The Emmys were last night and, for the most part, they were fine. Riz Ahmed, Sterling K. Brown, and Donald Glover won. Nicole Kidman was allowed to speak uninterrupted for 27 minutes. Elisabeth Moss winning for The Handmaid’s Tale almost made up for her Top of the Lake accent getting snubbed in 2013. And Stephen Colbert talked about the president in that funny-but-not-Colbert Report-funny way he’s settled into on The Late Show. So, mostly fine!
But one moment stood out: Sean Spicer was wheeled onstage behind a podium to rehabilitate his image:
This is embarrassing for everyone involved. Colbert stumbles over his setup. The audience groans. The only person excited about this is Spicer himself, and for good reason: He should be a pariah, but here he is at the Emmys, being given a literal podium to make the case that he’s not a monster.
What stands out most about this is its breathtaking cynicism. Colbert has become a target on the right for his criticism of Trump. Spicer was used as a human shield of sorts, a way for Colbert to prove that he isn’t out to get the president—and to deflect the criticism that his Trump-heavy monologue was sure to generate.
Over the last year, there’s been a lot of talk about what is and isn’t normal. One thing that has sadly been normal in American politics is letting people who do horrible stuff off the hook. Henry Kissinger is still considered an influential voice on foreign policy and the architects of the Iraq War are free to opine about Trump in the pages of practically every respectable print outlet we have.
If this really is a transformative moment—if we really are in the midst of an existential crisis—then it would probably be a good idea for people in Washington and Los Angeles and New York to not do stuff like this. Redeeming Spicer was a signal to everyone in the Trump administration: Poke fun at yourself in the lowest-stakes way possible and we’ll welcome you back into the fold.
Also, the bit sucked.