ABC’s announcement that its newest “Dancing With the Stars” cast will feature Sean Spicer, former press secretary for Donald Trump and frequent punchline, got immediate heat. The show’s tweet sharing the news was immediately flooded with derision and calls for reconsideration given the fact that Spicer gained his modicum of fame from defending some of the president’s most toxic policies and spreading pernicious lies in the process. The backlash got so immediately bad that even host Tom Bergeron felt compelled to say something, though his statement professing that he had nothing to do with the casting failed to mention Spicer by name and ended on a “why can’t we all just get along?” sentiment that missed the point of the protestations entirely.
That reaction, overwhelmingly negative though it may be, is exactly why “Dancing With the Stars” cast Spicer in the first place. Even if viewers don’t stick with Spicer week to week (and who knows how long he’ll actually last), there will inevitably be a burst of initial curiosity to boost the premiere ratings. The number of headlines surrounding his mere casting — yes, including this one — guarantee an outsized amount of interest in a season whose biggest cast members otherwise include James Van Der Beek and a Bachelorette. To give the producers an extraordinary benefit of the doubt, they may be a little confused about why Spicer’s any different from other controversial figures they’ve included before, most notably Tucker Carlson (albeit in his less odious 2006 iteration) and Bristol Palin (twice). The crucial difference that they and Bergeron (whose statement spoke vaguely of not wanting the show to indulge in “inevitably divisive bookings from ANY party affiliations”) either fail to understand or refuse to acknowledge is that Spicer’s previous life as a professional liar should really disqualify him from public life, period.
At this point, Spicer may be best known for scolding the press about underreporting Trump’s Inauguration Day crowd (they didn’t), Melissa McCarthy’s impression of him on “Saturday Night Live,” and his subsequent appearance during Stephen Colbert’s 2017 Emmys hosting gig. In other words, Spicer quickly became known as a pop culture character rather than the political failure he was, and he in turn quickly found ways to cash in with media appearances and a book deal. But in his original role as a mouthpiece for Trump’s insecurities, Spicer didn’t just lie about something as inconsequential as a crowd. He lied about voter fraud, a near-nonexistent issue Trump’s administration has continually tried to gin up into a true crisis despite constant debunking. He lied about Trump’s conspiracy theory that Barack Obama bugged Trump Tower. He lied about Adolf Hitler, whom he claimed “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons” despite an incredible amount of evidence to the contrary. Over and over again, Spicer used his pulpit to bully the press and ignore the facts, maintaining a dangerous precedent of dishonesty that has remained a cornerstone of the Trump administration today, to increasingly horrifying effect.
So, no, casting Sean Spicer on a show marked by “kitschy charm” (as Bergeron put it) isn’t harmless. It only helps to re-contextualize his place in American history as a ridiculous oddity rather than the loathsome truth of his ascendance.