President Trump has stocked his administration with a unique collection of the incompetent, the malevolent and the corrupt — as well as some people who were all three. But there’s a different and rare class of Trump aide who deserves special condemnation: Those who were actually good at their jobs.
The most visible of them is leaving, as the president announced on Thursday:
Trump has every reason to be thankful, since Sarah Sanders has been probably the most dishonest White House press secretary in history. Which, when you’re serving the most dishonest president in history, is what the job requires. But what made her so valuable to Trump was the enthusiasm with which she embraced a task that, to anyone with any principles, should have been a horror.
There isn’t nearly enough time to document the entire mountain of falsehoods Sanders served up even before she stopped doing press briefings altogether three months ago. But it’s worth reminding ourselves of a few. Take a deep breath:
- When Trump fired FBI director James B. Comey in May 2017, Sanders said, “I’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the President’s decision."
- Under questioning from the special counsel, she admitted that her Comey statement was a lie, but called it a “slip of the tongue,” despite the fact that she had repeated the false claim multiple times.
- She denied that the president dictated a false statement for his son to release in an attempt to deceive the public about the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a group of Russians, when the president’s lawyers later admitted that he had dictated the statement.
- In June 2017, she said, “The president in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence. If anything, quite the contrary,” when we’ve all seen the president promote and encourage violence multiple times.
- She denied that Trump was involved in the $130,000 hush-money payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels.
- She claimed that immigrants who come to the United States via the diversity lottery are not vetted, which is a lie.
- She claimed that “multiple news outlets” had reported that President Barack Obama ordered Trump’s phones tapped in 2016, which was a lie.
- She insisted that it was perfectly fine for the president to retweet fake videos intended to create fear and hatred of Muslims, because “whether it’s a real video, the threat is real.”
- She claimed in January that 4,000 suspected terrorists were arrested coming across the southern border last year, an utterly bogus statistic.
- And she said, “the President also believes in making sure that information is accurate before pushing it out as fact when it certainly and clearly is not.” Yeah.
Beyond the specific lies, the character of Sanders’ interactions with journalists was unusually destructive. She treated the media with open contempt — not just as individual people, but the entire enterprise in which they are engaged. She insulted them, demeaned them, and generally acted as though they were nothing but irritants who had no right to raise questions that might undermine anyone’s worship of the glorious perfection that is Donald Trump.
It’s tempting to give Sanders credit for displaying skill in an extraordinarily difficult task. After all, how many people could do as good a job defending so dishonest a president? When, day after day, you’re confronted with provable lies that your boss has told, and manage to justify them without curling into a fetal position on the floor or tearing out of the White House in a panic, it’s an achievement.
But the fact that Sanders did her job so well is precisely the problem. Only a moral degenerate would have been capable of it.
Let’s recall the brief and disastrous tenure of her predecessor, Sean Spicer. What made Spicer’s time as White House press secretary so cringeworthy was a mutual awareness among him, the reporters asking him questions, and the public watching at home: He was lying, we knew he was lying, and he knew that we knew he was lying. And because he knew that we knew he was lying, he was embarrassed. He sweated, he stuttered, he shouted, he seemed always to be teetering on the brink of a breakdown. His shame was evident for all to see.
I’m not saying Spicer is some kind of admirable figure. He chose to work for Trump and chose to repeat Trump’s lies, two sins that should never be forgiven. But he was so terrible at it precisely because, somewhere inside him, there pulsed a weakened but living shred of a conscience, trying with its last remaining energy to force its way to the surface.
Sarah Sanders was not so burdened. She showed no conscience and no shame. She was smooth and calm and collected as she served up poisonous lies and infinite bad faith to the public. She was exactly what Trump wanted and all he could ever have asked for.
In a more just world, Sanders would be shamed and shunned forever. She wouldn’t be able to get a job, her neighbors would avoid her, and she would be regarded with the universal contempt she has so richly earned.
But, as this is not a just world, Sanders will prosper. Corporations will pay generously for her advice on how they can more effectively mislead and misinform the public. Future Republican candidates will seek out her wise counsel. Who knows, she may even run for governor of Arkansas, as Trump suggested, and in a state Trump won by 27 points in 2016, she might win.
Her future success is assured, which is a tribute to how the Republican Party has embraced Trumpism in all its moral squalor. It’s no wonder the president is so thankful.