The first wave of Trump White House refugees is now landing on American shores. The instability of their former abode has already set nearly a dozen senior staffers into motion, with who knows how many more to follow. No question, many of them have suffered horrible abuse and maltreatment. But compassion must be joined to realism. Are these migrants bringing with them values consistent with our way of life?
On Wednesday night, Jimmy Kimmel interrogated one of the first of the refugees, former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer, on his ABC late-night show. It was a very gentle vetting, not “extreme" at all. And yet the encounter raised all kinds of red flags about whether these entrants will ever appreciate and accept democratic norms. As former Trump staff seek to integrate themselves into American civic and business life, it will be important to evaluate which of them can be rehabilitated—and which have compromised themselves in ways that cannot be redeemed.
The Spicer-Kimmel interview offers some important guidance, especially this core exchange:
Jimmy Kimmel: And so right off the bat, your first ever press conference, you get in there, and it’s the day after the inauguration, right?
Sean Spicer: Yes.
Kimmel: And you are charged with the job of going in front of the press and saying that the inauguration crowd was the biggest crowd ever, the biggest audience ever?
Spicer: (Chuckling) Yes I’m aware of that. I appreciate the reminder of how it went down.
Kimmel: Did the president himself—if it was up to you, would this even have been a topic?
Spicer: If it was up to me, I would have probably worn a different suit. I thought I was going in on a Saturday morning to set my office up, get the computer, make sure the emails went out …
Kimmel: And somebody told you, you need to go out there and say this?
Spicer: The president wanted to make sure the record got set straight. … Look, I said it at the time, and I believed it then, I think in all seriousness that—again—whether or not you voted for him or not, the president won the election, he faced a lot of headwinds, and I think there was a faction of people out there that didn’t want to give him the credit that he rightly deserved. I think he takes a lot of that sometimes personally. Some of us who worked very hard to get him elected felt as though a lot of folks who worked in the media in particular constantly sought to undermine the validity of that election. You have to understand it sometimes from that perspective.
Kimmel: But the validity of the election—compared to looking at photos of the crowd at an inauguration—one is this and one is THIS. Did you try to talk him out of that line of defense?
Spicer: There was a lot of us that wanted to be focused on his agenda, what he spoke about in his inaugural address. But he’s president, he made a decision …
Kimmel: So you had to go along? Even though you know, even if you know—and I’m not going to ask you to say whether you knew or not—even if you know the crowd wasn’t bigger, as press secretary you have to say that it was.
Spicer: Your job as press secretary is to represent the president’s voice, to make sure that you are articulating what he believes, his vision on policy, on issues, and other areas that he wants to articulate. Whether or not you agree or not isn’t your job. Your job is to give him advice, which is what we would do on a variety of issues, all the time. He would always listen to that advice, but ultimately he’s the president ….
Kimmel: And then you have to march out there and go, ‘Yeah, he had a bigger crowd everybody.’”
Spicer: He’s the president, he decides, that’s what you signed up to do.
That’s one interpretation of White House service: to serve the president as the president wishes to be served, to tell the lies that the president wishes to have told. Spicer is not the only Trump veteran to have that view of the job. So does his successor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. So do Kellyanne Conway and the former White House staffer Sebastian Gorka. They work for the president, they follow his orders—whatever their own interior misgivings—and they say whatever he tells them he wants said, just as his attorneys and accountants do.