Brian Karem on Sarah Huckabee Sander’s White House Exit
Brian Karem reflects on the departure of his sparring partner
Sarah Sanders is a true believer. Conditioned by an upbringing rooted in Christian rhetoric that’s impervious to reason, she views the world through a lens in which everything exists in absolutes. The world is absolutely against the believers, and only the believers know the truth.
It is scary enough to deal with this mindset in religious circles, but Sanders has applied it to politics, and to Donald Trump. It explains her defenses of Trump against all odds, her unflappable ability to tell the most egregious lies, to deny facts and to look upon those who stand against the president—or in the case of reporters asking questions, as heathens and/or unwashed sinners incapable of understanding “The Truth” she claims to provide.
It is why she can declare, with a straight face, that she wants to be remembered as being transparent and honest. Privately, Sanders can be kind and funny. I have had interactions with her—off-the-record and in her office—that have been amicable and memorable. In a gaggle with a small group of reporters after she announced her resignation, I asked her if she had any regrets. She wanted to think about that, but said calling on me in a briefing had to be one of them. I laughed.
After all, the press is still here. Publicly, we have had major disagreements. Though she has been in close contact with members of the media more or less (and lately far, far less) on a daily basis, she still hasn’t hesitated to side with the president when he calls us the enemy of the people. She has openly accused us of providing fake news and at one point, drew my ire when she encouraged us to watch a piece of recorded fiction and then denounced reporters for not believing the fiction.
Any claims of Christian good charity from this administration melted away when I confronted her about having empathy for young refugees the administration puts in cages. Her tenure as a presidential press secretary is replete with propaganda instead of facts and the details will be studied in post-secondary education circles for years.
Her lack of experience exacerbated the situation and further helped to drive a wedge between Trump and millions of American voters—though the administration doesn’t see it that way.
But I do not endorse those who shame her for a variety of shallow and meaningless physical reasons, nor will I bother indulging in such folly.
Sanders, who announced last week she is leaving, walks away from the White House leaving a smoldering caldera of scorched earth and the desecration of our founding fathers precepts which metaphorically represent the Armageddon her religion taught her. She was never qualified to hold the post of Press Secretary. She is naïve, inexperienced and didn’t know the purpose of the office or how to deal with the press in a functional way. During the last two years, she abandoned the traditional role of the Press Secretary in favor of being the president’s chief defender; in doing so, she never faltered come hell, high water or a lack of factual information.
While previous press secretaries said they never wanted to be put in a position to lie to the public, Sanders did it proudly and with impunity. Larry Speakes, Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, once told reporters we shouldn’t tell the administration how to stage the news and they wouldn’t tell us how to report it. This administration, with Sanders’ assistance, wants to tell us what to report, how to do it and admonish us for not doing exactly what is dictated.
As a direct result, reporters across this country have endured hate mail and death threats. We’re still here. Sanders, guided by Trump, eliminated the daily press briefing and replaced it with a series of driveway excursions conducted by administration officials, which gives her cover to say the administration is being transparent even though no useful information was ever provided to the public. Press secretaries used to carry a briefing book thick with administration policies, facts to supply and talking points on issues to cover. It’s gone.
Starting with Ronald Reagan, the first president I covered, and until this president took office, press secretaries supplied morning background “gaggles” to bring the press up to speed on issues facing the administration and the Republic. Briefing papers with facts and opinions were routinely disseminated to the press. I’m old enough to remember when they were printed out instead of emailed. Today, there is none of that.
We are pelted with propaganda and left without facts to back up anything the president or members of his administration say. Perhaps Kellyanne Conway is being hunted for violating the Hatch Act because this administration is too feeble to provide us facts on any issue, and that vacuum of informational need is being filled with the rotting blow flies resting in Conway’s consciousness.
To be fair, it is damn near impossible to provide vetted facts to the public in a Trump administration. Trump is in over his head; Trump the incompetent will save us from Trump the fascist, as more than one former administration official and pundit have opined. “Don’t try to over analyze us,” former communications director Bill Shine once told me. He likened his job to being the guy who cleaned up after the circus left.
That is the handicap dealt to Sanders. Her lack of experience exacerbated the situation and further helped to drive a wedge between Trump and millions of American voters—though the administration doesn’t see it that way. She destroyed her credibility with lies, some verified by the Mueller investigation, and many more verified by video, audio and printed facts. She was also undone by a communication staff that didn’t do the homework, didn’t know the issues and at one point referred to the Posse Comitatus Act as “that Hakuna Matata thing.”
Whomever steps into the role of press secretary—if anyone does—will have to slowly rebuild the trust with the American people destroyed by the ravages of a press secretary who had no historic perspective of her office and cared little for such details. She has been called Trump’s battering ram, a smooth dealer in disinformation akin to Goebbels and other propagandists.
Again, the truth is far scarier.
She is all those things not because she knows Trump is a fraud and she’s in on the joke like Conway, but because she believes. She can forgive Trump’s lies and turn a blind eye to them because those who question Trump, in her mind, just don’t get it. He’s the new savior. The man on a mission. She and others think Trump’s being vilified like Jesus, and I’ve heard her privately make allusions to that very sentiment.
It isn’t just frightening that Sanders lied to us, but that she represents millions of people who eagerly swallow the lies, continue to smile at you off camera and will even be cordial to you while never once thinking you are human or worthy of the redemption the true believer smugly believes they deserve. It is that disassociation from reality that is truly frightening.
Conway, on the other hand is an honest hypocrite. You just know when you look at her she doesn’t for one instant believe anything she says. You know she’s lying and she knows you know it.
The frustration of covering this administration is embodied in Sanders, but it is unfair to blame her for everything.
The president’s tweet announcing Sanders’ resignation came at the end of a typical day of Trump revelations, misfires and pronouncements. Conway had been chastised, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to be threatening a war with Iran, and Trump told ABC he’d take information from a foreign adversary in the next election. It was all greeted with muted indifference. But there was a resounding cry of multiple expletives—sounding like wild banshees being field-stripped while still alive—that echoed across the basement of the White House press offices when the president announced Sanders’ exit. The frustration of covering this administration is embodied in Sanders, but it is unfair to blame her for everything. The fault, of course, is with the president.
Sanders said she wanted to get out for that age-old reason: spending more time with her family. Against all odds, I take her at her word. I don’t think she has any desire to be the governor of Arkansas, as the president prodded her into becoming. The school year is over in D.C., her kids are entering school in the fall and now is the perfect time to disengage, get away from the struggle and go home to Arkansas and enroll her children in school there next school year. Trump merely endorsed Sanders for governor to give her an exit boost. If it happens, fine. If it doesn’t, Trump won’t care. It wasn’t to be taken seriously—though afterward, in the small gaggle with a dozen or so reporters, Sanders smiled when someone addressed her as “Governor.”
She also said during that gaggle she wasn’t worried about the Mueller report showing she had lied and that the report had nothing to do with her decision to leave. Trump remains her liege. She will bend spoons, shout at the Democrats, speak in tongues, lie to the public and whatever else she feels necessary to defend him. The lie isn’t a lie if it defends Trump.
Never forget, she and Trump value loyalty above all. She is Trump’s disciple. She is Trump’s charge. In her mind she is one of the apostles sent into the hinterlands to preach Trump’s truth.
From this she has never wavered. It is hard to believe she ever will.