Her tactic is to carry water for the president at any cost
ack during her CNN commentator days, I was once on the air with White House press secretary and Trump defender in chief Kayleigh McEnany. It was 2016, and we were both invited to be on a special CNN segment about women and politics.
Although I had seen McEnany on TV before, our real-life encounter stunned me. This was a few months before the 2016 election that put Trump in the White House, and I was blown away by her defense of then candidate Trump and how effectively, albeit delusionally, this woman was able to dismiss away the countless, and valid, sexual assault accusations against him.
McEnany would go on to become an even more ardent defender of Trump, eventually leaving her CNN gig to become the Republican National Committee (RNC) spokeswoman, after which she started her current job as White House press secretary. All along the way to Trump’s White House, McEnany sprinkled her path with very passionate and public defenses of the president.
For the longest time, McEnany’s almost unearthly ability to justify the worst of the president’s inexplicable words and actions — from sexual assault to his Muslim ban to his more recent “White power” video tweets — mesmerized me. I couldn’t figure out if McEnany was delusional, in love with Trump, or just being super-strategic about her career. Was this woman actually buying what she was selling? Or just a damn good saleswoman?
After a few months of watching her perform at the White House podium as the latest press secretary, I think I finally understand that what McEnany is doing for Trump is what White women do and have done for White supremacy for centuries: soften its image and provide its public relations (PR). Scholar and writer Jenn M. Jackson explains further in this passage:
One of the most prominent groups to participate in the preservation and purification of the failed white supremacist regime was the United Daughters of the Confederacy, founded in 1894. The Daughters worked alongside organizations like the Klan to grow white supremacist frameworks in the South. They were integral in erecting statues and monuments to commemorate the Confederate generals and soldiers who were their own family members. While they claim these efforts were about history, they instead sanitized our memory of those states that had seceded from the Union, and downplayed the Confederate states’ enduring commitments to those ideologies even after the war ended.
What Jackson describes in the above passage from her recent article is the PR work that White women did for White supremacy in the past. The very same Confederate monuments that are being protested and pulled down today were erected by women’s groups who worked alongside groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Jackson goes on to say that while current events may be relatively silent on the role of women in White supremacy, “history is quite loud.” She stipulates that White women are number two in a deeply entrenched racial order in the United States and says not to forget the role White women play in upholding White supremacy.
I couldn’t figure out if McEnany was delusional, in love with Trump, or just being super-strategic about her career. Was this woman actually buying what she was selling? Or just a damn good saleswoman?
New York Times op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow expands on Jackson’s point when he writes that “we often like to make white supremacy a testosterone-fueled masculine expression, but it is just as likely to wear heels as a hood.”
Which brings us back to Kayleigh McEnany. How is what she is doing in her current role defending the White nationalist words, actions, and administration of Donald Trump any different than what women did in the pre and post- Civil War eras? How is what McEnany does for Trump not just White supremacy dressed up in heels? The same way the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected monuments to romanticize White supremacists is the same way McEnany normalizes and makes White supremacy acceptable.
But perhaps McEnany’s most Oscar-worthy performance to date came after the ongoing racial justice protests that broke out across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the police. As Trump came under attack for forcibly removing and teargassing American protesters so he could parade out in front of St. John’s Church, a stone’s throw from the White House, McEnany compared Trump to Winston Churchill at the press briefing that followed Trump’s now infamous and obvious photo-op stunt. “For this president, it was powerful and important to send a message that the rioters, the looters, the anarchists — they will not prevail,” McEnany preached. “Burning churches are not what America’s about.” McEnany continued that Trump was not performing a choreographed stunt, but rather conducting a brave and selfless act to show the American people “that we will get through this through unity and through faith.”
That wasn’t the only jaw-dropping recent performance behind the podium from McEnany. Prior to the stunt at St. John’s, when reporters at a White House briefing asked if it was safe for Trump to be encouraging houses of worship to open up mid-coronavirus pandemic, McEnany took a page straight from her boss’s book and deflected. “Boy,” McEnany said. “It’s interesting to be in a room that desperately wants to see these churches and houses of worship stay closed.”
To all the naysayers who think comparing Kayleigh McEnany to the United Daughters of the Confederacy is a tad bit extreme and to those who still want to give this press secretary and administration a pass, sure, maybe McEnany is just good at her job. Fair and simple.
But while that makes her highly skilled and effective in her new role for the Trump administration, during a time when White supremacy is so boldly rearing its head in America, and with a president who openly encourages racists to come out, anybody who normalizes this sham of a government is just as dangerous as Donald Trump.
Journalist and political analyst. I write about gender, race, politics, and more. Proud #Feminist. Follow me on Twitter & IG: @AnushayHossain