Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Sean Spicer’s worst alternative fact. Ever.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer holds a press briefing in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 14, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

(RNS) The Passover haggadah famously teaches that there are four children: the wise child; the wicked (or rebellious) child; the simple child, and the one who doesn’t even know how to ask.

We might have to invent a whole new intellectual category to describe White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

At a press briefing, Spicer said not even Adolf Hitler used chemical weapons in World War II the way Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people.

“You had someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said.

When a reporter asked Spicer to clarify his remarks, Spicer did a great Porky Pig imitation, hemmed and hawed, and said: “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.”

Reporters suggested that Spicer might — might! — want to think of the Holocaust.

“He brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that,” Spicer said.

“But in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns and dropped them down…I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable,” he said.

“Holocaust centers.”

I think that those would be gas chambers.

Thanks, Spicer, for your sweet wishes for a good Pesach.

Now, let’s take a hike into Spicer’s brain, and try to unpack what he might have thought that he was trying to say.

One:

Spicer was making a distinction between the delivery methods of the gases in question.

In Spicer’s moral universe, it is “worse” for a tyrant to drop poison gas into a city via airplane than, say, down the chutes of a gas chamber.

Not buying it.

Death of civilians = death of civilians.

Two:

Was Spicer, perhaps, saying that when Hitler dropped Zyklon B pellets into the gas chambers that, at least, Hitler was not gassing his own people — because Hitler did not consider the Jews his own people?

Sean, Sean, Sean: you cannot want to go there.

Three

Was Spicer saying that, in the international Genocidal Evil Tournament, Assad beats Hitler?

Please.

I am not among those who believe that it is invalid to ever compare any horror to the Holocaust.

Quite the opposite: to rule such comparisons off the table is to place the Holocaust in such a rarified place in the human imagination as to make it impossible to learn anything from it.

But, we have to be very cautious in making such comparisons.

Whatever else is happening in Syria (and who among us can dispassionately view the photographs of dying children?), it is not a holocaust, and it is not The Holocaust.

Those children are the victims of a complex internal war in Syria.

Assad never issued an order to wipe out an entire people.

He has not summoned Syrian industry, academia, and national philosophy into a lethal conspiracy to kill his people.

I would like to say that Spicer’s statement was unbelievable.

Actually, it was all too believable.

This is, after all, an administration that issued a statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day — a statement which just happened to say nothing about Jews.

That was an act of what Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt calls “soft Holocaust denial.” (No Passover pun intended here).

Spicer’s recent comment — and his ham-fisted attempt to recoup some kind of coherence — is but a continuation of such denial.

So, back to the four children of the Passover haggadah.

What new child does this administration represent?

We are way beyond “simple,” and way beyond “the one who doesn’t even know how to ask.”

It is almost uncharted intellectual territory.

These are the children who simply make s_____ up as they go along.

And that is far, far worse.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

32 Comments

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  • Zyklon B. now that was a gas.

    Holocaust centers: can I go and get my free toaster oven? What about a gas shower?

    Just remember, children. No matter how bad X is now, Y used to be much worse. Or maybe it’s the other way around. No matter how bad X is, Y IS much worse. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

    On holocaust Remembrance Day, on Passover.

    History is for pussies, but not for pussy grabbers or their employees.

  • And this comes the day after Trump skipped out on the White House seder (which Obama always attended) with no explanation and couldn’t even be bothered to send his Jewish daughter and son-in-law in his place. The smoke keeps coming, but some continue to deny that there’s a fire underneath it.

  • Sean Spicer doesn’t seem to think that German Jews were German citizens. Hitler would have agreed with him,

  • Being a dishonest inarticulate slug, Spicer probably meant to say “Even Hitler did not use gas weapons IN COMBAT”. He used it a lot on captive civilians but not military targets or population centers. It was stupid for him to even try the reference. It was way beyond his skill set.

    But given the presence of actual Nazis in the white house staff, he gets no slack here. Just on principle.

  • I think the essence of Mr Salkin’s commentary is-Hey Sean, have you tasted this s___ your trying to feed me?
    I may be understating, if so, apologies.

  • That was an act of what Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt calls “soft Holocaust denial.”

    I’ve heard of the White Denial, and the Blue Denial, but never of the Soft Denial.

    Spicer’s recent comment — and his ham-fisted attempt

    I see what you did there.

  • Either Spicer is really that ignorant about the Holocaust, or just ignorant to use this analogy. You refute his claim brilliantly and anyone with a smattering of understanding of the Holocaust should agree as well.

    I do wonder however, and this is not to excuse any of what he said, if Spicer should have referred to WWI and the use of gas on the battlefield. If he wanted to make an argument referring to the use of chemical weapons on the battle field against an opponent then siting WWI, though still a stretch, would be a little more accurate. In addition, for Spicers comment to begin to be anywhere close to being true he would have noted that Hilter did not use chemical weapons on Allied/opposing forces on the battle grounds of WWII.

