Godwin’s Law: Crying Wolf When There’s a Wolf

Trump, Hitler, Nazi Germany, and Godwin's Law

Godwin’s law is an Internet “meme” that recognizes a recurring phenomenon of online argumentation: as discussions get lengthier and more passionate,  a debater will eventually compare someone or something to Hitler. Godwin’s Law provides that when such a comparison is made, the guilty person has effectively forfeited the argument.

Godwin’s Law is recognition that name-calling is not productive debate. An accusation that a person or argument is “just like” Hitler is generally unconnected to any actual resemblance between the accused and Nazi Germany. (In other times, the comparison might have been to Satan or the Anti-Christ.) The person doing the name-calling is using Hitler as a stand-in for “evil” (and by falling back on an ad hominem response, demonstrating the poverty of his or her substantive argument).

As a Jew, I have always found thoughtless, almost casual use of the Nazi epithet particularly inappropriate, because it tends to minimize the historical horror that was Nazi Germany. If everyone you disagree with is a Nazi, then actual Nazis are no longer moral aberrations.

Worse, when you have habitually been describing behaviors with which you disagree as Nazi-like, what do you do when something truly Nazi-like emerges? Will the genuine threat be dismissed, as in the story of the boy who cried wolf?

Which brings me to Sebastian Gorka.

Gorka is a top aide to Donald Trump. He was previously the “national-security editor” at Breitbart, working with Steve Bannon. Bannon, of course, is now President Trump’s top strategist. Gorka’s virulently negative  views on Islam are similar to those of Bannon, the President and most of Trump’s other top aides. As an article in the Atlantic noted, however, those views are far outside the mainstream of scholarship on terrorism and Islam, and experts in the field view Gorka’s qualifications as highly questionable, at best.

Now, Slate has reported on a story uncovered by The Forward.

Reporters Lili Bayer and Larry Cohler-Esses found strong evidence that Gorka swore a lifetime oath to a far-right Hungarian group, the Vitézi Rend. The State Department classifies the Vitézi Rend as having been “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany” during World War II; as such, members are “presumed to be inadmissible” to America under the Immigration and Nationality Act and must disclose their membership on immigration applications. (The organization was banned in Hungary following World War II but reconstituted after the fall of communism.)

Two leaders of the Vitézi Rend told Forward that Gorka is a full member.

The disclosure of Gorka’s ties has been met with demands for an investigation from at least two Senators, and by dark humor on Facebook. (A photoshopped picture of Angela Merkel has her saying, “In the United States, you call it the ‘alt-right.’ In Germany, we refer to it as “why grandpa lives in Argentina.”)

Given the disquieting parallels between how the Nazis behaved as they were coming to power in Germany and the early actions of the Trump Administration, the Urban Dictionary has issued a notice “suspending” Godwin’s Law.

THIS IS A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:

With the emboldening of the Alt-Reich Fascists all over North America and Europe following the election of their cheeto-dusted Fuhrer, Donald J. Trump, The Godwin’s Law is hereby suspended in solidarity with the Anti-Fascist resisters, until further notice.

This time, there may be a real wolf…

[Originally published at SheilaKennedy.net on March 20, 2017]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..

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