Oft-maligned White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has been in the news this week, basically interjecting Hitler into a discussion about chemical weapons use. Spicer has made a habit of sticking his foot awkwardly into his mouth since he started this job, so it was no surprise that he would be ham-fisted in his delivery of a nuanced (if incorrect) point.
What Spicer said was this: “Someone who is [as] despicable as Hitler didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” When asked for clarification on this obviously incorrect remark, Spicer replied: “I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no — he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing” and then followed that up with further clarification that he was talking about the dropping of gas into towns and not at what he called “Holocaust centers,” by which he presumably meant concentration camps.
There has been much outrage at the stupidity of this statement, some of it justifiable. Trying to argue that Hitler is actually the better of two evils is never going to be a successful rhetorical strategy, as well it shouldn’t be. And the argument that Hitler didn’t gas his own citizens is particularly galling in its apparent ignorance, and if the Press Secretary would like a brief and powerful education as to why he should go down to the Holocaust Museum (located just one short mile from the White House) and learn in great detail about the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis (including the use of gas) on the Jewish people.
But we are not here simply to talk of Spicer’s stupidity but of the stupidity of his critics. Anyone with some modicum of knowledge of history understood the point Spicer was trying to make: that even Hitler refused to use chemical weapons as a part of his military campaigns in the Second World War. This refusal to use the weapons is generally attributed to the experience Hitler had with gas during his time in the German Military in the First World War. I will reiterate that it is a deeply weird and stupid move to try and use Hitler as a basis for any moral comparison, but I understood the point he was attempting to make (that what Assad is responsible for in using chemical weapons is absolutely evil). To any non-biased observer, this was obvious, and it even appeared obvious to Spicer that he had severely misstepped as he began to field questions about his statement.
Nonetheless I have since seen tweets and thinkpieces written about how what Spicer did amounts to Holocaust denial. I even saw one person I know post an impassioned, essay-length Facebook status about how this represents one more step down the path towards a contemporary genocide of the Jewish people (with the strong implication that the poster believed the Trump administration would carry out, or at least facilitate, this new Holocaust). This is preposterous of course, but it’s emblematic of the Left’s rush to brand every little thing this administration does as racist, anti-Semitic, or unAmerican.
More to the point, even though his reference to “Holocaust Centers” was clumsy and stupid, the very acknowledgement of their existence precludes Holocaust denial from the list of charges that can be levied against the man. If you’d like to see what Holocaust denial looks like, turn to the words of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who routinely questioned the veracity of the historical record of the Holocaust, and often referred to it as “a fabricated legend” and the “myth of the massacre of the Jews.” That’s what denial looks like.
Furthermore, some of the leftist critiques of Spicer’s statement have alleged that his statement was meant as some kind of subliminal dog-whistle to the alt-right to assure them that Trump was not abandoning them, and that he would soon deal with the Jews. This kind of critique is nutty for a few reasons, not the least of which is the insinuation that there is some kind of deep thought and complex strategy at play here. “Trump is playing the game on another level” is the basic thrust of the critique, and it’s something we also see from Trump’s most ardent, sycophantic supporters as a reply to other critiques of the administration. However, that is an argument that belies nothing but the stupidity of the person bringing it forward.
A quick scan of the headlines seems to prove that it is simply not the case that there is some master strategy, that Trump is not playing four dimensional chess. Trump has almost zero baseline knowledge of any key policy initiatives (remember “Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated”?), there is constant infighting in the administration (illustrated this week by the swirling rumors of Steve Bannon’s impending ouster), and his policy positions seem to shift almost constantly in response to whatever he thinks will help his poll numbers. This last point can best be illustrated by this headline from National Review’s Rich Lowry: “In Case You Are Keeping Track at Home, NATO Is In, Russia Is Out, the Ex-Im Bank Is In, Labeling China a Currency Manipulator Is Out, and Janet Yellen Is TBD.”
So no, Sean Spicer is not a Holocaust denier, and he’s not part of some grand strategy. He’s just not very good at his job, and he’s working for a man who has no clear ideology and no roadmap for defining one. This whole non-controversy boils down, once again, to incompetence. But since there seems to be some mandate among the left-wing twitter and journalist crowd that every single thing this administration does must be turned into an earth-shattering controversy, we have once again been subjected to leftist stupidity as well. The politics of outrage will do the Left no favors, and the erosion of public trust it will foment will do the Republic no favors either.