It was easy, in the beginning, to project a certain sympathetic story onto Hope Hicks. This child of Greenwich with the Puritan’s name ought to have been a Never Trumper, no? Maybe she’d just gotten caught up with a bad job, and been trapped by her own success. But society Greenwich turned out to be Trump country, and Hicks was a second-generation PR scion, not an innocent naïf who wandered off the lacrosse field in the wrong direction. She not only stuck around Trumpworld but seemed to thrive uniquely.
Hicks’ main strategic innovation—other than not talking on the record, or perhaps related to not talking on the record—was famously to let Trump be Trump. For instance, when she returned to the White House earlier this year, after some time in the wilderness of Fox Corp. as communications chief following a few pesky white lies she told in the course of the Mueller investigation, she was credited with suggesting that Trump turn the coronavirus briefings into extemporaneous theater. She was the enabler of the enablers, the showrunner who quietly established his mania and bad-but-compelling personality as a political asset.
But I didn’t focus that much on that, because there was also always something else to examine, closely and cattily, in the images of Hicks. She was classically beautiful, of course, but I was also interested in the way her tan makeup stopped short at the neckline, and her hemlines could be … young. Her pioneering silent-film-star approach to being a press secretary/communications director made her mysterious to boot. (I’ve always believed Hicks’ surprising and compelling tuxedo was a deliberate Marlene Dietrich reference and wondered if she thought much about Dietrich’s refusal to go Nazi.) I clicked endlessly on Daily Mail links about her ill-considered love life, from Corey Lewandowski to the alleged domestic abuser. I laughed at the Gossip Girl cover she’d graced, and at jokes about her daughterly relationship with Donald Trump. I thought unflattering things about why this former Ralph Lauren model had such power and influence over him. When the news broke that she had COVID, and soon that he did too, I found the narrative immensely satisfying. (This time, Eve fed the apple to the serpent.) She brought out my most bitchy, sexist, petty, gossipy, shallow, judgmental, dismissive and cruelest instincts. Put more simply: She made me Trumpy.
I’ve begun to feel increasingly like his personality, aerosolized, became the germ we all had a hard time avoiding. At least for me, she’s felt like an embodiment of my inability to go high when they go low; others let their inner Trump insult-comic out with “obese turtle” or Sarah Huckabee Sanders smokey eye jokes.
But more meaningfully, Hicks is the most extreme version of a larger pattern in the whole administration, where an uncanny-valley glossy sheen kept us all riveted and distracted. Despite her sway over the president, I can’t name a single Trump policy Hicks has been publicly associated with. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising. Talking about soap opera villains is more interesting than talking about the grinding, demoralizing reality of the past four years. The whole country did a lot of talking—Trump style—about optics and personality and drama in the White House, rather than policy or who was specifically responsible for what.
So, goodbye, Hope—I want to think less often in my daily life about the role I might play in this slippery slope we’re all on together. But I’ll probably always click on a slideshow of you, especially if the slippery slope is in Vail and you’ve got a disgraced Republican on your arm.
This is part of a series of goodbyes to Trumpworld figures. Read the rest here.