In Trump’s reality TV star mind, Omarosa, Ms. Manigualt Newman is his femme fatale. Yet, in the 2018 reversal, bucking up against the worn narrative of female foil to the male hero—Omarosa casts the siren as heroine. She blows the whistle on a number of injustices—both racial and at the human resources level—happening in the White House.
In Re-visiting Female Evil: Power, Purity and Desire edited by Melissa Dearey, Susana Nicolás and Roger Davis, Kirsten Smith’s essay discusses how gender dynamics have shifted the notion of the “spy courtesan” to the “anti-heroine” and how both are part of the long-held troupe in espionage film noir of the femme fatale . For Smith, in fact or fiction, the feminine archetype represents the lures of sexuality and danger intermixed with cunning sensibilities and intelligence . Cue “The Omarosa Tapes” scandal.
In first section of Ms. Manigault Newman’s new tell-all, Unhinged, she lays out a detailed case of using the most-picayune of technicalities to attempt to do away with the siren noir presence. Simultaneously, entrapping her detractors in the very means of their own destruction. It is a reversal of queer feminist poet’s Audre Lorde’s famous indictment—Ms. Manigault is using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house.
It does matter that seasoned political commentator Chris Matthews, yesterday, called Ms. Manigault Newman attractive. He is familiar with the aesthetics of the Washington elite. These are aesthetics with which Ms. Manigault, to some degree, is most likely familiar. As a woman it is tough to admit, but her attractiveness does matter; she’s gorgeous. Her beauty stands side-by-side with her political and intellectual prowess. With all of the talk of her TV celebrity career, folks miss the fact that she has had a longer political career than Trump—no less beleaguered. She worked with Al Gore and Bill Clinton .
“Omarosa held various roles in government during the Clinton administration,” writes David Choi; Ms. Manigault Newman “answered invitations for Vice President Al Gore and eventually landed a job with the Department of Commerce” . It is important to note that she served four positions in two years and was quickly let go from—let’s say—a couple of them .
All the more to make a case for the affinity that Trump and Ms. Mainigault Newman shared. They were snubbed by industry insiders and leaders.
Ms. Manigault Newman was given a position in the White House while some of Trump’s closest allies like Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie were overlooked. Her official title for the administration was assistant to the president and director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, and her position on the campaign was director of African American Outreach. (Some have not-so- affectionately compared her campaign position to a tokenized “Chief of Blacks” position, in synonym).
Now, Ms. Manigault Newman has been known to exaggerate her duties—a bit. We all every now and again put a little flourish on our work responsibilities, often times by a slip of memory. Here is what she on a March 19th, 2004 panel titled “Wearing the Pants: A Woman’s Experience in a Man’s World” recounted about her position, which was responding to invitations, for Al Gore’s team:
“I have done logistics and advance and event planning for the White House under the Gore staff…At 23, I got appointed to the White House. That was not a place to learn how to be a young professional. That’s a very difficult environment, because they don’t believe in training. They just kind of throw you in the fire” . To me, she gets some cred for admitting, unlike our president, that in some ways, at the White House, she was in over her head and had a steep learning curve.
Ms. Manigault is using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house.
Yet and still, it is important cite here that co-workers reported that they were “scared of her” and that the Office of Public Liaison, created specifically for her, was hard to staff “because several applicants did not want to work with her” . Could “the doesn’t play well with others” card possibly point to an even larger undercurrent regarding “certain kinds” of women in leadership roles who are famously dislike? Is that a "dog whistle" particularly reserved for African-American women?
Dana W. White, chief spokeswoman for the Pentagon, according to The New York Times, faces an investigation currently for “reportedly retaliating against workers who had complained about her” . Does she qualify for a “doesn’t play well with others” card? Potentially.
Yet, Ms. Manigault Newman writes in her book, Unhinged, that she came under scrutiny and later was fired under the pretext for violating White House car-service policy by taking a car with her husband to Nationals Park for the Annual Congressional Baseball Game on June 15th, 2017 . This was, by Ms. Manigault Newman’s account, the “integrity issue” reference that General John Kelly cited in the Situation Room, where she was fired on December 12th, 2017. Mind you, that game was the same one played 36 hours after House Majority Whip Steven Scalise was shot at the GOP team practice.
Keeping with the theatrics, apparently, according to White House Reporter April Ryan, it was reported that General Kelly “kicked [Ms. Manigault Newman] out” in a display of “high drama with the Minister offering vulgarities and curse words as she was escorted out of the building and off campus” .
[Important Update:] However, the Secret Service on December 13th, 2017, a day after Gen. Kelly fired Ms. Manigault Newman, issued a tweet that said the "reporting regarding Secret Service personnel physically removing Omarosa Manigault Newman from the @WhiteHouse complex is incorrect" .
The “heightened” way Gen. Kelly escorted Ms. Manigault Newman off the White House premise is colored against the backdrop of the heavy use of force people of color have historically experienced by white men in power. It has to in part be read that way. As much as it is a tale of the femme fatale, it is also about the narratives that are written onto the bodies of, into exchanges with, black women pre- and post-Civil War, pre- and post-the-Renee Rogers 1981 case.
Renee Rogers was terminated from her place of employment for wearing her hair in cornrows. She was an African-American woman. In the case, it was noted that the plaintiff did not accuse American Airlines of being “so heavily polluted with discrimination as to destroy completely the emotional and psychological stability of minority group workers” . Yet, what her case did do was bring to the surface workplace frictions that African-American women were facing in corporate America and in the workplace.
Ms. White’s case at the Pentagon is as complex as Ms. Manigault Newman’s case at the White House. There were allegations Ms. Dana White chiding Defense Department aides for talking with news media, rumors that she was planning to hire the daughter of Adm. Graig S. Faller for a top public affairs position and accusation of using her staff to fetch her dry cleaning .
It is arguable that men may get a different blanket of protection around “questionable” uses of power. For example, Steven Mnuchin was found to have broken no law in the “use of a plane at taxpayer expense to travel to Kentucky in August  with his wife to view the solar eclipse” . Fetching dry cleaning costs as compared to seven trips on a private jet using taxpayer money runs about what?
Omarosa Manigault Newman is a dodecahedron. She has many sides, many faces. Is she your Elizabeth Warren type, no? Yet, she is no less a feminist figure. She is doing a service for our country, albeit by questionable methods. While there are some significant credibility issues that she has to still hurdle, one thing is for sure: She walked into the most secure conference room in our nation’s capital and walked out with tapes, potentially, implicating the president and his staff on some serious charges. It’s a spy thriller, I’d like to read.
With the recent introduction of shows like the new drama “Good Girls” showcasing women expressing “righteous outrage,” The Guardian writes, “Throughout Good Girls, female rage is not just a response to personal pain, but a reaction to oppression, and a necessary catalyst for change” . Celebrities like Sandra Oh, who plays Eve Polastri in “Killing Eve,” and Krysten Ritter, who plays “Jessica Jones,” are representing women who are uninterested in tales of feminine respectability. They answer to a higher calling, even from complicated starting points. As the famous Harvard professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said quite eloquently, we all know that “well behave women seldom make history” .