Image:YouTube/ CBS News
When reading of Sean Spicer’s press conference yesterday, I was reminded of my former career teaching 8th grade. There were **several** reasons for such a flashback, but primary among them was that I taught a unit on the Holocaust, all six years. That adds up to 19 iterations of lessons on the rise of anti-Semitism in 1930’s Germany, and the way Hitler’s “Final Solution” evolved over time.
Here is White House spokesman Sean Spicer, in his own un-factual and anti-Semitic words, on that dark period of history: “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?”
Hitler did use chemical weapons, gassing being a primary form of murder used in concentration camps (Spicer called them “Holocaust centers”).
Regarding Russia, Spicer is referring to their current support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who dropped a sarin gas bomb last week that killed dozens of people, many of them children.
Let’s break this down for Spicer.
One: Hitler did use chemical weapons, so that counts for Spicer as either ignorance or a lie, and I’m thinking it’s the former (“Holocaust centers”).
Two: It is a bad idea to compare anything or anyone explicitly to the Holocaust or Hitler. Some events and individuals are stand-alone entities. To draw comparisons is to implicitly minimize and refute what reality became under Hitler’s Nazi regime. Don’t do it.
But what is almost impressive here is how Spicer seems to trip into anti-Semitism. Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” The language is amazing in its aw-shucks hucksterism. That ol’ dog Hitler wouldn’t even do what Assad just did, folks! Russia must be deep-down bad if they’re gonna side with Assad, now.
There’s more. A reporter immediately gave Spicer the opportunity to clarify, and he tried. Watching the video, it’s clear Spicer recognized that Hitler had used such weapons in his attempt to remove all Jews from the face of the Earth. However, Spicer thinks what Assad did was different.
His words: “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.”
Twitter exploded pretty much simultaneously, as mobs of users were anxious to point out that German Jews would still be considered German, and therefore, members of “his [Hitler’s] own people.”
What Spicer did there, without even seeming to realize it, was bumble his own path of reinforcing the very argument that is the foundation of anti-Semitism.
A German Jew isn’t really “German;” they’re Jewish, and therefore, different and “other.”
Not citizens of Germany — not really.
This comprises some of what my students and I studied, several years ago. The beginnings of bigotry: insisting someone, and in fact a whole group of someones, are fundamentally less than the “us” — because of their ethnicity, their religion, their hair color, their traditions…
It’s strange to write now, and bamboozlement is always suspect, but I don’t suspect Spicer himself is anti-Semitic. There’s too much nonsense in his answers today. “Holocaust centers.” Calling Assad “Ashad.”
These are the kinds of mistakes someone crafty simply would not make, even if he thought they’d be effective. Pretending to be so effortlessly clueless would probably be exceedingly difficult for a person smart enough to hatch such a plan.
Which is why I tagged Spicer earlier on the count of ignorance.
Ignorance is still dangerous.
Más peligroso que un mono con navaja. More dangerous than a monkey with a knife. It’s a Spanish saying that has come to mind with alarming frequency over the past few months.
That’s another reason we always felt the unit on the Holocaust was the most important one of the year. If you do not understand and learn from the past, you will not recognize when the same old evil gets recycled. You will not be prepared to prevent the catastrophes of the 20th century from repeating in the 21st.
Ignorance can turn you into an unwitting promoter of lies. Perhaps, you even fall for them yourself.
Therein lurks the danger of Sean Spicer's brand of anti-Semitism.