of power (what C.S. Lewis called the “inner ring“), can lead one to cast aside principle, values and simple decency. Lewis described the impulse to be an insider:
And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel. … Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.
Ultimately, bargains with devils never work out. Spicer didn’t last — and now look at him. The brief months in the West Wing, the ultimate inner ring, leave him pitied, mocked, disgraced. No, it was not worth it. It is never worth it. “To a young person, just entering on adult life, the world seems full of ‘insides,’ full of delightful intimacies and confidentialities, and he desires to enter them,” Lewis warned. “But if he follows that desire he will reach no ‘inside’ that is worth reaching.” If nothing else, perhaps Spicer’s ruinous journey will serve as a warning to others.