Maybe it’s just me, but it sorta seems like it’s worth pointing out, apropos Sean Spicer’s confused remarks yesterday, that there is by all appearances an actual fascist in the Trump White House making policy. Let’s reflect on that in connection with Spicer’s self-immolation.
I’m not sure how much Word War II history Spicer does and does not know. I’m inclined to cut him a little bit of a break, which is to say, I assume he’s aware that Hitler gassed millions of people, and he meant to refer strictly to the battlefield, about which he was correct (with a couple of small-ish maybe exceptions that historians argue about). Hitler was gassed as a soldier in World War I, and this seems to be the only matter in the world on which he had a sliver of a conscience.
Most politically minded U.S. males, I daresay especially conservative ones, know this stuff. These days you don’t even have to have read a book. Hitler’s on some cable channel or another nearly every day—which means there’s a sporting chance that even the president knows it (sad that I even had to write that last phrase, but that’s where we are).
So I doubt Spicer is that completely ignorant of the historical facts. He’s just a really bad talker and slow on his feet and maybe a few ants short of a picnic (and I’ve been told that his heart isn’t exactly in the job, but who knows).
But still, he is the voice of the White House—of the president of the United States. He’s supposed to get these things right. The president’s spokesman, like the president himself, is supposed to have some degree of historical memory and competency. And that’s where Sebastian Gorka enters the picture.
Here is a man who has encouraged the inference that he is in open sympathy with the Nazis of his native Hungary. He wears the medal of the Order of Vitez, a Hungarian society of “merit” that the State Department still lists as having operated “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany.” The Nazis didn’t officially occupy Hungary until late 1944, but once they did, the puppet government helped Adolph Eichmann and his henchmen round up hundreds of thousands of Jews and send them off to…Holocaust centers. Some key figures in that government were members of the order.
Now, lest you say all that is guilt by association on my part, I reply by reminding you that Gorka wore the group’s pin to an inaugural ball! In other words, he announced the association himself about as gaudily as one could announce it. Imagine. You’re at home, you’re getting dressed for a presidential inaugural party. You slap on the cuff links, straighten your jacket. You look down on the dresser at that pin. What on earth makes you decide to put it on? Occam’s Razor would suggest to us that the most obvious reason may be that you’re a fascist.
He and his defenders say the pin was his father’s, given to him in the late 1960s, and as such dates to an era when the order was battling communism, so it merely represents Gorka’s love of homeland and hatred of the Soviet jackboot. That’s all fine. After the heroic 1956 uprising, the Soviets clamped down especially hard on Hungary. And in 1989, its brave foreign minister Gyula Horn all but ended the Cold War. Hungary has a noble anti-communist history, and if Gorka takes pride in that, and his father’s role in it, he should.
But at the very least, Gorka’s politics are… murky. My paternal grandfather is Croatian (I think; there is some confusion on the matter, and unlike Gorka I don’t care very much). Some Croatians fought against the Tito variety of totalitarianism. But back during the war, Croatians were enthusiastic Nazi allies. If I had been handed down a pin that might make people think I was celebrating Nazi collaboration, I can promise you I wouldn’t be wearing it to the Safeway, let alone an inaugural gala.
And to bring it back to Spicer, his comments yesterday help us understand a little bit about why Gorka’s appointment raised no flags. He was in heavy apology mode Wednesday morning as I wrote these words, and that’s nice, but he can’t un-reveal what he inadvertently revealed the previous afternoon. The history of the order whose pin Gorka wears isn’t of any interest to the people who hired him. So they walk in ignorance, and because of the power they have, they make the rest of us follow.