March 10, 2016

On Rhetorical Comparisons

    Anyone who is anyone on the internet (and the rest of us, too) should be aware of Godwin's Law. Godwin's Law states the following (if the sometimes dubious Wikipedia is to be trusted):
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches—​​that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism.
    Even if you were not aware of the name, you should be aware of the occurrence on Twitter and message board and Facebook and etc. of the tendency towards comparison with Nazis. Wikipedia is also correct that there is a general tradition on the Internet (largely honored in the breach, these days) that the first person to make a Nazi comparison ends the argument, and loses. It's like the inverse golden snitch.

    The term "Nazi" and terms of related movements involving charismatic populists are being thrown around like household terms now, especially in comparison to Donald Trump. Unfortunately, because of the limitations of most of these forums, it is nearly impossible to determine exactly why the individuals are making the comparison.

    Let's assume for charity's sake that there is some quality in Donald Trump that draws people to make the Hitler comparison, even if emotionally-based, and not well considered or developed. I think one would have to posit that few of the people making this comparison are well-versed in history to the point where they can actually compare the two phenomena (Hitler and Trump) on an extended basis. Therefore, what would be compared are the popular ideas of the two. In other words, "What about my perception of Donald Trump is similar or parallels my perceptions of the Nazi Party and the Rise of Hitler?"

This, I think, is the question to be answered.

    So, what can we say about a general, shallow (not in a pejorative sense; just in the sense that I know, for instance, physics), popular impression of Hitler? An impression gleaned through the History Channel, schooling, basic cultural impression, and so forth? I think any guess would have to include at least the following facets:

1. Hitler was elected;
2. Hitler was elected during a time of deep economic stress;
3. Hitler was populist / nationalist in his rhetoric.
4. Hitler partook of an US v. THEM mentality in order to stoke popular support for his actions.
5. Hitler ordered the torturing and killing not only of soldiers but of innocent families.

If I had to take a guess, based upon what I have seen, I would say that these are the core of the comparisons between Trump and Hitler. There are some ways in which the two movements seem connected. If he becomes president, Trump will:

1. Have been elected;
2. Elected during a time of deep economic stress (though hardly paralleling post-WWI Germany);
3. Have run on a populist and nationalist platform;
4. Have partaken of US v. THEM rhetoric (Trump is not limited to a single group, but does point many fingers of blame);
5. Has stated that he would go after terrorists and kill their families as well.

    Now, in many ways, we live in completely different times. Each historical time period must be taken on its own, must be considered as independent events. Therefore, any blurb on Twitter making the "Trump is Hitler" comparison is almost totally inadequate. However, considering these statements as inadequate, one must still acknowledge that there is a general truth running around - that people in distress will often turn to individuals who promise to relieve that stress, no matter how general or ineffective the relief may turn out to be. I think one must also acknowledge that, regardless of the tenuousness of the comparison, there are parallels to be drawn among the rises of most demagogues.

    Therefore, I would want to avoid calling Trump "Hitler" or a "Nazi." I would tend to favor discussion of why a populist of Trump's nature could potentially win the presidency; why the intention to kill family members of terrorists is wrong; why the wall with Mexico is a bad idea, and so forth. The spectre of Nazism may be an apt (though shallow and tenuous) comparison, but use of it inevitably increases tensions and anger and does not condone to charitable or understanding discussion. I may be screaming this in an empty room in the dark, but perhaps some will heed my considerations and seek a better path.

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