A while back, I finished reading “Team of Vipers” by Cliff Sims. This horrifying and thought-provoking book offered a look into the beliefs and rationalizations of the man who was hired as a media specialist for the Trump campaign and later became White House Communications Aide. This is a deeply concerning book and not totally because of what it showed of human behavior and the meeting point between ethics and money. For example, Mr. Sims continually explained how he set aside his conservation religious views because Trump’s presidency was not about ego but about doing what God wanted. Let me state up-front that it would be impossible to fact check every aspect of the book, but Sims admitted they wrote fictional accounts to be disseminated as political weapons.
As a religious conservative who accepted the job of working for Donald Trump’s campaign, Sims’ salary included a rent-free a two bedroom apartment in Manhattan (a pricey piece of real estate he never could have afforded). Ironically, Sims was offered the job because of his lambastes against Alabama Governor Robert Bentley accusing him of unchristian behavior with a mistress (note: Bentley was later arrested for ethics violations). It wasn’t long before the scandalous Trump video hit — in which Trump bragged about inappropriately grabbing women and getting away with it because he is rich. Despite Sims previous work to help bring down Bentley, for some reason he chose to stay with Trump despite accusations of similar actions. Perhaps the Manhattan apartment helped him “set aside his ego and do the Christian thing” in staying?
At Trump Tower, Sims was given the responsibility to come up with “hot” talking points about Bill Clinton’s sexual exploits and how Hillary Clinton bullied the women who complained about that behavior. Sims rationalized some horrible behavior. In fact, he confessed that he made up complete fictions about Hillary Clinton — lies that somehow were leaked to the media. What does Sims write about that? He remarks in amazement that he did not get fired but was praised for the fabrications. He was told that such “hot” writing was necessary for the campaign.
Repeatedly, Sims recalled similarly immoral, decadent or unethical situations. Immediately afterwards, he wrote once again that such conduct was okay because he believed Trump was the right person for the White House. He never really clarified why that was so. After the election, he wrote that Trump was the best president ever. Even after he was fired, he continued to believe that.
I’ve focused on the campaign, but the tales of perfidy continued to grow after the election. Those stories were no less upsetting — more so. And the emotions they raised is why I am not focusing on the days Sims spent as White House staff.
After reading the book, I still cannot explain why Sims so easily set aside his religious beliefs or why he believed Trump was a great person and president. The clearest compliment in the entire book is when Sims credits Trump the candidate with being calm no matter what was going on.
Yet, the book did not present a thoughtful and concerned candidate, but one who wanted to be in control of the media. Sims mentioned contests where Trump or would decide what should be covered on news reports that evening, and how the teammates competed to see who could get it done. I read the tales of the campaign and thought to myself, Trump didn’t care how much of a mess he created because he got what he wanted: to be the center of attention for another news cycle. Over and over, that seemed to be the goal of the media team on which Sims worked; control the news and keep Trump in the reports. Later, as Trump the president in the White House, this desire for control spread.
I admit it took me a long time to wade through this book. Because it spoke of people who had the chance to make the world a better place, the knee-jerk comments about what God wanted rankled. The justifications refuted the beliefs that Sims claimed to have — beliefs that he had used previously to help bring down another conservative politician, and yet, he chose to utilize them now in service to an irreligious rich man.
Don’t read this book for enjoyment; you will not feel better about the current occupants of the White House. It is not particularly well written. Read “Team of Vipers” if you want to glimpse Trump’s power over those who work for him. Read the book if you want to gain understanding into the beliefs behind the messages. Read it if you want to understand how people of moral reputation were swayed by money, a feeling of superiority, and nebulous faith into supporting an agenda that despises the basic tenants they valued.
Read this book to educate yourself. The lesson is not about doublespeak (previous politicians excelled at that); the lesson in this book is about using words to mean something that is implied or spoken or lied about, and those words, and the hypocrisy behind them, purposefully cut to the core of the American ideal. It is an insidious message of separation, cynicism, greed and discord. A message we need to learn how to reject and refute.