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The Young and Beautiful Lives of Dimwitted Villains

July 29, 2019
The Young and Beautiful Lives of Dimwitted Villains

“Who’s going to give back the young and beautiful lives (and others) that have been devastated and destroyed by the phony Russia Collusion Witch Hunt? They journeyed down to Washington, D.C., with stars in their eyes and wanting to help our nation…They went back home in tatters!”

Last week we learned that Hope Hicks didn’t just steam Donald Trump’s pants (while he was wearing them) she may have also lied to Congress and may be called back to testify again. “Based on the timing of these calls, and the content of the text messages and emails, I believe that at least some of these communications concerned the need to prevent Clifford from going public, particularly in the wake of the Access Hollywood story,” an FBI agent investigating the case wrote in recently unsealed documents.

It’s not hugely surprising that the former White House communications director may have lied about working in tandem with the president and his lawyer and the head of the National Enquirer to pay off a pornographic actress during the election. After all, as Hope candidly admitted, working for the president “had occasionally required her to tell white lies.”

What is surprising is that no one seems to care. The Michael Cohen documents suggest that Hope Hicks lied to Congress, obfuscated and covered for her boss—and when she got sick of the job she was able to secure work in the private-sector propaganda arm of the administration.

Why is she getting away with it?

Maybe after last week, the media is all out of outrage.

Maybe the Democrats are drowning in the stream of crimes and scandals coming out of Trumpworld like water from a firehose.

Or maybe her Brooke Shields-like looks create a forcefield around her which allows her to evade accountability and get whatever she wants, whenever she wants it.

If Seinfeld taught me anything, this is a thing that sometimes happens with beautiful people.

Dominant Female Character Profile - Nikki (Seinfeld)

Whatever the case, this is an excellent opportunity to look back at one of The Trump Show’s most appealing and appalling villains.

Hope was a villain, of course. Everyone in The Trump Show is a heel. That’s part of its success. The other part is casting and, according to Omarosa, Hope was cast “because she’s pretty.”

As Omarosa made the rounds hawking her book, she claimed that there was a very good reason that Hicks didn’t give interviews even though she was the White House communications director, and it wasn’t because she was private. It was “because she doesn’t know what’s going on. She understands Trump, and she can schedule an interview . . . or write some notes, but that’s the extent of her political career.”

Manigault vs. Hicks was the storyline America deserved but never quite got. It was all one-sided. “She didn’t know what some of the most basic acronyms in politics meant,” Omarosa claimed in 2018. “I said to her once, ‘You know, we should look at GOTV operations, and come up with some talkers from it,’ and she looked at me because she didn’t know what ‘get out the vote’ meant.”

But while Omarosa ran in front of any camera that would have her so she could drop bombs, Hope stayed behind the scenes and worked to keep morale up in the administration.

For instance, you might remember Karen McDougal. She was one of the other adult models who claimed to have had an affair with Donald Trump. The National Inquirer paid her $150,000 for her story and then refused to either publish it or allow her to tell it to anyone else. It was a miraculous turn of events and Hope texted Michael Cohen that the McDougal affair was, thankfully, getting “no traction.”

“Keep praying!! It’s working!” she wrote!!! (The new documents do not specify if she used the Folded Hands or the Raising Hands emoji. Judging from her use of exclamation marks, it seems possible she included both.)

But maybe the single best moment of Hope’s White House tenure was the passage in the Mueller report where she pops up to ask Jared Kusher if the congratulations email she had gotten from Vladimir Putin was for real: Hicks forwarded the email to Kushner, asking, ‘Can you look into this? Don’t want to get duped but don’t want to blow off Putin!'”

There are so many layers to this onion: There’s the Russia angle. There’s the fact that she went to Jared for tech support. There’s the exclamation mark. But at least she knew who Putin was. That’s something.

And while you can say what you want about Hope’s native intelligence, it seems pretty clear that she was smarter than her boss. As one person close to Trump told Olivia Nuzzi, “Hicks acted almost as an embodiment of the faculties [that] Trump lacked—like memory.”

Was she the Keyser Soze of the west wing? No. Not really. It’s better to think of Hope Hicks as a sort of Gossip Girl villain. When Robert Draper did a deep dive into Trump’s Twitter presence, for instance, he found that Hope was responsible for some of Trump’s most savage tweets. “She’d have absolute daggers,” one campaign hand told Draper. Being able to write really, really mean tweets seems like something Hope might have learned during her bucolic childhood in the wealthy enclave of Greenwich, Connecticut. When she wasn’t modeling. Because in one of those weird ways in which the universe seems to have been trying to warn us about 2016, the 17-year-old Hope was actually the model on the cover of the Gossip Girl spinoff series.

And yet, of all the characters in The Trump Show, Hope is the one you almost have a grudging respect for. Unlike Javanka, she’s not a scion looking to inherit the throne. She’s not a creepy mini-Putin, like Stephen Miller. She’s not a narcissist like Gorka or an idiot like Tomi –well, maybe she is an idiot like Tomi.

She is, in her own strange way, a self-made woman. She went from pretty little rich girl, to junior PR flak, to Trump clan hanger-on, to comms director for the president of the United States. She did all of this before she was 30 and along the way she amassed so much power that if she started answering some of the 155 congressional questions that she demurred on, she might well bring down this White House.

That’s a lot of juice and it probably explains why the Trump campaign and the RNC have given more than $600,000 to the law firm that represents Hicks (though the Trump campaign has never confirmed that those payments were for her representation).

In the end, Hope Hicks may wind up being the only person who survives Trumpworld. Years from now when this period in American history is taught in dry middle school text books and boring made-for-TV movies, Hope might escape notice.

Maybe she’ll create a second act for herself as a morning news anchor. Or she’ll become a New Jack Marissa Mayer. If she’s really lucky, she might be able to make a pile of money and then disappear into obscurity. If you had to put money on one character from The Trump Show to stick that landing, it would be her.

With her killer good looks and Zelig-like presence, Hope Hicks is a reminder that not everything Trump touches dies. Just most things.

Molly Jong-Fast

Molly Jong-Fast is a contributor to The Bulwark and the author of three books. Follow her on Twitter @MollyJongFast.