Where did Sean Spicer’s incredibly ignorant and offensive remark about Adolf Hitler “not using chemical weapons on his own people” come from? I watched the press briefing live and, like many of the reporters in the room, I gasped and did a double take when I heard him say it. Unbelievably, it was an unforced error: No one asked him to compare Bashar al Assad to Adolf Hitler. He offered the comment gratuitously, answering a question that had not been asked. [Then again, why are we surprised at Spicer’s ineptitude: As we have seen before, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature.]
So, what was Spicer thinking? I have a couple of theories:
First, Spicer may have been thinking that he was being oh-so-clever and historically context-y [and therefore smart] by using the Hitler comparison to emphasize the level of inhumanity exhibited by Assad. [I guess he forgot, or is not insightful enough to realize, that Hitler comparisons are usually dangerous, if not downright politically toxic.]
Or, maybe he got so caught up in his analogy that he, um, sorta forgot about the Holocaust? I think his answer to a reporter’s follow-up question speaks to that theory. The reporter asked, “When you say that Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons on his own people, what do you mean by that?” Spicer fumbled around for an answer and, I think, about half way through suddenly had an oh-shit moment when he “got” his blunder and remembered about the gas chambers. Then he dug the hole a bit deeper by saying that, oh yeah, Hitler did “bring that in” to the “Holocaust Centers,” clearly not remembering the term concentration camps. His answer was nothing short of idiotic. And his apology later in the day was lame, too late, and ineffective.
But here’s another theory—the one that I think really applies: Spicer has been hanging around with the Holocaust deniers who hang around the edges of TrumpWorld. I submit that when you consort with Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites, it’s just too easy to put Hitler’s atrocities out of your consciousness. His lack of awareness of the context in which he delivered his Hitler analogy fits this theory, too: This is a big time of year—Passover—for Jews who take their religion and their history seriously. It’s also the day after Donald Trump decided to snub the annual White House seder—even though he has a son-in-law who is an Orthodox Jew and a daughter who has become Jewish, and who were undoubtedly at their own seder last night.
And one more thing: When Spicer said that Hitler didn’t gas “his own people,” is it possible that he sees the German Jews who were exterminated as not really real Germans, but as “others?” What does that say about his view of Jewish people today?
I doubt that Trump will fire Spicer over this. After all, to Trump, it’s probably no biggie. It’s not the only stupid, uninformed, unaware, tone-deaf thing that Spicer has said since January 20. But it belongs on his lowlight reel.
It was an undeniably awful statement. And we should not forget it.