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The best press officer Trump could have asked.



White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders

White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in April.

Puce Somodevilla / Getty Images

As a White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders has failed in front of the public. During the rare press conferences she held during her two-year tenure, she lied on topics ranging from the FBI's response to James Comey's dismissal to Donald Trump's non-existent conversations with Mexico to figures on job creation and cash payments. It therefore seems urgent that we – the disconcerted and under-served public – understand what she understood as work and how she managed to do it.

Some examples might help. In an interview that Sanders did with a news podcast on ABC (she has not held any press since March), John Santucci asked, "Should we take the president's tweet last weekend to order Bill Barr not to allow Robert Mueller? bear witness?"

Sanders first turned to a passive crutch: "I think it's a determination to take at this point," she said. "But he said it," Santucci replied.

The press clerk's response is fascinating: "But that's the president's sense of the matter, because we see it as a closed file, as a completed process. And again, I think most Americans think this is over. They are tired of hearing about it.

Sanders' awkward sentences may make his approach naive, but it's a pretty smart (and illuminating) example of his ability to reorient issues until they no longer deal with the subject. The question was whether the president's tweet was an order to Barr. First, Sanders is trying to bluff-nothing to see here-but it fails. His next move is to defend Trump's right to staff feelings. And here's a powerful rhetorical gesture: Sanders suggests that Trump's feelings – to which he is perfectly entitled – have no effect on his politics. It sounds like the argument put forward, after the publication of the Mueller report, that Trump did not obstruct justice because no one was really listening to his obstruction requests. He was just going out. "We consider this a classified case," she adds. we effectively rephrase the president's feelings as a consensual position.

It's a delicate moment to eat and eat a cake. The feelings she had already downplayed the importance of a sentence – deny that they had political implications – suddenly have an institutional and semi-official status. And they are in contact with the American people. In three sentences, therefore, Trump was presented as a) the president, b) a private man with the right to feel hurt feelings he does not want to act on c) an official channeling the official position and d) a man accord with the hearts of people. She misunderstood the premise of the question – if Trump's complaint will have public consequences – so thoroughly that follow-up questions seem impossible. No one has done more to normalize Trump's tantrums or manage their political significance by making any serious investigation of them seem insignificant and delicate.

An exchange with a reporter at a press conference on December 18, 2018 shows how firmly Sanders has refused all worry can cancel or import more than Trump.

Journalist: Does this concern the president that Flynn lied to the FBI and was working for a foreign government?

Sanders: Not when it comes to things that have something to do with the president. Activities that [Flynn] it is said – and I will, again, let the court make that decision – to have engaged in, have nothing to do with the president. … The only reason the president is president is that he was a better candidate and that he beat Hillary Clinton. We also know that the President has never been conniving with Russia.

The deflection is impressive and the same movements as in the first example are identical: circumscribing the sphere of influence of the president, alluding to facts that are not yet known. determinedbut appealing to a supposedly shared understanding of what is not at all factual: the uncontaminated legitimacy of Trump. When the reporter asks him again about Flynn, Sanders tries to avoid, as she would later with ABC.

Sanders: Listen, there's certainly some concern, but it's something that's up to the court to make that decision, and we'll let it go.

But the reporter talks about it again, noting that the president has commented a lot on the current case by saying positive things about Flynn. Sanders has no choice but to climb.

Sanders: It is perfectly acceptable for the chair to make a positive comment about someone while waiting to hear the court's decision.

Pressed, Sanders resorts here to his master stroke, making controversy indisputable by a simple statement …perfectly acceptable. As far as I know, the chair is not required to protect the public or to look for wrongdoing. His publicly expressed feelings have no bearing on the behavior of justice or its attitude towards it. He is a private man who has every right to do positive comment about someone regardless of what is being blamed for it, because the facts, always elusive, expect some steam determination.

So it is Sanders' rhetoric that distorts reality and why the title of Margaret Sullivan's retrospective calls it "The Queen of Gaslighting." But the secret of Sanders' success was not simply to clean up all the president's impulses. it was utterly wanting to record a recognition of all his excesses. Even Sean Spicer stammered and sweated. By treating his inflammatory remarks and his actions as a total banality, Sanders explained to the public how to metabolize the scandalous as if it were normal. It was a performance, of course: Sanders' impassivity was selective and she was good at acting like medias reaction that was strange.

Sanders did not just defend the president against the effects of his own statements. it presented itself as a kind of prosaic presence whose role was to act as if nothing had happened, as shocking as it was, it was not serious. She embodied the firm approval that Trump wanted for all his activities, from family separations to tax cuts for the rich. At the end of her tenure, we can now see how she relies on reassuring phrases such as "make a decision" – and shamelessly calling for differences of opinion and hidden payments that are not worth the effort. to be discussed about America. Rather than laughing at insignificant jokes, she fairly normalized despicable behavior.

His value – and Scaramucci never understood that – was his ability to do it in a distinct way without Trumpish. Rather than being sensational, offensive or inflammatory, Sanders was calm and dull. At a time characterized by the "White House in chaos," his repressive calm fulfills an essential function. "Sanders has a unique talent that, until now, was not yet considered a talent: she can sleep a play," Jason Schwartz wrote to Politico. As a public servant, Sanders was catastrophic. As a speaker, she was below average. But as Trump's first line of defense, she was absolutely indispensable.

Her departure also means one less woman who plays a special role on the front lines of the Trump-is-normal campaign. Kellyanne Conway was the first to deploy a particular form of flawless femininity to make Trump's feelings and actions enjoyable to the public.

Trump seems to need that. His maleistic fantasy of himself is structurally dimorphic; the female presence must be approved to authorize, excuse and interpret. Sanders must explain that, according to him, the United States is "the most taxed country in the world", it is not a lie because they are "the most taxed, the imposed societies in the developed economy" and that He has projected that people are fools to think that these do not mean the same thing. He needs a Conway to whitewash his lies as "alternative facts". However, he always had women always validated and focused not on what he was doing, but on his license. feel things, without limit or consequence.

And while Trump's public statements continue to vibrate with self-obsession and self-interest, the best ally he can have is a calm, authoritarian woman who watches over his arguments, reflecting his narcissism at once and in his name.


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