politics

Sean Spicer Is Bad for Trump, but Good for You

The press secretary's incompetence and idiocy is a blessing and a curse.

by Eve Peyser; illustrated by Lia Kantrowitz
Apr 12 2017, 9:05pm

This week, famously gaffe-prone White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is in hot water after comparing Adolf Hitler favorably to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and in the process saying that Hitler didn't use chemical weapons—when in fact he gassed millions to death in concentration camps. (As of Wednesday, Spicer was still apologizing.) This is just the latest in a long string of humiliating mistakes from the Trump spokesman. But are Spicer's stumbles just a problem for the administration, or should ordinary people care that the press secretary can't get his foot out of his mouth? Politics writer Eve Peyser and politics editor Harry Cheadle debated that question today. Here's Eve's point:

Much like the man he ostensibly speaks for, Sean Spicer can't get a damn thing right. The press secretary is effectively the public relations representative of the administration, and Sean Spicer is a terrible PR man. A good publicist massages the situation to make whomever he represents look good; incapable of subtlety, Spicer is barely able to utter a sentence without causing a national crisis. And his litany of alternative facts, corrections, and blunders reveal the devastating disorganization of Trump's White House.

In a press conference on Tuesday, while attempting to explain Donald Trump's decision to strike Syria by comparing Hitler to Bashar al Assad—or "Bashad al al Asee" as the press secretary pronounces it—he falsely purported that unlike Assad, "Hitler...didn't even sink to using chemical weapons." (For the record, yes, Hitler used chemical weapons in the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust. In fact, it was the Nazis who developed Sarin, the gas Assad used in the attack earlier this month.)

Read the counterpoint to this article here.

After pushback from the press, it took Spicer four tries to muster up a quasi-acceptable apology, in what became a sort of bizarre defense of Hitler. He called concentration camps "Holocaust centers" and managed to assert "[Hitler] was not using gas on his own people in the same way that Assad is doing." This didn't earn him any good will with those accusing him of anti-semitism. After more outrage and a slew of classic Spicer fuck-ups, where he suggested that unlike Hitler, Assad used chemical weapons "on innocent people," he landed on this response:

In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. 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.

The Anne Frank Center, along with several Democrats including Nancy Pelosi, have since called for Spicer to be fired. Spicer might be shamefully offensive and reliably unreliable, but so is the administration he represents. It is nearly impossible to coherently justify a foreign policy as erratic as Trump's. Though the president enthusiastically spoke of "bomb[ing] the hell out of ISIS" throughout the campaign, he also said "we should not be focusing on Syria," and warned that Hillary Clinton would cause "World War III over Syria." If Spicer's inability to articulate Trump's stance on Syria indicates anything at all, it's that the president doesn't really have one.

In other words, the president's decision to attack Syria cannot be justified because Trump has no ideology. (Trump's communications officer recently told 30 White House staffers, "There is no Trump doctrine.") Spicer's train wreck of a press conference indicated that the president is making major military decisions on a whim. It was a thoughtless act—one that, according to Eric Trump, was influenced by Ivanka telling her father she was "heartbroken and outraged" at the atrocity. Your daughter's heartbreak is not a valid reason to start a war.

An inadvertent beacon of horrifyingly entertaining gaffes and flubs, Spicer is bad at smoothing over controversy that shouldn't be smoothed over to begin with. Like when he tried to argue that Trump's executive immigration order wasn't a Muslim ban, even though both Trump and Spicer himself had previously identified it as such. Admitting the executive order is in fact a Muslim ban is obviously not in the best interest of the administration, but perhaps a more competent press secretary wouldn't have undermined himself by telling a group of students that "the ban deals with seven countries" the day prior.

These fuck-ups don't do the administration any favors, but do we want a press secretary who makes the administration look better? Do we want another person spinning blatant racism or an unnecessary war into something digestible to the press and the American people? If we want an accurate look at the Oval Office from the briefing room, we need a press secretary as incompetent as the administration itself. On that point, Spicer delivers.

Follow Eve Peyser on Twitter.