Unless you were living under a rock on Tuesday, it’s very likely that you heard Sean Spicer’s jaw-dropping comments about Adolf Hiter, the Holocaust, and Syria’s recent chemical weapon attack. However, in case anyone missed them, here they are:
We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons. So you have to, if you are Russia, ask yourself: Is this a country and a regime that you want to align yourself with?
I think when you come to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.
He also went on to refer to the Nazi death camps as “Holocaust centers.”
For those reading this who might not know much about me, or anything I’ve written, I’m a huge advocate for seeing the bigger picture or looking for the “why” behind a certain statement or event. Too often people get swept up in trends, knee-jerk emotional reactions, or Internet “outrage” and miss out on the real story concerning a particular comment or issue. Well, I think this is one of those incidents. Without a doubt Spicer’s comments were ridiculous. However, when I heard them, what stuck out to me wasn’t what he said, but why he said it.
Spicer’s official title is White House Press Secretary, but he’s really nothing more than a quasi-PR puppet for Donald Trump. It’s his job to stand in front of a mostly well-educated, highly skilled pool of professional journalists and answer for the never-ending crazy surrounding Trump and his administration. He’s given “marching orders” each and every day concerning the propaganda Trump wants to put out there. So it’s not just a matter of Spicer having to answer for the Trump administration, he’s being asked to perform that task while also adhering to instructions and objectives that often aren’t factual, reasonable, or even sane.
Here’s why I feel people are focused on the wrong part of this story.
1. Donald Trump and his administration have a history of trying to downplay the Holocaust: Aside from still employing alt-right/white nationalist icon Steven Bannon as a key figure within his administration, Trump’s had several instances just since he’s been in office that drew the ire of the Jewish community.
Back in late February, after a month of rising anti-Semitic violence following his inauguration, Trump finally issued a statement condemning the uptick in hate crimes many attributed to the tone of his campaign that inspired white nationalists. However, he only issued this statement after his daughter publicly addressed this issue. Many felt her comments put pressure on him to address something he seemed to have been avoiding talking about for weeks.
This followed a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu where, when he was asked about a spike in hate crimes aimed at the Jewish community, Trump responded — by going on a 20-second rant about his electoral college victory.
Then there was the statement Trump made on International Holocaust Remembrance Day where he didn’t mention the Jewish people once. When pressed on such a glaring omission, his administration defended not specifically mentioning the Jewish people because — and this is not a joke — they said “everyone suffered.”
Though that wasn’t even the end of that story.
A few days later, Politico published a report that brought to light that the State Department had drafted a statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day that did specifically mention the Jewish people, but the Trump White House blocked its release.
Maybe it’s just all a string of “bad coincidences,” but it seems rather odd that an administration enthusiastically supported by neo-Nazis and white supremacists seems to show a striking pattern of downplaying the horrific events of the Holocaust and, in particular, the unimaginable suffering endured by millions of Jewish people.
2. While he clearly botched this about as badly as he could, comparing Assad’s attack to Hitler wasn’t likely his idea: Sean Spicer is basically the “Baghdad Bob” of the Trump administration, so you can’t tell me that comparing this recent chemical weapons attack to Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust was his idea. He came off as someone who was flustered trying to sell a pile of b.s. even he knew was preposterous. Things only got worse when he botched what he was trying to say and reporters started pressing him on his comments.
Keep in mind the points I made in #1 because those matter when you factor in Spicer’s responses to follow-up questions and/or comments trying to clarify the overwhelming ignorance of his statement.
He could have easily done a “reset,” spoke for a few moments about the atrocities of the Holocaust, what Hitler did to the Jewish people, and how the administration was in no way trying to downplay those events. However, if he did that, then he would be going against the seemingly unofficial rule of the Trump administration to avoid talking about the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust, while also forcing him to admit that it’s unbelievably idiotic to claim that Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons to kill people. Again, one of the pieces of propaganda he seemed to have been ordered to “sell” during this briefing was this idea that Assad is in some way worse than Hitler.
The main job of any White House press secretary is to represent and push the agenda (or propaganda) of the current administration. They don’t walk to that podium without being prepped on the overall message the president wants pushed and what they should or shouldn’t say if asked certain questions. Sure, they’re mostly using their own words, but that doesn’t mean their answers are sans any direction from the White House.
So while everyone focused on the stupidity of Spicer, my focus was more on why he said it. It seemed abundantly clear to me that he was given some sort of a directive by the White House to play-up Assad’s use of chemical weapons by comparing him to Adolf Hitler, but he screwed it up. While I know Spicer is an easy person to mock, especially when he says something as incredibly stupid as he did on Tuesday, I think the real story here should center around:
- Another example of the Trump administration seemingly trying to downplay the horrific realities of the Holocaust.
- Trump is seemingly trying to mask his ignorance about Syria and Assad by comparing him to Hitler to justify his recent airstrike when, in 2013, he publicly mocked and criticized President Obama’s desire to do the exact same thing in response to a chemical weapons attack that actually killed 14x’s the number of civilians as last week’s attack.
Without a doubt, Sean Spicer deserves every bit of ridicule he’s getting over what he said. I just think there’s a bigger story here revolving around why he was out there trying to make such an incredibly asinine comparison and why he seemed to struggle to correct something that shouldn’t have been that difficult to correct.