Bringing up Hitler is almost always a bad move, which Sean Spicer learned the hard way when he made poorly worded statements that Hitler did not use chemical weapons the same way President Bashar al-Assad is doing in Syria. Instead of dropping gas on people with airplanes, Spicer said, Hitler brought people into “Holocaust centers,” by which he presumably meant concentration camps. A more seasoned spokesperson or a Chuck Klosterman fan would have known to avoid talking about Hitler altogether.
In his excellent book about villains, I Wear The Black Hat, Klosterman described the inherent dilemma of saying anything about Hitler, noting that even his Jewish friends who insisted that Hitler be in his book also warned him that, “[p]eople will go crazy if you write about Hitler. It doesn’t matter what your argument is.” Klosterman theorized that the only safe thing to do was to write the sentence “Hitler was evil” over and over again, and he was probably right. So Spicer, should not have been surprised when his bumbling remarks about an extremely sensitive subject led to justifiable outrage.
To his credit, Spicer did the right thing—apologizing for his comments sincerely and profusely, and explaining that trying to compare Assad and Hilter was a mistake he will not make again. But for some, Spicer’s apology was not enough. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said that Spicer must be fired for “downplaying the horror of the Holocaust.” Charles P. Pierce wrote in an Esquire column titled Fire This Man that Spicer’s statement ought to be a “career-killer.” And though Pelosi and Pierce would be right to call for the firing if Spicer’s misstatements were what he actually believed, they are wrong to do so in this instance.
More importantly, by demanding yet another firing of yet another person who speaks for a living based on a poorly-worded statement, Pelosi, Pierce, and others are not helping their own cause. One of the primary reasons voters gravitated toward Donald Trump was as a backlash to political correctness. Trying to foster a country in which anyone can lose their job for making a dumb statement is not going to win those voters back. It’s time for those who fuel the perpetual outrage machine to learn this lesson.
Everybody, and I mean everybody, says foolish, poorly worded, or insensitive things from time to time. Beloved liberal Joe Biden said that as a candidate, Barack Obama was the “first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” After bowling a 129, the ever careful Obama said he bowled “like it was the Special Olympics, or something.” The more people speak, the more foolish things they are going to say. It’s a direct correlation.
For most of American history, isolated misstatements or insensitive comments like Biden’s, Obama’s, or even Spicer’s were forgiven as long as the speaker apologized. Joe Biden was not kicked off Obama’s ticket for his remarks. George W. Bush made enough verbal mistakes to fill a page-a-day calendar, but was also able to make it through two full terms as President. But in the past decade our collective intolerance, yes, intolerance for such comments has dwindled, especially from many people on the political left.
In 2012 HBO’s show Girls faced frequent criticism from media outlets for being racist for no other reason than the fact that its four main characters were white women. In 2015 Colin Cowherd was taken off the air at ESPN while during a conversation about the intelligence of baseball players, he made the factually accurate statement that, “The Dominican Republic has not been known in my lifetime as having world-class academic abilities.” Shortly after the 2016 election, there was a glut of articles on websites like Slate implying that nearly all Trump supporters were racists or misogynists.
In 2017, it seems like a week rarely goes by without a politician, comedian, sportscaster, or corporation making headlines with a few ill-conceived words and getting fired, boycotted, or shunned as a consequence. And while there is no doubt that the people who are outraged sincerely believe their venom is justified, those same people fail to realize that they are alienating huge chunks of Americans, including fellow liberals. The perpetual outrage machine is both widening political divisions and preventing worthwhile, sincere discussions on critical subjects in the social justice arena.
Spicer’s comments about the Holocaust were admittedly worse than Cowherd’s about baseball players or HBO’s casting of Girls, but that is beside the point. Most people do not want to live in a country where you can apologize when you make a foolish statement, but still lose your job anyway. Republicans and Democrats alike do not want political opponents to call for their party’s representative to step down every time that representative makes a gaffe. Trump voters who may have genuine concerns about transgender individuals or innocently held opinions about the Black Lives Matter movement will be reluctant to voice them if they are afraid of being villainized for doing so. The perpetual outrage machine is not getting the kind of results we want.
So though I’m no fan of Sean Spicer, I find myself in the awkward position of arguing that he should not lose his job over the remarks he made today. If Nancy Pelosi wants to start a campaign to fire Spicer for his consistent lies and half-truths, I’d be a supporter. But the man should not lose his job for some poorly chosen words that he sincerely apologized for; not because there is anything special about Sean Spicer, but because nobody should lose their job for that.