The Unofficial Chief of Staff
Reader: Are you someone who is angry in an inchoate way at the Trump administration as an institution but who would prefer to focus your anger like a laser beam on specific individuals? We at The Baffler are here to help! As a wise man once told my father while trying to sell him a program at a Knicks game, “They’re just a bunch of tall guys in shorts, without a program”—and so, too, the various hangers-on in the Trump orbit may seem to be just a bunch of transparent grifters and/or terrifying ideologues in suits unless you have a clear guide for who the players are. We plan to bring you the key stats and career highlights of all the best people in the administration, as well as those who are “too hot” for government service and end up bounced out to the 2020 campaign, their various 501c3 scams, or who just ends up on the semi-consensual receiving end of those rambling “executive time” phone calls. This time around let’s get to know longtime Trump pal, secret real estate mogul, and 77th highest-paid celebrity in the world (tied with Rihanna): Sean Hannity!
All hail the Shadow CoS! Last week, in the wake of the surprise courtroom revelation that Trump’s hapless law-talking-guy Michael Cohen was also in some vaguely defined lawyer-client relationship with sensibly coiffed Fox News superstar Sean Hannity, we got a round of news stories about Hannity’s growing power and influence over the president. The Washington Post quoted unnamed and presumably resentful White House aides who dubbed Hannity the “unofficial chief of staff.” (You can tell the post is “unofficial” because Trump hasn’t gone out of his way to publicly emasculate and belittle Hannity yet.) For you coastal elitists who don’t watch Fox News at home and manage to avoid it at the gym, here’s a quick biographical sketch of the life and times of Trump’s favorite “journalist.”
Hitting the jackpot: Sean Hannity, a rich TV star, can genuinely say that he is living out the dreams of millions of working-class Americans. Specifically, he’s living out the dream where you call into local talk radio shows enough that one of them eventually gives you your own show. This happened in 1989 when UC Santa Barbara’s left-leaning student radio station awarded him a weekly show after he’d badgered them incessantly with calls in defense of his hero, Ollie North, of Iran-Contra infamy. (He had dropped out of the school years before and was working as a contractor.) In a 2004 interview with CBS, he says that after a few weeks “they took away that microphone . . . I wasn’t good at it. I was terrible.” In fact, he got fired because he and a guest had a long conversation about how AIDS was spread by gay men eating each other’s poop. And then nobody ever heard from Sean Hannity ever again.
No, just kidding! In fact, the ACLU fought to get him his job back, which he largely refuses to give them credit for, but then he demanded twice as much airtime as he had before and left when his employers refused to give it to him. Eventually he ended up on air in Alabama, then Atlanta, where he was discovered by Roger Ailes, who hired the square-jawed superpatriot to run a talking head show internally titled Hannity and LTBD (liberal to be determined). That show turned into Hannity and Colmes, which made Hannity a star. (Remember Alan Colmes? He died last year, alas, so he can never know the sweet comeuppance of seeing your on-air cable foil turning up in a federal subpoena.)
Sean Hannity: Actually OK with sex stuff! Good news, liberals! Hannity claims that he feels real bad about the homophobic business that got him fired from that first gig. “I’m actually very libertarian on social issues and people’s personal lives,” he told The Independent.“I freely admit the comments in my 20s were ignorant and embarrassing.” He’s also a lifelong Catholic who, like the vast majority of Catholics, is super cool with contraception, but unlike the vast majority of Catholics has some weird long-running public feud with a priest about it.
Sean Hannity: Actually OK with treason! Good news, transparency enthusiasts! Way back in 2010, Sean Hannity thought that Julian Assange was “waging war” against the U.S. by revealing information found in classified documents leaked to him by Chelsea Manning. “Why can’t Obama do something about the WikiLeaks?” Hannity demanded to know. A mere six years later, it turned out the WikiLeaks were actually pretty cool when they were about Hillary Clinton, so perhaps bygones should be bygones, you know? Could Julian Assange maybe even guest host Hannity’s show? Sure!
Sean Hannity: Hollywood big shot! Remember that movie marketed to Christian audiences that features Kevin Sorbo (star of the timeless nineties TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) as an obnoxious professional atheist who has a literal come-to-Jesus moment after a terrible car accident? No, not 2014’s God’s Not Dead, which kills off its God-defying protagonist; we’re talking about 2017’s Let There Be Light,where he plays a different professional atheist who survives the car accident. The movie was directed by Sorbo and co-written by his wife, and his wife and kids play his wife and kids in the movie and also —this is the important part — Sean Hannity was the executive producer and also plays himself. By all means you should watch the trailer, if only to see a comical Italian-American mobster turned Protestant (?) pastor saying “Jesus got whacked.”
Sean Hannity: Real estate mogul! What did Hannity consult with Michael Cohen about, anyway? “I hate the stock market, I prefer real estate. Michael knows real estate,” Hannity said after the relationship became public, and in fact Hannity loves real estate so much that he’s invested $90 million in it via a series of shell companies, buying up foreclosed properties with support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development while complaining about the foreclosure rate on TV and interviewing HUD Secretary Ben Carson. There’s nothing illegal about any of that, of course, though the guy who sold a lot of those properties to Hannity bought them illegally from rigged foreclosure auctions, but that’s neither here nor there. “I doubt you would find it very surprising that most people prefer to keep their legal and personal financial issues private,” said Hannity’s attorney who, fortunately for Hannity, is not actually Michael Cohen.
Final question: Does Sean Hannity vape? Hell, yeah, Sean Hannity vapes!
INFOBOX: Sean Hannity literary fun corner!
MATCH GAME! Can you guess which Sean Hannity-penned book title goes with which subtitle?
1. Let Freedom Ring A. Defeating Obama’s Radical Agenda
2. Deliver Us from Evil B. Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism
3. Conservative Victory C. Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism
4. How does Sean Hannity write his books?
A. With a quill on parchment, like our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution
B. Yelling them into a headset hooked up to a tape recorder while commuting into Manhattan on the Long Island Expressway
C. By nodding in approval at the binders of material collated and ghost-written by a team of low-paid college students he assembles at CPAC every year
5. Hannity is a fan of what regular writer at the liberal New Yorker?
A. Janet Malcolm
B. Andy Borowitz
C. Malcolm Gladwell