For the good of the nation, let's not normalize any Trump flunkies with primetime TV cameos

Sean Spicer on "Dancing With the Stars" was the gateway, and look where we are now. Resist hiring Kayleigh McEnany

By Melanie McFarland

TV Critic

Published November 9, 2020 8:00PM (EST)

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany holds a press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, June 8, 2020. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany holds a press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, June 8, 2020. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

By now it's well nigh reflexive for the progressives to squint their eyes and peek beyond victory's spectacular balloon drop and confetti shower and attempt to make out the faintest shadows of defeat lurking beyond the celebration. Following four years of horror upon horror and loss upon loss, reacting to good news with a flinch is completely understandable.

However, while it is absolutely OK to look toward the future with a modest main course of hope alongside our usual helpings of dread, it also behooves all of us to never forget the long list of crimes for which Donald Trump and his enablers are responsible, moral and actual.

They have cavalierly mismanaged and continue to mishandle a pandemic that as of this writing has claimed nearly 240,000 lives and infected 10.1 million Americans and counting. They sought to transform the inhumanity of ripping migrant children from the arms of their parents and locking them in cages into good sense politics, evidence of a hardline immigration policy. Given the opportunity to decry Trump's open racism and instigation of violence, they chose and continue to choose silence or support and rebrand it as "culture issues" or "law and order" concerns.

What I'm saying is, none of these figures deserve to turn up on celebrity editions of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" or drop in on "The Conners" for a hilarious cameo or to show their faces in any broadcast network entertainment title. Not Kayleigh McEnany, not Kimberly Guilfoyle, not Mark Meadows, none of them.

Not now, not ever.

To be clear, we fully expect several of these toadies to pop up as CNN contributors or to get their own show on Fox News. That's the way cable news works. It's an odious practice that results in us gawking at former senator and current homophobe Rick Santorum all week long while we're waiting for the next vote dump to come in. But cable news is avoidable; "Dancing with the Stars," less so.

A reasonable person might surmise that the entertainment industry's ostensible leftward tilt would preclude this from happening in the immediate future, what with all the frayed nerves and raw emotions. They're probably right. Centrists and shy Trump voters eager to "get back to normal" are pleading with Biden voters to reach across the aisle and being met with a border wall of middle fingers.

This is not a fertile environment to spring, say, Eric Trump on the masses for a fun-loving appearance on "Saturday Night Live."

The larger point here is that neither Eric nor his offspring or anyone who peddled their lies to the public should ever turn up on one of these programs. And knowing what we know about how TV works, some producers are very likely to extend such an invitation to one of Trump's surrogates, perhaps in the name of moving past our differences or speeding along that healing process Joe Biden keeps talking about.

But a president elect's job is to preach unity after any election, whether the contest be normal or sanity breaking.  A TV network's job, on the other hand, is to make money by selling things to the public, whether the thing in question is a product, a person or an idea. Television has the power to normalize, and while this has often been used in the service of good over the years, it has also resulted in grave harm.

Television normalized Trump in myriad ways during the years prior to his run for President and during the entirety of his campaign.

But Trump was never a normal president, not from Day One. Along the way the rotating staff of characters surrounding him in the White House and his Congressional allies championing his absurdist evil have endorsed his corrupt deeds and continue to play a part intentionally mucking up the machinery of governance, even on his way out.

Yet we got Sean Spicer on "Dancing with the Stars."

Granted, before him that show welcomed former Texas governor Rick Perry,  former Republican Party House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Bristol Palin, daughter to former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and, never forget, Tucker Carlson.

For his part Spicer whiffed his performance in the White House after only six months in 2017 and was shamed into temporary obscurity by Melissa McCarthy portraying him on "SNL" as a feckless lump glistening with the meat sweats.

To think, back then people's main problem with Spicer is that he lied about Trump's Muslim ban and tried to persuade people that the crowd at Trump's inauguration was larger than what was shown in photographs. He may have propped up the most corrupt presidential administration in modern history, but at least he got out while the getting was mediocre.

Maybe you see what I did there. Spicer might seem less harmless than what came after, but he laid the groundwork for slicker liars to improve upon and better amplify the kind of misinformation that is literally killing us.  

Two years later, he was stumbling around in ruffled shirts and making the tango look like, in the words of "DWTS" judge Bruno Tonioli, "an Argentine struggle."  

McEnany, for example, rebranded Trump's famous "very fine people on both sides" response after Charlottesville, N.C.'s deadly white supremacist rally in 2017 as a "message of love and inclusiveness." This is when she was the national spokesperson for the Republican National Committee.

As Trump's secretary she's lied about all kinds of things but most frequently and relevantly to all Americans, Trump's failure to confront and battle the pandemic.

When in early October Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made a public statement about a thwarted kidnapping plot concocted by militia members and criticized Trump for emboldening such terrorism by "giving comfort to those who spread fear and division," McEnany responded by accusing Whitmer of  sowing division.

"President Trump has continually condemned white supremacists and all forms of hate," the press secretary said . . . as if only a few days earlier Trump did not tell the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by" in a nationally televised debate.

Why are we even talking about this? Because someone has to go on record saying something before it happens. And let's face it, there's a high likelihood than some producer is in talks with a Trump flunky right now about participating in some project further down the road.

You know, after the appropriate amount of time – say, when enough Americans decide to forget how miserable these five years have been, how many people's rights have been stripped away, how many lives were endangered or lost owing to Trump's reckless emboldening of racist terrorism and general incompetence.   

The powers that be may explain that some of these shows enjoy higher popularity in red states and that their network traditionally strive to appeal to both sides of the political spectrum – both sides! This conveniently sidesteps the fact that there are celebrities who appeal to conservative voters and liberals who didn't actively work for a man who enjoyed hurting and denigrating people.

None of these people are going to disappear, and none will lack for work. Trump may go away but the political industry that rose around him isn't going anywhere. Just look at Spicer: he has an interview show on right wing cable channel Newsmax. Others in the Trump administration will no doubt win bigger platforms in right wing media.

But for the sake of decency we cannot allow them to dance their way onto the broader stage of business-as-usual normalcy. That wouldn't merely be unjust. It would be dangerous.

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's TV critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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