We all know these people: the North American humblebragger. They are insufferable at any job, cookout or dinner party. You can hear them, across the room, in the next office, standing out on the patio talking loud enough on their cellphones that everyone else can hear:
“Nah, I’m gonna let it ring. I told Barack, I said, ‘Look, you can’t be blowing up my phone all the time just because you’re unemployed now, OK?’”
“It took forever to get steak and lobster in the executive suite at Madison Square Garden. I should’ve sat with you guys in the nosebleeds. At least then the popcorn is fresh, right?”
“My boyfriend wants to take me to Paris again this year. I’m like, can’t we just spend a weekend at home?”
A humblebragger always wants to subtly let you know how much more awesome their lives are than yours, while masking it in a “woe is me” sandwich. Their stories always have to interrupt everyone else’s, in hopes of eliciting envy, empathy and attention all at the same time.
As annoying as humblebraggers are, the Trump administration, with the help of the 24-hour cable news cycle, has created an even more annoying strain of this social disease: “the grumblebrag.” Which is the best way to explain the leaks, drama and talking points always coming out of the White House.
Grumblebragging is when you publicly state, or privately leak, how much you hate your job, often suggesting that you’re about to quit, when you’re really just highlighting how important and influential you are.
Donald Trump is the worst grumblebragger of them all, constantly complaining about how badly he’s treated as president (by the press, foreign leaders, staff, Melania, etc.), while basking in the spotlight and lining his own pockets. The rest of his administration is following suit.
Every week the news is inundated with leaks about chaos in the White House and officials on the edge of quitting. Last week it was leaked that Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen was so tired of Trump’s verbal abuse that she almost quit. She let that story simmer a full week before she came out to deny it.
In that time she was a media martyr, another woman victimized by Trump’s horrible behavior. When White House aide Kelly Sadler got busted for saying that Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona is “dying anyway,” so his opinions on White House issues are irrelevant, the whole White House went into grumblebrag mode. Leaks came out from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about how hard it was for Sadler to do her job in the White House and how terrible the media was. And let’s not forget Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who basically walks around with a resignation letter in his draft file, just waiting for that day to press send, because whenever Trump attacks him behind the scenes, it somehow leaks.
The press covers these grumblebrags like breaking news, using them as indicators of the dysfunctional White House (which they are), but also depicting these men and women as victims of the chaos (which they aren’t). Don’t be fooled: Nielsen, Sadler and Sessions aren’t suffering, haven’t been fired and aren’t about to quit.
They love working for the Trump administration, and with every leak, every publicized complaint or unsourced whisper in the Washington Post, they’re just grumblebragging. I’m sure at every Georgetown dinner party, they’re saying, “Working for Donald Trump is so tough, I almost quit my powerful position to influence policies all over America for the next generation.”
The Trump administration allows for almost unfettered graft, corruption and the freest policy expression of racial animus in a century. The Trump administration is a Breitbart message board come to life, and these grumblebraggers are loving every minute of it.
This administration has an unprecedented number of firings and resignations almost every week. The press office alone has had more turnover than a Saturday Night Live cast. People who don’t get with Trump’s program get fired, and people who want no part of the administration don’t pick up the phone. These grumblebraggers are neither. Which raises the question, what are they getting out of this in the long term?
Grumblebrags get you press sympathy and attention, but they also speak to a staff in a perpetual “cover your butt” drill mode. While Trump may not ever end up doing a perp walk, plenty of people in his wake have ended up and will end up under investigation, fired, disgraced or a combination of all three. When it all hits the fan, the grumblebragger can always pretend that he or she was the lone voice in the woods complaining about how bad things were, transitioning from undercover braggart to martyr faster than you can say “book tour.”
When somebody does something truly amazing, we don’t mind a little humblebrag. If James Shaw, who will forever be known as the John Wick of Waffle House, were to get in front of a microphone and say, “I’m no hero. I’m sure anybody out there could dodge a hail of bullets, de-arm a racist mass murderer, save dozens of lives, get stitches, show up at church the next morning with a fresh-cut camel hair jacket and still raise over $200,000 for victims of the attack,” no one would be mad because he did something brave and saved lives. That’s not the case with any of these Trump-administration stories.
When Kirstjen Nielsen complains that Trump is so mean to her that she almost can’t find time to throw immigrant children into military internment camps, I have no sympathy. When Sarah Huckabee Sanders complains about White House leaks but still has time to burn the truth into the perfect smoky eye, she’s no martyr. When Gen. John Kelly (allegedly) complains that Trump is an idiot, that idiocy doesn’t keep him from promoting Trump’s racist Muslim ban. When Jeff Sessions says his job is so tough that he barely has time to impede the Russia investigation and target black activists, let’s stop writing think pieces about how he is “a man apart.”
When it’s all said and done, and half of these grumblebraggers are fired or under investigation, it’ll be important to remember one thing: They signed up for these jobs, they enacted Trump’s agenda, and no matter how much they pretend it’s tough, they’re proud of what they’re doing, and there is nowhere else in the world they’d rather be working.