It would take a heart of stone not to pity Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary whose sorry lot it is to defend with clarity and rigor the extraordinary, the bizarre, the deeply misguided, the hilarious, the moronic, the wicked, and all the other words that could be enlisted uselessly in an unsuccessful attempt to describe the things President Trump does and says on a daily basis.
Like her very unlucky predecessor Sean Spicer, Sanders has become a hate figure for journalists. Half of this is mere self-righteousness. It is almost impossible to describe for those who have never attended a briefing in the West Wing what a smarmy, self-congratulatory, clubbish, childish, idiotic set the White House press corps are. These are people who think that their needling questions about the half-understood minutiae being fed to them by colleagues via their cellphones are of vital importance to the national interest and that asking them makes them indispensable guardians of peace and justice without whom our democracy would wither away.
But in the media's treatment of Sanders, there is also an element of unambiguous class hatred. When David Horsey of the Los Angeles Times compared her to a "slightly chunky soccer mom who organizes snacks for the kids' games" and suggested that she would be "more comfortable in sweats and running shoes" than in her professional attire, he was only being more honest than many of his colleagues, whose contempt for Sanders, masked by a relentless obsession with cataloging her every verbal tic — as if no previous White House media flunky had been known to use the word "look" — is as obvious as it is pathological.
When Robert Gibbs or Jay Carney made jokes that would be funny if you were 15 and drinking beers in your hotel room with your fellow nerds on a Model U.N. field trip, people laughed; when Sanders tries to lighten the mood just before Thanksgiving with something dopey like asking reporters to say what they're thankful for prior to asking a question, they whine and sneer and pontificate about the First Amendment.
It is true that Sanders does not have the profile of Kate Moss. She does not appear to have a personal stylist or even a particularly good eye for colors or patterns. She certainly does not have an Ivy League pedigree. This former president of the student body at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, is exactly what she appears to be: namely, a more or less decent, perhaps not world-historically bright woman asked to do a difficult job and managing it with more verve and good humor than anyone could reasonably expect.
How difficult, you ask?
Whatever else might be said of him, no one could accuse President Trump of not being industrious. Consider Wednesday. Before breakfast he retweeted a video from a white supremacist account, intimated that MSNBC's Joe Scarborough is guilty of a crime that may or may not be murder, and expressed his pleasure that the staff of CNN have chosen to boycott this year's White House Christmas party. That's to say nothing of the things he is reported to have said or done while not logged into his favorite social media platform, among them dismissing the efforts of Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to alter the unpopular Republican tax proposal in the hope of making it more favorable to working families. By lunch time he was announcing new sanctions on North Korea following a conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping. A few hours later he was tweeting from Air Force One, en route to Missouri for a speech on tax policy.
How could any sentient adult speaking in good faith be expected to defend or explain or even politely acknowledge half of this? Calling Sanders a "liar" is missing the point. What would you prefer her to do? Take the podium one day and say, "Look, the truth is that my boss has a weird relationship with the truth, no real priorities other than expressing contempt for all of you, and no matter what, I'm gonna say that he's doing a good job, okay? So let's just move on."
This was something that Spicer realized only hours into the job when he was expected to honor with the power of his imagination any number of invented figures representing the purported size of the crowd at Trump's inauguration. It took him half a year and the imminent prospect of having a direct supervisor even more unhinged than his boss to resign.
In this administration, the job of White House press secretary is redundant. Trump already has Twitter. He says everything we want him to say to the American people and more in an accessible manner.
The real question is why the position existed in the previous administration — or in any of the administrations before that. The daily briefings are pointlessly tautological exercises in self-aggrandizement for both sides. Has a single worthwhile piece of news ever emerged from one, not counting meta-stories about the briefings themselves or the conduct of the press secretary or the (alleged) courage and other inspiring qualities of one or more of the journalists present? I doubt it.
Like Spicer before her, Sanders is going to realize one of these days that what she is paid to do is beneath the dignity of any rational human being and quit. Let's hope no one replaces her.