I use the phrase “existential dread” pretty regularly these days. Some might think that’s too much. As a writer, isn’t it my job to change things up once in a while? What about “profound anguish”? What about “overwhelming ennui”?
And yet, something always brings me back to “existential dread”, the only words that manage to encapsulate how I feel about the various news developments that get flung in our faces day after day. This week’s dose of existential dread comes courtesy of Sean Spicer’s first night on Dancing With The Stars, a disaster of epically cynical proportions that led to one of the most baffling Twitter exchanges I have ever witnessed (and I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the standards there are pretty low).
To recap: Spicer, Donald Trump’s former press secretary, made his DWTS debut on Monday night, dressed in a neon-green, frilly shirt that earned several comparisons to lettuce on social media and prompted speculation that the show’s costume designer is a Democrat. But I’m not really interested in roasting Spicer for his shirt, since wearing this specific garment is probably the least offensive and the most harmless thing he’s ever done. In a pre-taped introductory segment, Spicer looked back on his “very tumultuous” White House tenure (is “very tumultuous” the new euphemism for lying about the size of the crowd at the president’s inauguration and claiming that Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons?) and lamented the fact that said tenure “gave people a very one-dimensional look at who I am as a person” (that’s called being held accountable for your actions, and it tends to happen to you if you occupy one of the most prominent jobs in the nation).
Really, though, I’m so glad that DWTS (and ABC, on which it airs) gave Spicer a chance to correct the completely unfair assumptions made about him based on his attitude during numerous televised press briefings for the president of the United States. How nice of them!
After all this, Spicer danced the salsa with Lindsay Arnold, the professional dancer assigned to be his partner on the show. I’m certainly not qualified to give any sort of feedback on anyone’s dancing, so I will cede the floor to judge Bruno Tonioli, according to whom Spicer looked like he was being “attacked by a swarm of wasps” while his hips were “set in cement”.
But you know what? I don’t care that Spicer’s dancing wasn’t that great. I wasn’t expecting it to be that great! Why would a man whose professional qualifications have never involved anything close to dancing be good at salsa? What I want to know is what the man who helped kickstart the Trump administration’s war on truth is doing on national television, getting praised for his “sense of fun” in the ballroom.
In case you're wondering, Spicer and Arnold were awarded 12 points from the jury. There was no elimination on the programne’s first episode, meaning we have more of this farce to look forward to, but by the end of the show, a quick scroll through Twitter memes made it seem as though Spicer’s neon shirt was going to be the biggest talking point of the night.
Except of course it wasn’t, because former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (if the name sounds familiar, it’s because his daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, took over Spicer’s job in July 2017) had to get involved on Twitter.
“Wanna create an emotional meltdown in Hollyweird? Vote for @seanspicer to win Dancing with the Stars tonight and every night he’s on,” Huckabee tweeted (oblivious to the fact, clearly stated during the show, that there was no need to vote that particular night as no one was getting eliminated). “@seanspicer is a good guy and a brave sport to go on DWTS. Let’s show him some love!”
So this is what this has come down to. The former Governor of Arkansas is asking people to vote on a dancing contest to own the libs. Perhaps this is where we were headed all along. Perhaps every single step we’ve taken since 8 November, 2016, when Donald Trump won the presidential election, was a step on the path leading us to this fateful moment in pop culture history. Perhaps this is why the Founding Fathers united the Thirteen Colonies and fought for independence in the 18th century: so that one day, a man who once compared homosexuality to drinking and swearing (I don’t get it either) could urge users of a social media platform populated in part by white nationalists to influence the results of a dancing contest and trigger! The! Libs!
But it doesn’t stop there! Of course it doesn’t! Spicer apparently felt such enthusiasm for Huckabee's tweet and responded in such an… exuberant tone that he has now deleted his initial message and replaced it with a more neutral one.
“Thank you @GovMikeHuckabee. Clearly the judges aren’t going to be with me,” Spicer wrote in his initial, now-deleted reply. “Let’s send a message to #Hollywood that those of us who stand for #Christ won’t be discounted. May God bless you.”
Ah, yes. If there’s one thing 10 years of Bible study have taught me, it’s that Jesus Christ was absolutely unwavering in his support of former White House aides' rights to cut a rug on national television.
(Spicer’s new message, by the way, reads: “Thank you @GovMikeHuckabee Really appreciate your support and prayers.”)
Aside from the whiplash-inducing absurdity of this entire situation, the most serious concern here is that projecting this image – that of a goofy, overall nice guy who took Tonioli’s excoriating feedback with a smile on his face – has been Spicer’s play ever since he left the White House. Even throughout his Trump tenure, he would sometimes laugh with the same journalists he alienated during his briefings. Sure, Spicer seems to tell us, he was a bit aggressive at times. Sure, he lied a little every once in a while. But that was all for the job! That’s not who he is! And now that he’s out of the White House, you have to look past the lying and the contributing to the destruction of this country, into his heart!
Except: No, we don’t. No one’s owed a public platform. Spicer’s attempt at a rehabilitation tour misses a crucial point about the impact of his time at the White House: it’s not about whether he, personally, is a nice guy. It’s about the people who were hurt by what he did and who continue to be hurt by the administration he helped bolster. No amount of salsa, tango or cha-cha-chá can undo that.