Why Sean Spicer was so confused about the holocaust and Syria.

Why Sean Spicer Was So Confused About the Holocaust and Syria

Why Sean Spicer Was So Confused About the Holocaust and Syria

The Slatest
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April 11 2017 4:12 PM

Why Sean Spicer Was So Confused About the Holocaust and Syria

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Tough day at the office.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

During what may have been his most embarrassing press briefing yet, Sean Spicer seemed to argue on Tuesday that Bashar al-Assad has surpassed Hitler in terms of pure evil. “You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said. Sure, the German dictator was a bad enough guy, but Assad has taken things a step further. This of course left out the small historical detail of the Holocaust. Spicer was given a chance to clarify his remarks, and struggled mightily to do so, becoming defensive. “I think when you come to Sarin gas—[Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way Assad is doing,” Spicer babbled. “There was not—he brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that—in the way Assad where he went into towns, dropped them down into the middle of towns.” Got that?

Isaac Chotiner Isaac Chotiner

Isaac Chotiner is a Slate staff writer.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, Spicer’s repeated use of phrases such as “his own people” seemed to imply that—say—German Jews were not really German. The connections between this way of thinking—which was, by the way, how the Nazis thought—and the way that our current president defines who is and isn’t a true American are too obvious to list, even if the circumstances are vastly different. After the briefing, as Spicer was taking a battering on social media and elsewhere, including calls for his resignation, I began feeling a small dose of sympathy for the guy. This was at least the second bizarre controversy for this press secretary that touched on the history of the Jews and the Nazis; remember the administration, and Spicer, declining to mention Jewish suffering when commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day? Although starting these forest fires is almost certainly not an intentional strategy, it probably does speak to the bizarre structure of this White House. Just imagine for a moment that you are Sean Spicer, and consider the following facts:

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  • The man you work for is a bigoted ignoramus who has made many derogatory remarks about minority groups and won the support of outright white supremacists such as David Duke (whom he at first refused to condemn) and Richard Spencer.
  • That man’s beloved daughter and son-in-law, who could conceivably be the second and third most powerful people on planet Earth, and who you also essentially work for, are religious Jews.
  • Perhaps the fourth most powerful man alive is Steve Bannon, who had his own controversies involving anti-Semitism, and who proudly ran a website that posted headlines like this.
  • Yet another top White House adviser is Sebastian Gorka, who is about as close as one could get these days to being ... an actual Nazi.
  • You, Sean Spicer, have to spend your days defending people who work in the White House.

Is it any wonder that Spicer is confused? And would even someone with a greater grasp of history, decency, and common sense than Spicer be any less perplexed?

What must be even more confounding is that he is being forced to flip-flop daily on United States policy in Syria. Just remember that poor Spicer went to work for someone who had not only laughed off Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons against his own people, but who has shown a real affinity for dictators of all sorts. Less than two weeks ago, Spicer was saying that the fate of Assad was an issue for the Syrian people to decide. Now, Spicer, who was clearly never the brightest of men, has to go talk as if Assad (whose name Spicer cannot even pronounce) is worse than Hitler (whose regime the White House might be split on). Again, you almost want to feel bad for the guy.

After the press briefing ended, Spicer did release another statement saying this: “In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. However, I was trying to draw a contrast of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on innocent people.”

He then released another statement, changing “innocent people” to “population centers” and then another version with the phrase “Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.” What exactly he was “contrasting” remains unclear.

Anyway, the final position of Spicer and the White House seems to be that all attacks on innocent people are equally bad. You know who else was bad?