White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday tried a humble apology after arguably his worst 24 hours on the job - no small feat, considering his previous gaffes, mispronunciations, lies, exaggerations and insults. “I made a mistake - there’s no other way to say it - I got into a topic I shouldn’t have, and I screwed up,” Spicer said in an appearance at the Newseum. The topic, of course, was the Holocaust and his bizarre assertion that not even Hitler used gas on his own people. (That it was uttered on Passover made it all the more cringe-worthy.)
Listen, a guy who speaks of “Holocaust centers” and issues multiple clarifications in writing after his original statement (which the press room generously offered to let him correct) cannot characterize such profound ignorance and stupidity as a “mistake” - as when one gets a name (like Bashar al-Assad) or fact (like crowd size) wrong.
So the White House should fire him, as many Democrats, including Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are suggesting? Some editorial pages were rightly outraged at his mischaracterization of the Holocaust. Maybe not so fast.
In a way, Spicer is the perfect figure to transmit - indeed channel - the president and his administration. Spicer’s condescension (“Stop shaking your head,” he instructed April Ryan) is nothing new, nor is Spicer’s historical ignorance. Remember, this crowd claimed that leaving “Jews” out of the Holocaust Remembrance Day statement was appropriate. Likewise, Spicer’s lack of mastery over basic policy issues, his fake conspiracy theories, preference for bullying and bluster, and abject dishonesty mirror those of his boss, to an almost uncanny degree.
The ethos of arrogance - they are so important that they need not be held accountable for their statements - has been the one constant since Trump announced his campaign for the presidency. Trump’s victory, however, does not mean underlings like Spicer can get away with egregious lies and bizarre gaffes. For one thing, Spicer has to face the press (not just a single friendly interviewer) en masse and on an almost daily basis. For another, Spicer lacks the confidence to pull off the lies, not to mention the stature to deflect inquiry. He’s a sitting duck for fact-checkers, cable TV news vilification and, most important, “Saturday Night Live” mockery.
And so it doesn’t seem equitable to fire Spicer for gross and perpetual dishonesty, ignorance and rudeness. If that were the standard, most of the Trump staff would need to go. The press has contempt for him and vice versa, but that shouldn’t be grounds for firing him. After all, Trump thinks the media are “losers” and “the most dishonest people”; there’s no reason that Spicer’s attitude should cause alarm in this White House. Spicer doesn’t know basic facts? The fellow who never seemed to grasp during the campaign what the nuclear triad is and until recently thought NATO (whose forces took part in Afghanistan) was not concerned with terrorism isn’t exactly the sort of person to demand precision and accuracy, now is he?
Spicer is uniquely inept and unpleasant, to a degree we’ve not seen in any White House press secretary. But then we’ve never had a president like Trump, one lacking in the desire to “get it right” and to learn what he needs to know. In that regard Spicer is the perfect reflection of the Trump White House - its boorishness and its cluelessness, its willful ignorance and its disdain for alternative, reliable sources of facts.
Besides, who else (other than those already working in the White House) could Trump get to debase himself by defending Trump’s lies?