What with all the tongue-clucking, you’d think the Emmys had invited Sean Spicer to club baby seals onstage during Sunday night’s ceremonies. Yes, Stephen Colbert gave the ex-White House press secretary a glitzy platform from which to make light of his tenure as a serial liar. But much of this year’s broadcast took a laugh-to-avoid-weeping approach to the Trump Era, and poking fun at political grotesqueries has long been Colbert’s forte. Besides, awards-show hosts are forever looking to inject a dose of subversive sizzle into these snoozefests. Remember D-list actress Stacey Dash’s cringe-inducing race-themed cameo at the 2016 Oscars? Compared to that stink bomb, Spicer’s turn was comic gold.
But that seems to have been part of the affront here, at least as the politi-rati see it. Why would Colbert and Hollywood give Spicer the chance to look self-aware, self-deprecating, almost likable? What if some viewer somewhere watched the bit and decided that Spicer is not an irredeemable sack of poo after all? Don’t the Emmys realize they’re helping him “rebrand”? How could they!?
Underlying such distress is the assumption that Spicer is otherwise on track to pay for what they regard as his myriad sins—if not against the nation as a whole, then at least against the respectable political establishment to which he has long belonged. After all, when he threw in with Trump, Spicer wasn’t some bush-league nobody like Corey Lewandowski or an outsider like Steve Bannon. He was a prominent member of the Republican old guard, with a sterling C.V. that included six years as head of communications for the Republican National Committee. Plenty of people from both teams think Spicer should have known better than to embrace and enable a president of dubious temperament and fitness for office—especially once the degree of dishonesty that would be required of him became clear. Having accepted the risks, Spicer is now expected to live with the fallout.