If we lived in a just world, Sean Spicer and the other former members of the Trump Administration would be too ashamed to show their faces in public, spending their post-Trump lives separated from a country that has, at best, forgotten about them. Instead, Spicer, in an event sponsored by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service (IPPS) and GU College Republicans, will be on campus this Monday to promote his new book The Briefing: Politics, the Press, and the President. The event is a disgrace and is little more than an attempt for Spicer to stay relevant after his time in office. Georgetown students should save themselves the time and ignore it.
Spicer is a liar. His very first press briefing as White House Press Secretary included a demonstrable lie, and he didn’t stop lying until he resigned seven months later. He egregiously lied in an attempt to drum up support for American war in Syria. He lied about the number of illegal voters in the 2008 election. He lied about the role that Paul Manafort, the corrupt former chairman of the Trump campaign who just pled guilty to conspiracy, played in the Trump Campaign. When he got tired of journalists calling him out for his lies, he banned cameras and audio recording in press briefings. Even after his White House tenure, Spicer can’t seem to kick the habit; the Wall Street Journal–hardly a bastion of liberal bias–calls his book “riddled with inaccuracies.”
What, then, is to be gained from giving Spicer a platform to speak on campus?
For Spicer, the answer is obvious: to sell more books and to rehabilitate his image. Not content with just lying to the American people on behalf of a racist, corrupt, and completely incompetent president, Spicer now hopes to profit from his time in the White House by selling his book and running his new consulting firm. In an essay on why he loves politics, IPPS executive director Mo Elleithee (SFS ‘94) writes fondly of “The government official who takes a hiatus from their career to answer a call to serve and apply their expertise to the common good.” Spicer could not be further from Elleithee’s description. He’s a former nobody who failed upwards into the White House and is now trying to turn that into a career, and it’s hard to imagine how lying to the American people for seven months could constitute service to the public good.
And in having Spicer speak on campus, Elleithee and the rest of the IPPS, not to mention GU College Republicans, are doing all they can to help him in his goal. That the IPPS believes that Spicer is an interesting, or even relevant, speaker to bring to campus is the product of flawed thinking which views politics not as a struggle over material needs like healthcare and decent jobs, but as a game played between elite journalists, consultants, and, of course, politicians. It’s what Joan Didion calls “the process,” the hyper-managed and insular world of the “self-created and self-referring class ” of people who do not matter outside of Washington.
According to the event’s description, Spicer “will detail his time as the White House Press Secretary during the beginning of the Trump Administration,” and “will also highlight Mr. Spicer’s rise to the national political scene…” The event offers politics for the sake of politics, where Spicer’s relevance is simply the result of having held a position, no matter what he did with it.
This is not a free speech issue. Spicer is, of course, allowed to come to campus, and he is more than within his rights to table, flyer, or hold a sign in Red Square if he so chooses. But inviting him to speak to students is irresponsible. He’s not a conservative intellectual offering well-reasoned policy proposals. He’s not interested in a good-faith debate over the issues; he doesn’t even stand for any issues. He is, just like his former boss in the White House, a liar and a huckster willing to screw over as many people as needed in order to make some money.
The only solace that can be found in this gross display of self-indulgence is that Spicer’s efforts to become relevant again don’t seem to be working. His book, the price of which was cut in half by Amazon, presumably because of bad sales, currently sits at #11,832 in the e-commerce behemoth’s book sales, and Spicer’s book tour up until now has been a disaster. It’s hard to imagine that Spicer’s appearance at Georgetown, as ridiculous as it may be, will do anything to bring him the attention he so desperately wants.
At this point, uninviting Spicer would cause more trouble than is worth. The right-wing-campus-speech-hype-machine is always in need of more fuel, and the idea of an elite university pulling back from an agreement with a former Trump administration staffer would probably have Fox News producers chomping at the bit. Instead, students should just ignore the event altogether. Spicer can lie and crack jokes and tell White House stories to an audience of zero while the rest of us go about our days.
By inviting him to speak on campus, the IPPS is turning Georgetown students into suckers, selling out the integrity of the institution for a few seconds of fame and, in the best case scenario, a picture of its logo in the Washington Post. Students should see this for the farce that it is, and demand institutions on campus that engage critically with the world and stand up to the liars, bullies, and charlatans that occupy it.
Image Credit: Gage Skidmore