The Death of Godwin’s Law

Over on Medium, Darren Hertenstein recently wrote a comparison of Donald Trump’s political rise and the rise of Adolf Hitler in the 1920s and early 1930s. In this comparison, he advises that while, “You shouldn’t call Donald Trump ‘Hitler’ — That doesn’t mean you should avoid discussing the correlations in their political movements”.

This tone is what has made 2016 the year in which Godwin’s Law has come undone.

A generation ago, when the Internet was just a baby, lawyer Mike Godwin crafted what he satirically labeled a “law” of online chat groups — declaring that the longer a discussion of politics continued, the closer the likelihood of someone comparing a political leader to Adolf Hitler would come to absolute certainty.
Literalists quickly seized upon Godwin’s Law, and began to bandy it about as if it were an actual law of nature. Ironically, these same people began to make up new versions of the so-called “law”. One new version declared that the first person to bring up Adolf Hitler in a political argument would automatically lose the argument.

So, before too long, Godwin’s Law morphed into a tool of censorship. It became a cultural taboo to compare present-day politicians to Adolf Hitler, or to the Nazis more generally.

As a result, political awareness of the dangers of the extreme nationalism exemplified by Nazi Germany began to fall out of American political culture. When it became rude to make Hitler comparisons, it also became rare to bring up the Holocaust at all, much less to discuss possible similarities between present-day politics and those of Weimar Germany, the flawed Republic that was the nest out of which Hitler rose.
The general refusal to talk about Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust may have played some part in laying the groundwork for the crude presidential campaign of Donald Trump. A generation that hasn’t talked about Adolf Hitler can’t be aware of the warning signs of an extremist demagogue on the rise.

So it is that the brutal nationalism of Donald Trump’s campaign has made it necessary for Mike Godwin himself to come out against the application of Godwin’s Law as an absolute rule against making comparisons between today’s political leaders and Adolf Hitler. In his Washington Post op-ed, Sure, Call Trump a Nazi. Just Make Sure You Know What You’re Talking About Godwin explains that the point of Godwin’s Law was to note that some people slip too easily into Hitler comparisons or Nazi namecalling, and do so in a flippant way — as with Rush Limbaugh’s insults of “ecoNazi” and “femiNazi”.

Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. They’re two separate people, and there’s no such thing as a political carbon copy.

However, as Mark Twain pointed out, although history does not repeat itself, it does rhyme, and it’s worth considering whether Donald Trump rhymes with Adolf Hitler. We are capable of making a serious comparison between Trump and Hitler, based on historical context, rhetoric and policy. We can note the differences between the two figures, as well as the similarities that Hertenstein has brought to the table.

Responsible political discussion requires that we not leave recent political disasters — and it’s worth remembering that many Americans voting in the 2016 election were alive during World War II — off the table.

Continue Reading

Christine Todd Whitman and Trump’s 1990 Authoritarianism

In December of 2015, Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican former governor of New Jersey, said, “Frankly, if you go and look at your history and you read your history in the lead-up to the Second World War this is the kind of rhetoric that allowed Hitler to move forward, because you had people who were scared the economy was bad, they want someone to blame.”

In 1990, Donald Trump gave Christine Todd Whitman good material with which to make this judgment. In an interview with Playboy magazine, Trump declared that Mikhail Gorbachev wasn’t being firm enough. He wanted to see Gorbachev resume the old Soviet style of violent crackdown against democratic protests, saying of the situation in Russia, “I was very unimpressed. Their system is a disaster. What you will see there soon is a revolution; the signs are all there with the demonstrations and picketing. Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand… I predict he will be overthrown, because he has shown extraordinary weakness.”

Trump also applauded China’s bloody response to student protests in Tiananmen Square, telling Playboy, “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak… as being spit on by the rest of the world.”

Does that last line sound familiar?

Continue Reading

England Remembers The Threat Of Hitler When It Sees Donald Trump

In England, Adolf Hitler was not an ocean away, but just a hop across the English Channel. The Nazis seized England’s Channel Islands, and enforced draconian rule over the people living there.

So, when people say in Bristol, England that Donald Trump reminds them of Adolf Hitler, they’re speaking from vivid memory.

This is the mural that appeared in Bristol this week, the artist saying of Trump, “The man is an idiot in a position of power.”

Trump as Hitler street art

Continue Reading

On Trump and Hitler, From Nix and Chomsky

“We fought wars amongst ourselves to rise above racism and hatred. In WWII more than 60 million people died worldwide. Why? Because of twisted people who were whipping up the population into a frenzy and making ridiculous statements, killing innocent people simply because of their race or religion. The United States lost more than 400,000 lives fighting in that war, against the same ideas that Trump is pushing. The idea that certain religions are more dangerous than others and the idea that people should be judged based on the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.” – Jeremy Nix

Hitler and Trump

“People feel isolated, helpless, victim of powerful forces that they do not understand and cannot influence. It’s interesting to compare the situation in the ‘30s, which I’m old enough to remember. Objectively, poverty and suffering were far greater. But even among poor working people and the unemployed, there was a sense of hope that is lacking now.” – Noam Chomsky

Continue Reading

On Trump and Hitler, From Fresno To Harvard

trump as hitler fresno“Like any number of us raised in the late 20th century, I have spent my life perplexed about exactly how Hitler could have come to power in Germany. Watching Donald Trump’s rise, I now understand.”

“Donald Trump has no respect for the basic rights that are the foundation of constitutional democracy, nor for the requirements of decency necessary to sustain democratic citizenship. Nor can any democracy survive without an expectation that the people require reasonable arguments that bring the truth to light, and Trump has nothing but contempt for our intelligence.”

Danielle Allen

“The hardcore racist and fascist people supporting Trump don’t want to kick out Muslims and undocumented Mexicans — they want to murder them. These people that normally keep their backward racism under the rock in which they live, are voting to be openly racist. Trump gladly brings the racism and xenophobia out of people — as any good fascist would.”

“Trump represents the rise of a new Hitler and is capable of the same atrocities. It’s like we’re in the 1930s on a runaway train barreling toward World War III. Trump is good at pointing out the differences in people — he labels without objectivity and places blame. Similar to that of Hitler. When he says that Mexican immigrants are ‘rapists’ he is teaching those that are listening that one facet of our population is inhuman. Sound familiar?”

The Fresno State Collegian

Continue Reading