What Did You Do in the Trump Administration, Stephanie Grisham?
BEFORE YOU CAN try to understand what motivates Stephanie Grisham, you must first—as the New York Times books desk noted while quickly reviewing her upcoming book about life in the Trump administration—remember which one Stephanie Grisham is, or was. She was one of Donald Trump's series of White House press secretaries, whose distinguishing features were that she came to the job via the office of the First Lady and that she never actually delivered any White House press briefings. Not a single one. I had halfway fused her in my mind with the former First Lady's other Stephanie, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, the senior advisor whose event-planning firm collected $26 million from the Trump inaugural committee and who I had forgotten had also published a memoir of her own.
Different Stephanie! I have a vague impression there was some scandal around Grisham, about drinking? Oh, right, Wikipedia reminds me that she had a couple of DUIs dating back to before she took the job. Also she appeared on the administration's lengthy domestic-violence blotter when fellow Trump staffer Max Miller was reportedly accused of hitting her during a breakup. Miller is now running for Congress in Ohio; everyone from Trumpworld seems to still believe there's a future out there for the taking, to go with the past they've already picked up.
Now, Stephanie Grisham has claimed a definite place in the public's memory, or at least in mine, as a member of the public. She is the person who, in the Times' news summary of her book, gave history this passage:
“I knew that sooner or later the president would want me to tell the public something that was not true or that would make me sound like a lunatic,” Ms. Grisham writes, offering a reason for why she never held a briefing.
Like Grisham herself, this raises more questions than it answers. (Her book went ahead and called itself I'll Take Your Questions Now.) To begin with: what did she think the job of being White House press secretary for Donald Trump entailed, if not lying to the public and sounding like a lunatic? The first thing that Trump's first press secretary, Sean Spicer, ever did was to go out and tell the public lies that made him sound like a lunatic, about how the obviously sparse inaugural turnout was a record-breaking crowd. Things never improved from there. It is as if Grisham were complaining that she had signed up to be the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots, only to discover that they expected her to wear a helmet and throw a football.
So much of public life now happens in this same numb space where audacity meets mendacity. The foreign policy establishment complains that no one thought through the consequences of withdrawing from Afghanistan, as if the same people had not spent 20 years refusing to think through the consequences of invading Afghanistan and imposing a feeble and corrupt government on it. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett—who eagerly threw herself into Mitch McConnell's speed-run of the confirmation process, with an election already underway, so a Republican president could be sure to put a Republican justice in Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat—gives a speech declaring "that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks," at a celebration of the University of Louisville's McConnell Center.
Is anyone even supposed to buy this? Or is it all a broad gesture of contempt toward anyone silly enough to wish to believe in a nonpartisan court or a morally responsible foreign policy or a White House staffer with scruples? Grisham left her final White House position, as Melania Trump's chief of staff, in January, as part of the wave of mass resignations following the Capitol attack—when people who'd eagerly signed on with a dirty man to do his dirty work for months or years suddenly, haplessly sprinted for the hand-washing station.
Stephanie Grisham, who took on the job of representing the Trump administration to the American public, does not represent the Trump administration. She is one more stranger appalled by Donald Trump, in the political system that made him president. She blacked out the press to spare them from being lied to. To package this as an act of resistance, or #resistance—"Her book was kept a secret from her closest allies in the White House," the Times reported—is absurd. If anything, it was an act of ultimate faithfulness to Trumpism. What did Donald Trump himself do with the presidency but claim the office while refusing to do the work?