During a tumultuous opening 100 days to the Trump presidency, Sean Spicer has become something of public relations wild card. Known for his animated, occasionally hot-headed outbursts towards members of the media, Spicer has drawn the ire of many reporters - as well as the American public. In addition to these disagreements, his misinformed comments and parroting of White House policymaking rhetoric have led to ample backlash.
With his comments regarding the Holocaust today, Spicer has triggered a social media firestorm, offending those in the America public, those in the Jewish community, and generally anyone with a rudimentary understanding of world history.
Reported by Reuters, Spicer compared Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler in light of recent chemical attacks orchestrated by Syrian regime forces. These government-perpetrated strikes killed 87. In comparison, he had this to say:
Spicer's remarks carried additional weight, made during the Jewish holiday of Passover - amplifying the insensitivity of the comparisons. Adolf Hitler is the marquee figure in global history books when speaking to state-sponsored atrocities. A single man and his hateful scapegoating left the Jewish population of Europe scattered, fearful, and reeling. In an article published by the Telegraph as recently as 2008, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on the notion of Germany's "collective guilt" following the conclusion of World War II, stating that "The Shoah fills us Germans with shame."
According to data compiled by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (although statistics vary from source to source), up to six million European Jews were killed during the Holocaust. Most estimates of Jewish deaths center around this figure. Assad, while directing horrible acts against his citizens, certainly does not belong in the same conversation as Hitler - let alone the same sentence. While events in the Middle East escalate, we can expect those around the world to become more familiar with Assad. However, his name will never carry the same level of negative connotations.
While Spicer decided to make his statements based on technicalities regarding the way in which chemical weapons were deployed, these statements display a stark lack of situational awareness. Gas chambers within concentration camps were utilized to orchestrate mass executions of Jewish prisoners. The results were the same: excruciating pain and death, albeit on a much larger scale. Again, to anyone with knowledge of history, this is common knowledge.
Social media groups accused the press secretary of attempting to minimize Hitler's crimes, according to Reuters. Steven Goldstein, Executive Director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, offered harsh criticism as well:
It is quite understandable that public outcry is so strong in response. As a press secretary, you prepare talking points and disseminate information to the media and general public. Preparations, ideally, are made in advance. The fact of the matter is, Sean Spicer demonstrated an extreme lack of tact addressing a chapter in yet another horrible humanitarian. That crisis deserved to be brought to light, but not in such a disrespectful manner. Reuters notes that Spicer deflected yet again, crediting a Jewish staff member for writing the remarks. Perhaps he should have "vetted" such external input in greater detail.
During a situation marked by its emotional impact, we needed statements to usher in sentiments of solidarity. Spicer blundered heavily. At the time of writing, CNN reported that Spicer offered an apology for his comments, and rightfully so. However, in the eyes of many, the damage has already been done. A few more words are not going to mitigate that.