    I would also like to mention that Mr. Salkin is right in the perception of not holding the Holocaust up to the point of never being able to show similarities or reference it with other atrocities. While I hope nothing ever comes remotely close to the Holocaust again, it must be invoked when we begin to see even a hint of it in the world.

  • Your point is bang on, but would require spicy and people like him to not only read a history book, but to understand it. Facts are hard. Stupid is easy.

  • The good news is he apologized.

    The bad news is he had something so stupid to apologize for.

  • Just a small note Ben: there are some women who consider public usage of the P-word to be on par with public usage of the C-word (in reference to genitals). And that really ain’t good.

    Trump didn’t score any points with the public (not even with his supporters), when the “P-Word video” was publicized. If anything, he lost points and nearly lost a national election.

    An object lesson for all of us, it seems.

  • I am not sure he really apologized. He said he shouldn’t have said it and won’t “do it again” (whatever that means). That sounds like he recognized a career mistake.

  • To invoke Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager, “That’s what asterisks are for”…
    Then again, if it’s good enough for The Great Dic— er, our Great American P**s*dent…

  • WH Press Secretary Rule # 3: Get your facts straight (from the alt-factory).
    WH Press Secretary Rule # 2: “Holocaust centers” shows more savoir-faire than “death chambers”.
    WH Press Secretary Rule # 1: Grace under pressure is so overrated.

  • Note to self: Now that I have gassed the Sean Spicer comment, and boy do I feel better for it, try to remember some important things
    1) Hitler and Assad need people to focus on themselves as victims, not on others as victims, to sell their solutions.
    2) When my focus is primarily on myself and myself as a victim, I’m susceptible to buying from these types of vendors.
    3) At full boil there products produce things like individuals gassing individuals. At a simmer it causes individuals to distrust and find an enemy within their midst.
    4) When a response that measures the right amount of justice and the right amount mercy is needed, I need to look outside my own self interest for a solution.

  • But the evangelicals and fundies– values voters all– STILL voted for him. Including you. That dog won’t hunt.

  • “Trump didn’t score any points with the public (not even with his supporters), when the “P-Word video” was publicized”

    But luckily Evangelical Christian voters remembered that values, morals and ethics are for other people, not them. Such concerns are only used to attack others but never expected from their own behavior. As long as someone is on the same side politically as they are, such things don’t really matter.

  • “Either Spicer is really that ignorant about the Holocaust, or just ignorant to use this analogy”

    It can be two things.

  • Actually, Trump supporters liked him even more after his “pussy” comments were publicized. One woman was even photographed in a homemade “Trump can grab my [pussy]” shirt, and “Grab em by the pussy” t-shirts are commercially available.

    It is ludicrous for a conservative Christian to chastise anyone for using the word “pussy” when conservative Christians voted for Trump almost unanimously. Please stop with the hypocrisy.

  • Spicer telling the press that Hitler took Jews to a museum — as a clarification?
    Trying to save face while apologizing — by turning himself into a wordchipper?
    ??????????????????????????

  • I really try hard not to ruin anyone’s life, so it was probably someone else. Besides, I was somewhere else at the time.*

    *i was in law enforcement many years ago. This was something I heard all of the time,

  • I considered a career in law entanglement at one time. So it looks like we might have something somewhat in common.

  • I left when I finally understood that the criminal justice system was far more criminal than it was just. I was ready to go in any case, but that understanding made me feel good about it,

  • He bloody misspoke and had a major lapse in memory and reason. But no way was he intentionally denying the holocaust which cannot be denied based on the preponderance of evidence. The only ones who could claim that he was denying the holocaust are those so bloody hyper sensitive they are looking for a reason to be offended.

  • I did my best. I’m most proud of fighting the judge and DA on a case of a demonstrably crazy guy being sent to state prison for three years for beating up his little sister. I went to the judge, explained the situation, and said that it would be tantamount to murdering the young man if they sent them to State prison. The judge said that there wasn’t anything that he could do to keep the boy out of state prison. I had to go to his shelf, get his evidence code, and show him the section that said he could send the boy to a state mental hospital instead. He seemed genuinely bewildered that I knew more about the law than he did.

    On the other hand, there was a very “bad hombre”who had murdered someone else who was no better than my guy was. They were prepared to give them six months in county jail and revoke his parole because he had inadvertently committed a public service. Though I understood the reasoning, I still recommend it for state prison for life because he had murdered someone, and it wasn’t the first time he had uses a gun in the commission of a violent crime. I didn’t win on that one, but it convinced me it was time to leave.

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