The first stage is Denial. This can’t be, you tell yourself. Even a White House known for its gross incompetence would not have its chief spokesperson compare Adolf Hitler favorably with Bashar Assad. Even a presidential staff that don’t know much about history or geography wouldn’t employ an advocate who comes across as if he’s never even heard about the Holocaust. Even an incoming administration that makes the Keystone Cops look like a smooth and efficient operation wouldn’t succeed in ruining the high point it had reached in the wake of the Syria strike so thoroughly and transforming it within minutes into another ludicrous fiasco. Even a God who has traditionally enjoyed tormenting his chosen people wouldn’t dump this on the Jews on the same day they celebrate their redemption from one of his previous practical jokes. Pharaoh, you can almost hear Spicer explain, may have enslaved the Jews but he never wiretapped them, like Obama.
You’d think that Donald Trump, who has repeatedly raised suspicions about his attitude to Jews – from his disparaging remarks to the Republican Jewish Coalition at the start of his election campaign, through his refusal to disavow white supremacist support, his use of the term America First, his campaign’s refusal to disown its own anti-Semitic memes, his appointment of senior advisers such as Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka with questionable past histories with Jews, his stubborn rejection of pleas to include Jews in his Holocaust Day statement, his initial reluctance to condemn anti-Semitism – you’d think that he would be extra careful not to jump head first into the same anti-Semitic cesspool that he’s only barely climbed out of. You’d think, but you’d be wrong.
The second stage is Anger. Really? You ask yourself. Really? This is the best that Trump can come up with? A spokesperson who is too tongue-tied or too zonked out of his mind to say what he means or to mean what he says? Or one who seems to believe that Hitler didn’t engage in “chemical warfare,” as if Zyklon B grows on trees? Who implies that Jews weren’t really Germans, just as Der Sturmer always claimed? Who seems to think there was such a thing as Holocaust Centers? What, like Walmart, but with showers?
And what is it with Trump and the Jews anyway? Why does he seem to think they’re only good at money? How is it that he and his people keep on berating, insulting and mortifying Jews so obsessively? Why did Spicer portray Jewish protests against their exclusion from the White House’s Holocaust Day statement as “nitpicking” and why did Gorka, with his troubled history with Hungarian anti-Semites, describe them as “asinine”? Why is Spicer now claiming that Hitler was a straight-up guy compared to Assad? Is this some devious plan to drive the Jewish people crazy?
The third stage is Bargaining. It’s only Spicer, you tell yourself. It’s just the inexperience, you explain. Things were getting better, you must admit, before they got worse again. And then there’s Jared and Ivanka and the Jewish grandchildren and Sheldon Adelson and Shmuley Boteach and the Seder that Trump didn’t come to in the end, but at least the White House had one. And give them credit for not sending Spicer out to boast that under Trump, Jews no longer need to resort to white Gentile children, as they did in previous administrations, and can now just buy their matzos in a grocery store.
The fourth stage is Depression. It comes together with a sense of dread and foreboding, because it’s clear this probably isn’t going to end well, for the Jews or for anyone else. Where there’s so much smoke blowing out of the White House, the fire is bound to be close behind. If the president’s staff can spew out this bile when things are actually going great for the administration – relatively speaking – think what will happen if the economy takes a nosedive or if Trump’s newfound bravado on the world stage ends in disaster or if this or that Jew actually does get in the president’s crosshairs.
More disturbingly, however, is the thought that if the White House can exhibit this level of sheer inanity on such a sensitive topic, is it reasonable to trust Trump and his staff to defeat ISIS, depose Assad, or to remove the nuclear threat from North Korea and Iran? It may seem that way now, a few days after Trump’s bombing of the Syrian airfield, but down the line, is it sensible? If you have a spokesperson who makes utterly mad Melissa McCarthy seem saner than the real thing?
Finally you reach the fifth stage of Acceptance. The world has gone crazy, you tell yourself, so might as well enjoy. These are the nut jobs that the American people in their infinite wisdom have elected to run the Free World and, as the pundits repeatedly tell you, you have to respect their verdict. And even if you don’t respect it, you’re going to have to live with it.
Which reminded me of the controversy stirred by Simon Pegg earlier this year in London when he was handing out a lifetime achievement award to Mel Brooks at the BAFTA awards ceremony. Discussing The Producers, Pegg and fellow host Nathan Lane said how wonderful it was that Brooks had given the world Hitler on ice, Hitler on dry land, even Hitler on Broadway. “Well, that’s the thing about Hitler, isn’t it?” Pegg quipped. “They never tell you any of the good stuff.” Which isn’t true anymore, of course, because Spicer has certainly stepped up to plug that hole, thank you very much.
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