Saturday, March 18, 2017


This is what normalization looks like:

This is how normalization reads:
[Conway] knows that she has had a breakout year. As Trump’s highly visible and quotable campaign manager during the election’s final sprint, she became a constant presence on cable news and thus a subject of widespread fascination, armchair psychoanalysis, outrage, and exuberant ridicule. But rather than buckling, she absorbed all of it, coming out the other side so aware of how the world perceives her that she could probably write this article herself. Caricatures from that time, when hardly anyone believed Trump could defy the polls and win, depicted her wielding everything from a whip to a shock collar to tame her unruly candidate. But these days, serving as the senior counselor to the president, Conway is becoming less a supporting character than a bona fide celebrity in her own right. She is simply more famous — more beloved by Trump fans and more hated by Trump detractors — than anyone in any comparable role in any previous White House.
We'll be told that this New York magazine cover story is not a puff piece at all -- it's balanced because it acknowledges the dishonesty of much of what Conway says. There's some truth to that. But the context is what matters:
By March, she was less a pollster, campaign manager, or communications guru and more what the press expected Ivanka Trump would become in the absence of Melania Trump, who remains in New York with her young son, Barron — a pervasive female double of the president, an extension of his will and much more fiendishly committed to her boss than anyone else working on his behalf. Fewer than 50 days into the new administration, Conway had become almost inseparable from the public’s idea of the Trump White House. That is, the functional First Lady of the United States.

The simplest explanation for that is Conway’s eerie similarity to the president: her opportunism, jumping from Ted Cruz to Trump mid-campaign; her mercenary sense of loyalty, somehow both total and totally for hire; her ease at projecting, in even the most staged encounters, a blue-collar authenticity; her fighter’s instinct, which dictates that she never give an inch or even try to persuade; and, above all, her very loose relationship to the truth and her very evident love of the game. Other Trump surrogates, like Reince Priebus or Sarah Huckabee Sanders, get weaselly under pressure, as did their predecessors in previous administrations. But in intense interviews with Jake Tapper or Chuck Todd, you can usually see Conway winking and smiling, in much the same way her boss seems amused by the theater of a press conference even as he’s staging one. Other presidents would have been ashamed to have their representatives spin such bullshit, to have them so dismissively refuse to engage with interlocutors about contrary facts or commonsensical presumptions. But Trump doesn’t appear to feel shame, not in his communications strategy nor in any other part of his life. And Conway has become his most convincing doppelgänger by not feeling shame either.
You can point out that the words "opportunism," "loose relationship to the truth," and "bullshit" are all in that passage, and thus it can't possibly be described as flattering. But all of this is in the context of an assertion that Conway is the de facto successor to Michelle Obama and Jackie Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt, that she's earned this position not merely by lying but but by lying skillfully and with great joie de vivre, in an expert imitation of the Master. Nuzzi knows Trump and Conway are full of shit, but she respects Conway's adroit and gleeful mimicry of Trump's brazenness.

Nuzzi doesn't appear to be interested in what this sort of lying does to the country. Here's a question Nuzzi is far more interested in: Did Conway's defense of Mike Flynn (“Yes, General Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president") a few hours before he resigned reveal that she's not as much a member of the Trump inner circle as she claims? Nuzzi goes on about that for paragraph after paragraph -- it's much more important to her that what Conway and the rest of the Trumpers are saying and doing, and she returns to it at the end of the profile:
But Conway bristles when she feels public perception of her influence is confined to the idea that she’s a mere mouthpiece. In conversation, she is eager to explain that she’s in important meetings, important events, and privy to important information. In recent weeks, she’s hired her own staff ... and focused her energies on broadening her portfolio.... Her office, now two months into the administration, is beginning to look more like a place of permanence, decorated by those photos of her kids that had once been in a duffel bag on the floor as well as photos of her with the president. There are even a few more computers on her desk.
War with North Korea? War with Iran? Alienation of European allies? Repudiation of NATO? Collusion with Russia? Crackdowns on Muslims and immigrants? Drastic cuts to health care and other social programs? Not important. Who's up, who's down, what's the pecking order at the White House? That's what's important.

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