I think at this point everyone is familiar with Godwin’s law, or the idea that “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches.” Lots of people love comparing their opposition to Hitler. We certainly saw plenty of Obama posters with tiny mustaches during the rise of the Tea Party, and the Left definitely called George W. Bush a fascist on more than one occasion. The problem is, the comparison is now incredibly commonplace, and has therefore lost a lot of its potential impact. Up until now, when people called each other Nazis, what they really meant was “your guy is the most evil guy to run a country ever.”Now that we have an Administration that is actually acting like Nazis, everyone who thinks Trump is a genuine threat to our Republic needs to be selective about comparisons and use real examples.
Obviously I do not personally have a problem with calling, for instance, Steve Bannon a Nazi. I am writing a Dictator’s Playbook almost exclusively based on Nazi tactics because I think the Trump Administration has been running some of those plays. However, I think it’s important to explain why we are making these comparisons. When people hear “Nazi” or “Hitler” they think of the murder of 13 million people. I don’t think anyone is saying Trump is going to murder 13 million people (although it’s worth noting that the Final Solution was actually a “solution” to a failed deportation program – chew on that for a second). The important comparison here is to the Nazi Party’s tactics from 1932-1935. That is when they destroyed a constitutional republic. Even if Hitler had lost power in ’34 or ’35, Germans still would have had to go back to the drawing board and create a new system of government. That is the concern with the Trump Administration. That it will so undermine our constitutional regime that we will lose the institutions we have valued for over 200 years.
So, when you call someone a Nazi, talk about how they intentionally scapegoated marginalized groups, undermined their political opposition, played the victim, discredited the press, co-opted or removed judges, created an extrajudicial prison system to undermine courts and lawyers, used violence to intimidate political opponents and keep the people afraid, and lied to justify administration objectives (all of which are soon to be added to the Dictator’s Playbook). Explain that the significance of the Nazis isn’t just the horror they inflicted on the Jews or the rest of Europe; it’s that they produced a template for how to turn a literate, informed, democratic society into the enablers and supporters of a deranged dictatorship. Fake news isn’t new people – between 1933 and 1944 Germany went from 4,700 newspapers to 1,100 newspapers. The Nazis shut down opposition papers, and everyone else stopped talking about politics or fell in line. So walk softly unless you have a big example, because we can’t let that happen to us.