When do we take them at their word?


Sean Spicer:

I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Ashad [sic] is doing … there was not in the — he brought them into the Holocaust center, I understand that, but I’m saying in that the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down, to innocent, into the middle of towns, it was brought, the use of it,

Steve King:

Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.

Emphasis mine.

Some people are making much of the fact that this happened on Monday just before First Seder. I really couldn’t give a fuck. I doubt very much that Spicer’s knowledge of Passover (or lack thereof) played a role, conscious or otherwise, in his thinking or his choice of words. Instead, what’s clearly playing a role is the thinking that a nation is not a nation of citizens, but an idealized expression of a single, pure racial/ethnic group. This is the same thinking that led to that abominable International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that managed to avoid using the word Jew.

In the aftermath, they made statements attempting to defend the decision because more than Jews were killed in the Holocaust. While that’s certainly true, the way that the statement was defended emphasized the “inclusive”-ness of the wording. But removing the identities of the victims doesn’t make a message inclusive, it makes it generic.

This lays bare a central belief of this alt-right White House*1: stripping out the specifics of how people are targeted by racism or anti-semitism*2 is desirable. This is so not least because an inclusive sentiment is made exclusive and made irrelevant to the majority/default persons of this country once you mention a specific race or a specific people. At worst, an inclusive statement becomes an attack on majority/default persons. For the White House staffers who believe this, stripping away the specifics of history is the only way for the white men targeted by a message to feel empathy. Forgetting painful history is a GoodThing™ to those on the alt-right.*3

And, yes, this is despicable. It is horrible. It is also wrong. I frequently see goyim empathizing with Jews affected by the Holocaust. I frequently see white folk empathizing with people racialized by the white gaze or affected by generations of slavery and genocide.

But what I want to call out very specifically is this notion of our own people, our own babies – and by extension, their own people, their own babies.

While there probably aren’t background assumptions about Passover or about Judaism in any specific sense that played a role in the construction of Spicer’s latest horror, there clearly are assumptions about what constitutes We, the People, playing out in multiple statements. This plays out even more plainly in his historical revisionism when he attempts to claim the legacy of Dr. King and other giants in the quest for racial freedom and racial justice.

Donald Trump (Official Proclamation):

When the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., shared his dream with the world atop the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he gave mighty voice to our founding ideals. Few could have imagined that nearly half a century later, his iconic profile would forever be memorialized in stone, standing tall and gazing outward, not far from where he stirred our collective conscience to action.

…A foot soldier for justice and a giant of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King lifted the quiet hopes of our Nation with the powers of his voice and pen. Whether behind his pulpit in Montgomery, at a podium on the National Mall, or from his jail cell in Birmingham, he beckoned us toward justice through non-violent resistance and oratory skill.

Racial justice was a founding ideal of whom? Of white men writing the US constitution and founding the first collective government of the states?

Who was it, among the vast number of people that showed up on the mall on that great day of action where Dr. King was just one of many speakers, who did not recognize the greatness of Dr. King, who found it hard to believe that someone might sculpt his likeness or honor his memory two full generations after the March on Washington?

Whose hopes were quiet on that day of action for racial justice? To whom did he speak, whom did he beckon forward in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail? Does Trump even know the intended audience of the letter? Has Trump even read the letter?

The true horror of Spicer’s statement comparing Assad to Hitler has nothing to do with Passover. The true horror of Spicer’s statement is its nationalist vision of what constitutes a people and of what Spicer, King, and Trump all see as the virtue of generic statements triumphing over inclusive ones. The true horrors of Spicer’s statements are not mitigated by his walkbacks; it is emphasized by them.

*1: and, more generally, Steve King, the alt-right GOP, and the collective internet alt-right movement

*2: or other oppressions more broadly

*3: whereas remembering the history of GreatStuff™ brought to you by white men is also a GoodThing™ because valuing white men doesn’t turn off white men, and if white men feel included by a message then the message is inclusive by definition.


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