Here’s what counts for political debate in 2017, in the era of Donald Trump: Is it possible to be a Nazi and still be a good person?
Choose your side. Let’s hear from the affirmative, and let’s hear from the negative. It may be a silly question, but at least it’s debatable.
What is less debatable, however, is the following: Donald Trump is as bad as Adolf Hitler.
True enough, Hitler sounds exactly like Trump when he said:
If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.
However, the recent kerfuffle about Trump’s statement insisting that there were “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville had the feeling of déjà vu, as if our nation was actually living under Godwin’s Law.
Living Godwin’s Law
As Mike Godwin, a respective thinker on technology policy the general counsel of the R Street Institute, recounted in December 2015, when the prospect of a Trump presidency was beginning to be at least a conceivable possibility:
My Facebook timeline and Twitter feed have been blowing up lately. And whenever that happens, it’s almost always because someone’s making comparisons to Hitler or Nazis or the Holocaust somewhere. Sure enough, as Trump pontificates about immigrants or ethnic or religious minorities, with scarcely less subtlety than certain early 20th-century political aspirants in Europe did, people on the Internet feel compelled to ask me what I think about it.
Why? Simple: Because 25 years ago, when the Internet was still a pup, I came up with Godwin’s Law. In its original form, Godwin’s Law goes like this: “As an online discussion continues, the probability of a reference or comparison to Hitler or Nazis approaches 1.”
Invoking Hitler or Nazis (or World War II or the Holocaust) is common in public life these days, both in the United States and around the world, and it has been for quite a while. Back in 1990, I set out — half-seriously and half-whimsically — to do something about it.
Godwin did in fact do “something,” and his eponymous maxim now has the aura of authority:
I framed Godwin’s Law as a pseudo-mathematical probability statement, almost like a law of physics. I wanted to hint that most people who brought Nazis into a debate about, say, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s views on gun control weren’t being thoughtful and independent. Instead, they were acting just as predictably, and unconsciously, as a log rolling down a hill.
Has Charlottesville changed everything?
So has Godwin’s Law put an end to intelligent and well-reasoned references to Nazism in American public life? Not at all, Godwin said in December 2015. And he repeated that sentiment more recently, in statements to the Independent.
It’s more than fair, he said, to compare the alt-right protestors to actual Nazis when they openly voice support for Nazi ideology.
Responding to a public Facebook message that read:
Sir, I implore you to post a statement on FB, giving your views on the recent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville Virginia. Your adage is invoked so very often to shut down discussions about politics and social issues as soon as any comparisons to Nazism and 1930’s Germany are made, but now that videos have surfaced showing the Nazi flag being waved in the Charlottesville parade… Sir, would you please make a public statement?
By all means, compare these shitheads to the Nazis. Again and again. I’m with you.
Donald Trump and the Charlottesville protesters
So, as a group, Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville might be the moral equivalent of Nazis. But even despite the woeful inadequacy of Trump’s response to Charlottesville, it must be noted that the president is not the moral or practical equivalent of Adolf Hitler.
This shouldn’t be interpreted as high praise, as “Not Hitler” is a pretty low threshold to cross. On the Trump scale, it’s probably several notches below “Very Fine Person.”
Indeed, one can be all kinds of despicable and still not approach the evil of slaughtering six million people in a deliberate, state-sponsored genocide. One can also be legitimately and justifiably opposed to Trump, frightened by Trump, enraged by Trump, and sickened by Trump even if he doesn’t engage in mass murder and routine political executions.
Which, honestly, Trump is not going to do. At least not yet.
By the time the Fuhrer came to power, he had already written Mein Kampf, which laid out for the world his rancid reasoning for blaming the Jewish people for all the world’s ills.
Donald Trump has not only not written a book; he’s never read a book. It’s an open question as to whether or not he’s even read his “own” books. This piece by the ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal lays out the full extent of Trump’s illiteracy.
Couple that when his generously “flexible” approach to ideology. Only a few years before running against Hillary Clinton as a pro-life conservative, he was praising Hillary Clinton as “terrific” and reiterating his support for partial-birth abortion.
Trump is a man without any discernible standards. He’s a man who is a racist only when it’s convenient to be a racist. As such, he lacks the sustained, bilious passion necessary to engage in American genocide.
Is the alt-right influence gone for good?
In the early days and weeks of the Trump administration, those who called Trump Hitler would cite Steve Bannon as Trump’s Joseph Goebbels, his chief propagandist.
The theory, as best as can be discerned, was that Trump would be a vapid and thoughtless puppet subliminally exposed to an iPod looped with Nuremberg Rally speeches.
Now that Bannon has been sacked, those looking to Bannon as Trump’s Kristallnacht chief must look elsewhere.
The problem here is broader than Trump. The fact is that the country – per Godwin’s Law – has seen far too many instances of the “boy who cried Hitler” in recent years.
We were told that George W. Bush was Hitler. We were told that Barack Obama was Hitler. Now that there’s someone who’s exponentially more Hitler-esque than either them, we are told that we need to be really worried, because, well, this one’s really Hitler.
Or, as Godwin might plead, can we please move away from defamation by analogy?