The Unearned Valorization of Hope Hicks

Hope Hicks has left the building. And judging by the coverage of her resignation, one would think that Mary Poppins herself had, parrot-pommeled parasol in hand, soared out of the West Wing and over the Potomac to wherever fresh-faced, kindly governesses come from. Take this morning’s New York Times for example. The image of Hicks it, along with many other publications, cultivates is of a faithful if long-struggling squire who, through dutiful service to her mercurial feudal lord, suffered too long and too much for any person to bear – tearfully boarding a plane to a fog-embraced colonial in Connecticut where, her labors complete, she will at last find rest.

What a bunch of bullshit. I have no reason to doubt Ms. Hicks’ work ethic, nor her loyalty to the President. And her uncharacteristic ability to do her job without becoming the subject of lurid headlines (until the end) is certainly commendable, albeit by this White House’s practically subterranean standards of conduct. But while hard work and fidelity may be virtues in a vacuum, I’d like to think that when we judge those qualities in real life, context matters. And when someone chooses to devote such energies to a man like Donald Trump, I think the public and the media has an obligation to judge their character in light of the object of its favors.

Ms. Hicks, like every other member of the Trump administration, has chosen to remain by his side through every scandal and crisis, from the “Access Hollywood” tapes to today. Moreover, she has been an active participant in the trough of lies the White House spews on a daily basis, denying any and all allegations which could remotely tar the President’s reputation. She was a critical part of the Air Force One meeting where the President formulated a transparently false statement about a Trump Tower meeting between Russians and top campaign officials, and most recently told the House Intelligence Committee that she had told “white lies” on the President’s behalf, an admission which ultimately precipitated her resignation.

As Hicks has intentionally cultivated a low profile and privileged fidelity to the President and his agenda over whatever moral qualms, if any, she may have experienced in her time on the campaign trail and in the White House, we must infer that she is either a private demagogue or a thoughtless sycophant. Judging from the only(?) interview she has ever given, to Forbes magazine, where her answers to even the slowest of softball questions are babbling, perky pablum that makes the back of a Dr. Bronner’s soap bottle look like Hemingway, I’m leaning towards the latter.

In either case, Ms. Hicks has not earned the sympathetic eulogization which has followed her departure from the White House. Unlike other members of the Cabinet, such as General Mattis, there is no indication that her stint in public service was out of a sense of duty or obligation toward her country, its laws, or its Constitution. Nor is she shackled to him by family bonds. Her service was entirely volitional, and her loyalties devoted to Trump alone, her dream client (“There’s nobody else”). If anything, her blind devotion to our 45th President has earned the opposite treatment, not least because of her boss’s (and apparent boyfriend’s) treatment of women. As Madeline Albright said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” When she had to choose, Hicks decided to stand by one man who walked in on naked underage models, and another who punched his wives in the face.

People who are valueless – or who subordinate their values to partisanship or tribal loyalty or fame or riches – are scarcely better than the Steve Bannons of the world. Her silver gel pens and fresh-baked cookies notwithstanding – by sins of commission and omission, Hope Hicks has revealed herself to be one of these. When the dust of the Trump administration settles and a hundred hot takers open laptops to write its obituary, she should be remembered not as a long-suffering aide-de-camp, but rather as a vapid automaton who ducked and dodged and lied and schemed to enable the embrittling of American democracy by one of its worst Presidents.


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