Godwin’s Law is worth looking up, if you’re not familiar with it. It’s an exquisite piece of satire. Professor Godwin, in my mind, is a social scientist but he might be a chemist. All I know is he came up with the law which states that any online discussion, if it goes on long enough, will reach a point where one side or the other compares the other side to Hitler and/or the Nazi party. When that happens, the discussion ends and whoever made the reference loses. I love it because it’s funny without being insensitive and the first part is true and the second part should be true. You can’t keep arguing about whether Spaceballs or Naked Gun is the superior parody comedy once someone calls you Hitler.
The trouble is there are lessons to be learned from the rise of Nazism in Germany. The Nazis were a fringe political group in the early 1920’s and committed to winning people over. Hitler was elected. There is a fascinating almost three hour long documentary called Nietzsche and the Nazis, which is shots of Stephen Hicks in different rooms in his house talking about the rise of the Nazi party. (The full audio book is also available on youtube, I just discovered this morning.) The bigger trouble is that calling anyone Hitler is an extremist argument. How did we jump from mostly ignoring Trump and hoping he would go away to calling him Hitler? Even the normally insightful Louis CK recently came out and said the guy is Hitler. Louis CK, who named one of his specials “Hilarious” based on a comedic rant about a guy in a coffee shop who called something mildly amusing “hilarious,” and complained, “We go to the top shelf with our words!” did exactly that by calling Trump Hitler.
Godwin’s Law should apply equally to trite online arguments and important political conversations. Whatever happened from the early 1920’s through to the late 1930’s, the Nazis started a war to take over the world and murdered twelve million people in concentration camps. We have to figure out a way to point out the dangers in Trump’s run at the presidency without leaping to that extreme a comparison. We rely on extremes because they’re easy and they give us the emotional fix we crave, but they don’t reach anybody. I submit an addendum to Godwin’s Law: If you keep taunting a group for being Nazis, someone in that group will take the bait and give a Nazi salute. That says nothing about the group as a whole. It’s of course abhorrent that a woman at a Trump rally gave a Nazi salute, but it’s also disgusting that protestors goaded her into it by calling her a Nazi and that the media spun it into a story to try to make Trump look like Hitler. Trump has left himself wide open for legitimate criticism. Let’s make those arguments clearly and precisely and enough people who remain undecided will make the right decision not to vote him in as the next president. Constant pushing of extremes, like calling Trump Hitler, just sound like manipulative tactics or downright lies and are more likely to push undecided voters toward voting for him.