The number one rule if you want to win an argument on the internet is this: Do not Godwin yourself.
For those uninitiated, Godwin’s law is maybe the oldest and most respected rule of internet conversation. And that is: The longer a discussion goes on, the higher the likelihood someone will compare one party or another to Hitler and/or the Nazi party. And if you’re the person who “plays the Hitler card”, guess what? You lose.
The problem with Godwin’s law, though, is that it kind of assumes all comparisons to Hitler are, by definition, hyperbolic and wrong.
So what happens when, in real life in 2016, a presidential frontrunner who every day looks more like they’ll actually get the Republican nomination does so on a platform of “banning Muslims” and building a giant wall to keep the Mexicans – who are all apparently “rapists” and “drug lords” – out?
One thing we could do is simply dismiss Trump’s language as over-the-top; a cunning populist strategy to get the masses on board that doesn’t reflect the reality of what he’d do if he did come to power. But as a few Twitter users have pointed out, that’s exactly the approach analysts took to Adolph Hitler back in 1922.
As part of its ‘Times Machine’ subscription, The New York Times has published online its first-ever profile on Hitler from November of 1922, titled ‘New Popular Idol Rises in Bavaria’. It looks at Hitler’s “extraordinary powers of swaying crowds to his will”. And the final three paragraphs are getting a lot of attention on Twitter because of their resemblance to common readings of how Donald Trump uses racism.
“Several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused,” the article reads.
It’s the same thing many commentators are clinging to with Trump, in particular pointing to excerpts from his 1987 book The Art of the Deal, in which he advocates exploiting what he calls “truthful hyperbole” to get attention.
The first person to tweet a screen shot of the New York Times piece’s final paragraphs (a Wall Street Journal reporter) has been retweeted more than 15,000 times, even without mentioning Trump in his tweet.
One of the people who retweeted Jon Ostrover’s original screenshot was Judd Apatow – and he was essentially accused of playing the Hitler card.
At what point is making the comparison between Trump and a certain other political outsider who became a powerful dictator on a racist, anti-government platform, no longer “Godwin-ing” but rather… “learning from the lessons of history”?
Unfortunately, there may be only one way to find out.