Moment of Clarity

Why Spicer Didn’t Count the Jewish Gas Victims

When Spicer said Hitler didn’t use gas on ‘his people,’ he echoed Trumpians’ talk of The American People—who don’t seem to include people of color and immigrants.


Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

So, Sean Spicer tells us on Passover that Hitler “was not using gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.”

Hitler’s people apparently being what Spicer would likely call The German People, much the same way he and his fellow Trumpians so often speak about The American People.

The German People to Spicer as well as to Hitler apparently not including the nearly 200,000 German Jews who perished in what the White House press secretary chose to call “Holocaust Centers.”

Just as The American People to Spicer and the Trumpians do not seem to include people of color or immigrants or anybody else who did not vote for the new president.

When the Trumpians tell us that the president is only fulfilling his promises to The American People and doing what The American People want in the interest of The American People, you can be sure that they meant it in the same sense that Hitler spoke of The German People.

And that was never clearer than when Trump called the media “the enemy of the American people.”

No less unmistakable was what Spicer meant when he spoke of Hitler’s people.

Whatever corrections or clarifications or apologies Spicer offered, the use of the two words “his people” with regard to Hitler leaves us with this:

On a sacred Jewish holiday, the spokesman for the president of the United States essentially said that gassed Jews didn’t count.

And note that Passover is a time when the faithful experience anew a story older than the Old Testament, reflecting on the past to inform the future.

Maybe this Passover is a time for all people who are American to reflect upon another leader who meant only some people when he spoke of his people.

Consider Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States on Dec. 11, 1941, which contained such phrases as, “the German people are not to be spared this struggle,” and, “the German people and its soldiers work and fight today,” and, “the strongest sympathy of the German people.”

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The speech reached a crescendo with an invocation.

“My German people!”

In the aftermath of the war in which Hitler gassed millions of Jews, Fred Trump and his son Donald perpetuated a lie lest they alienate a good number of their tenants who had less than fond feelings about The German People. The lie was memorialized in The Art of the Deal but publicly dispelled by the father’s 1999 obituary in The New York Times.

“[Fred] Trump would tell friends and acquaintances that he was of Swedish origin, although both his parents were born in Germany,” the Times noted.

Even in New York, with all its ethnic rivalries and enmities, nobody was going to refuse to rent an apartment because the landlord was Swedish.

Who did the Swedes ever gas?

Fred and Donald were practical before all else; they said and did what worked for them.

But you have to wonder if there was not a Teutonic echo in the son’s subsequent embrace of birtherism, which ultimately had nothing to do with where President Obama was actually born.

Birtherism was all about what Obama looked like, and it extended to others who do not look like The American People.

In more pragmatic terms, birtherism allowed Trump to tap into the blind and disproportionately vehement opposition to Obama, which ultimately had everything to do with race.

When the world was outraged by Bashar al-Assad’s use of gas on innocent Syrian civilians in 2013, Obama sought congressional approval to take military action, and Trump was of course among those who opposed it.

Four years later, Assad did it again. Trump suddenly declared himself horrified by images of gassed kids that were remarkably similar to images of gassed kids that he had previously declared to be insufficient cause for America to get involved.

But now Trump himself was president. And the pure pragmatist saw an opportunity to present himself as a commander in action.

The question of why Trump would shrug at gassed kids in 2013 and launch 59 cruises missiles over gassed kids now was left to Sean Spicer to reconcile.

What was Spicer supposed to say, that the United States is being run by a man whose policies are determined by what he happens to see on television and what he thinks in the moment will make him even happier when he looks at himself in the mirror?

That there is no strategy, only impulse?

Spicer sought to rationalize and explain, and he became hopelessly jumbled. He ended up saying what it seems even he never would have said, particularly on Passover.

With the shock of those words on a sacred day came sudden clarity amid all the dissembling and obfuscation.

We understood on this Passover not quite like any other exactly what the Trumpians mean when they speak of The American People.

But in truth, the American people are all the people of America.

Therein lies the reason we are a nation like no other.

Therein resides our actual greatness.