Here is a fact: On Sunday night, at a signature Hollywood event with a television audience of millions, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer rolled out onto the stage and joked about lying to Americans.
“This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period – both in person and around the world,” Spicer declared, reprising the flat-out falsehood he infamously told about the crowd size at President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
For the briefest of moments, Spicer’s appearance was a shock, even in this era, in which show biz and politics have become indistinguishable from each other. But then the dropped jaws in the audience closed and the raised, Botoxed eyebrows lowered. Hollywood gasped, then giggled, then, finally, applauded. By Monday, Spicer said he regretted the inaugural crowd lie.
It should be unnerving to see the lessons of Vietnam juxtaposed against beautiful people making a shtick of the cynicism of the Trump administration. The fact that it wasn’t should be chilling.
And with that, the breathtaking dishonesty that has been a signature of the Trump administration was reduced to a sight gag. And redemption was conferred.
Of all the demoralizing, disappointing and destructive moments in this presidency – and there have been so many – the laughing off of its best known dissembler had to be among the harder to watch for anyone who cares about facts.
Certainly there is a level at which Spicer is to be pitied. Most of us will never have to know how far we would debase ourselves to please a boss or serve an agenda; the sheepish look on the ex-apparatchik’s face spoke volumes about the cost of weakness.
And certainly many Americans have long since ceased to believe that government is anything but a racket run by and for the rich and connected. Here is another fact: Only 20 percent of Americans now trust Washington to do what is right most of the time or just about always, a historic low, according to the Pew Research Center.
From the moral corner-cutting of Bill Clinton’s administration to the WMD lies of the George W. Bush administration to the polarization that hardened like concrete during the Obama administration, there were decades of reasons for cynicism even before Trump ended any pretense that any American but himself would come first in his White House.
Still, for all this nation’s flaws, it’s simply false to pretend that lies don’t count, that ordinary people shouldn’t care if dishonest government hurts them. Democracy shouldn’t be a joke. Government isn’t some TV show villain. Government is people. Thousands of Americans toil in public service, from scientists to soldiers to census takers. It’s just not true to pretend that they are engaged in some mass act of corruption.
Indeed, viewers needed only to change the channel to see how devastating it can be when truth is overtaken by fiction. On PBS, the premiere of Ken Burns’ 10-part documentary, “The Vietnam War,” offered a searing introduction to one of the most excruciatingly dishonest episodes in American history, one that continues to haunt us.
It should be unnerving to see the lessons of Vietnam juxtaposed against beautiful people making a shtick of the cynicism of the Trump administration. That it wasn’t should be chilling, because here’s yet another fact:
On Tuesday, Trump may well issue a call to arms before the United Nations. This, from a president who skated through the Vietnam War on five draft deferments. After all the lies he and his minions have told, will anyone in the world take him seriously? Why should they?