In the midst of the general abnormality of Donald Trump’s presidency, the speedy and frictionless rehabilitation of Sean Spicer in recent days was curiously predictable. In the past week, the once-disgraced White House press secretary has made a sudden and jolly re-emergence: an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” a fellowship at Harvard and, at the Emmy Awards, a self-parody of his demonstrably false claim that Trump’s inaugural crowds were bigger than Barack Obama’s. “This will be the largest audience to witness the Emmys, period — both in person and around the world,” Spicer insisted in a perfect sendup of his most famous lie.
Laughter ensued. Nicely played, Spicey: The first thing they teach in flack school is that self-deprecation is key to any image rehab. And so is the earnest concession of remorse, which Spicer dispatched a few hours later, after the after-parties (when asked by The Times this week if he regretted criticizing reporters who accurately reported the inaugural crowd size, he replied, “Of course I do, absolutely”), pivoting away from the defiance shtick he previously served up to Trump’s base (“I have no regrets,” Spicer told Sean Hannity after quitting his job in July).
You could, of course, make yourself dizzy with the quadruple back flip of parody, self-parody, self-self-parody and meta-parody at work here. Is this an instance of the New Normal Trump merging with the Old Normal Swamp to form an even more breathtaking Mega-Swamp? Regardless, Spicer’s breezy rematriculation into polite society has had a scripted quality to it — as has the immediate backlash from the left, journalists and various unamused sectors of Twitter railing against the “normalizing” forces of Kimmel, Harvard and all those Spicey-swarming selfie-seekers at the Emmys.