The Political Media Needs to Draw a Line From Sean Spicer to the Big Lie

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Jack Holmes
·5 min read
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Photo credit: Eric McCandless - Getty Images
Photo credit: Eric McCandless - Getty Images

Sean Spicer is proof enough that the powerful Cancel Culture machine we keep hearing about needs some fine-tuning. This guy got himself a national profile by lying to our faces as part of a sadistic ritual ceremony in the White House Briefing Room and was rewarded for his work with a Harvard fellowship, an Emmys cameo courtesy of Stephen Colbert, and a spot on Dancing With The Stars. (OK, maybe the latter was a net negative.) What, exactly, did Spicer have to offer the bright young minds at Harvard's Kennedy School? Perhaps we'll never know for sure, but it was just another mile-marker on his path to a gig hosting his own show on a right-wing infotainment channel, where the good-faith reflections on American politics roll on. Here's an update on his contributions to the discourse via the Tweet Machine.

I’m in line to get my #COVID19 vaccine and I had to show ID...how come the left and the media aren’t making a big deal about this

This has all the hallmarks of conservative comedy, in that it is just a statement delivered with a sneer. Maybe Spicer has a side gig writing for that Fox News late-night show. But it's also a common argument for voter-ID laws: you have to show ID to do other things, so why not voting?

The main reason is that in-person voter fraud, which ID laws claim to protect against, is not a significant problem in our society. It is vanishingly rare. Fraud wasn't a significant problem in the 2020 election, or in any other recent contest. These are solutions to a problem that does not exist. But more than that, voting is among the single most elemental features of citizenship in a democracy, and should not be compared to sidling up to the front desk at a private office building. If voter fraud is not actually a problem, the most straightforward explanation for these laws is that they aim to construct obstacles to voting, thereby reducing turnout and removing some share of citizens from having a say in their own governance. This is now the explicit argument of some Conservative Intellectuals, who argue explicitly that not everyone should vote.

Photo credit: Esquire
Photo credit: Esquire

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While it's not clear how effective all this has been, the intent, considering the hundreds of bills making their way through dozens of state legislatures following the high turnout of the 2020 election, seems fairly clear. A lot of this stuff is built atop the foundation of Donald Trump's Big Lie that the election was stolen, itself the culmination of years of right-wing bullshit about voter fraud. And the signs are that our grasp of what's going on—that the Republican Party is increasingly hostile to democracy—is starting to slip. In Politico on Monday, we learned that the contribution made by some Republican lawmakers to the national disgrace of January 6—their votes to discredit the election results based on Questions and Concerns among their constituents that they helped stoke in the first place by loudly questioning the results—was merely "controversial" and a matter of perspective.

[Josh Hawley] drew widespread attention for leading the Jan. 6 effort to block the acceptance of the Electoral College results, a controversial stand that liberals and some Republicans claim undermined faith in the political system. But he won plaudits from loyalists of former President Donald Trump, who opened their wallets.

One side says Hawley voted to overturn a legitimate democratic election out of partisan self-interest. The other side thinks that was pretty cool. Who are we, the newspaper, to say what's what, or whether any of this is objectively bad? The answer ought to be that journalists, in the words of Mehdi Hasan, should be biased in favor of democracy. It's not clear whose interests Politico is using its powerful platform to defend other than Republican officeholders who wish to spread the Big Lie. By muddying the waters around what happened, the Lie is allowed enough space to flourish. It must be eradicated entirely through an honest, straightforward accounting of what happened. That includes stating simply that lawmakers like Hawley aided and abetted the disaster. Because again: there was no fucking fraud to justify throwing out the election results. Arizona's election results, which Hawley voted to toss, were legitimate. The Questions about the results were raised by Republicans themselves. It was and remains an infinite loop of bullshit from a group of people who are not interested in crafting a platform that appeals to a majority of American citizens.

Photo credit: Anna Moneymaker - Getty Images
Photo credit: Anna Moneymaker - Getty Images

And one can't help but wonder whether the relatively warm post-White House embrace of Sean Spicer, whose most redemptive moments occurred when he proved himself more incompetent, and therefore less sinister, than some of his colleagues, helped set us on this path. His Emmys appearance and DWTS gig did not just demonstrate a belief that he'd draw eyeballs like he had from the White House podium, and that was all that mattered. It demonstrated a basic failure to grasp that Spicer's incessant lies about matters of state and national importance were in aggregate a grave assault on the body politic. In a democracy, leaders constantly lobbing lies at the people whose interests they're tasked with representing in government is a breach of contract.

Things improved towards the end of the Trump years, as political journalists began to come to grips with the fact that one of our two major political parties had come to be dominated by shameless liars who were ready to reject the concept of objective reality itself. We need to accept that nothing much has changed just because Donald Trump is now stuck in South Florida purgatory, wearing the same golf outfit day after day, even to accept an award bowl from Republican Party leadership. His minions are still everywhere, desperately telegraphing their future ambitions with fired-off tweets that, again, make Spicer look good by comparison. (His tweet was at least comprehensible.) The effort to prevent American representative democracy from collapsing into the nihilistic abyss is ongoing.

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