Sean Spicer's Emmys bit is the redemption arc we don't need right now.
It's not quite the level playing field we'd like to believe.
Sean Spicer, the man who began his tenure at the White House by claiming, contrary to all evidence, that Trump's inauguration crowd was "the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period," received a roaring round of applause when he appeared on stage at the Emmys.
Sean Spicer at the Emmys. Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images.
Reactions in the audience ranged from delight to shock, as the same man who once ranted that "not even Hitler" used chemical weapons or gas on his own people (blatantly false) was invited to spend the evening rubbing elbows with Hollywood's elite.
Less than two months after officially leaving the White House, the same man who supported Trump's claim that there were "millions" of illegal votes in the 2016 election by misrepresenting a 2008 study has seemingly shed his pariah status. How?
Actor Jason Isaacs shared his feelings on Spicer's Emmys appearance in a no-holds-barred Instagram post.
Hoping to forget politics for one night and bask in other people's glory at the #Netflix #Emmys party and who do I spot at the bar late at night but the poisonous purveyor of lies #SeanSpicer. What were the Emmys thinking celebrating this modern day Goebbels, who was the thuggish face of Orwellian doublespeak just moments ago? Three surprising things about him: 1) He comes about up to my nipples 2) He doesn't think he should hide himself under a rock from shame for the rest of his life. 3) He's deeply unattractive, from the inside out. Has the aura of a giant festering abscess. Strange, since he was so charismatic at the (elevated) podium. #TooSoon #MuchTooSoon
A post shared by Jason Isaacs (@therealjasonisaacs) on
"What were the Emmys thinking celebrating this modern day Goebbels, who was the thuggish face of Orwellian doublespeak just moments ago?" Isaacs captioned a selfie he took at the Netflix after-party with Spicer in the background. Spicer "has the aura of a giant festering abscess," Isaacs wrote.
Spicer's ability to shed his poor reputation is not without precedent.
People just love a good redemption story. Conservative commentator David Frum, a speechwriter during George W. Bush's administration, is best known for the infamous "Axis of Evil" speech that laid the groundwork for the invasion of Iraq. Today, you can find him being approvingly retweeted by liberals and progressives for his "#NeverTrump" views, offering political commentary in writing and on TV.
The same can be said of Rick Wilson, a Republican ad-maker who was the driving force behind a 2002 TV spot suggesting that Vietnam veteran Max Cleland was sympathetic to Osama Bin Laden and a racially-tinged 2008 ad centered on candidate Obama's pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. These days, he can be found making regular appearances on MSNBC and being favorably written about on liberal blogs.
For the most part, their pasts have been wiped clean. It's no surprise, then, that so many are willing to ignore Spicer's propagandist past and allow him to be remembered more as the lovable satirization Melissa McCarthy played on "Saturday Night Live" than for the very real harm he caused to American citizens during his brief tenure as Trump's press secretary.
Spicer during a January press briefing. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.
Not everybody gets the kind of "good redemption story" that Sean Spicer is currently enjoying.
In a tweet following Spicer's Emmys appearance, MSNBC host Chris Hayes summed the problem up perfectly.
Forgiveness, redemption, and fresh starts are too often offered only to the powerful. The wealthy. The elite. The rest of us aren't so privileged.
Perhaps no better example of this dynamic exists than two stories currently playing out at Harvard University. The school recently unveiled its Institute of Politics visiting fellows for the Fall 2017 session. Among those invited were Sean Spicer and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Chelsea Manning, who served seven years in a military prison for leaking classified documents, was also slated to join the group. Manning's inclusion was met with backlash (CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell even resigned from the fellows program in protest), and she was swiftly and unceremoniously removed from the lineup.
Lewandowski at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.
Lewandowski, who was charged with battery for grabbing a reporter during the campaign and was recently accused of threatening his neighbors with a baseball bat, has since landed a cushy CNN contributor position for several months during the campaign and is now headed to Harvard. Like Spicer, redemption came easy for Lewandowski.
Chelsea Manning, though? She doesn't get to be forgiven. She doesn't get to have a fresh start. She doesn't get an invite to the Emmys or to be a CNN contributor, even though her sentence was commuted by President Obama in early 2017.
The same goes for Michelle Jones, who after serving more than 20 years in an Indiana prison, applied and was accepted to Harvard's exclusive history program before a dean overturned that decision. She worked, studied, and made it into the school on her merits, but her past kept her from a fresh start.
"We didn't have some preconceived idea about crucifying Michelle," John Stauffer, a Harvard American studies professor, told The New York Times, which published Jones's story last week. "But frankly, we knew that anyone could just punch her crime into Google, and Fox News would probably say that P.C. liberal Harvard gave 200 grand of funding to a child murderer, who also happened to be a minority. I mean, c'mon."
This is the kind of elitism we need to rail against, the kind that holds people to different standards based solely on who they are.
The world isn't yet a just and equal place for everyone to live, and we should always question why we're so willing to help reintegrate some who've sought a fresh start back into society, but not all. If the Spicers, Lewandowskis, Wilsons, and Frums of the world deserve a chance at redemption, why shouldn't that extend to people from marginalized groups, like Manning or Jones?
The dynamic spelled out between the anger and disbelief of Isaacs's post-Emmys Instagram post and the sober reality of Hayes' tweet about redemption say a whole lot about what justice looks like for those in power versus those who lack it.