Are Hitler Comparisons Always Wrong?
Marilyn Kraus: Uhh — yes, uh — [ sniffs ] Excuse me. Uhhh — Mr. Carter, you’ve been criticized by President Ford for making, uh, unfairly bitter personal attacks on him. Now, how do you answer this charge, Sir?
Jimmy Carter: Bitter? Um — Mr. Kraus, in the 1930s in New York, a man criticized his opponents for their bitter personal attacks on him, and that man was Adolph Hitler. Now, Adolph Hitler was responsible for the deaths of over fifty million people during World War 2. Now, I don’t believe that Mr. Ford would purposely KILL fifty million people — but his lack of leadership may lead to a total fiery, demonic HOLOCAUST!
— Saturday Night Live, Pardoeying the 1976 Presidential Debate between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter
Marjorie Taylor Greene recently decided to do what Marjorie Taylor Greene always does — get into some controversy. Specifically, the infamous congresswoman took another round of mockery from the media for saying this on a podcast on 5/22/2021 in reference to mask mandates in the House of Representatives:
You know, we can look back at a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second-class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany. And this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about.
This comparison, you will notice, is utterly nonsensical. The people who wore gold stars in Nazi Germany, the infamous badge of Jews, were not allowed to speak in the Reichstag — they were put in ghettos and later Concentration Camps. Wearing a mask in the United States does not make you some kind of “second-class citizen,” if anything, people who wear masks at this moment get more rights than those who don’t.
Of course, comparisons to Nazi Germany have been made many times over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Michael Malice gave us this widely mocked tweet on 12/5/2020:
Replace “coronavirus” with “Jews,” and suddenly the behavior of the 1930s German population becomes eerily similar.
No, it isn’t, nobody in Nazi Germany wore masks or stayed at home out of fear of catching “the Jew.” And even if they did, this comparison still falls apart because Jewish people are human beings while COVID-19 is a virus.
Even some intelligent people have fallen into this trap. In a video uploaded on 5/11/2021 titled “A Plague Of Moral Convenience,” TheMysteriousMrEnter — an animation reviewer whose work I have followed for years — made the point that “follow the science” is not a good motto because “eugenics was an established science.” (Actually, eugenics was a pseudo-science that was debunked through the Scientific Method.) At another point, Enter compares New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s arrests of Jewish individuals who violated the law to Hitler calling the Jewish community “vectors of disease.” (Here, the issue is that when Hitler was speaking metaphorically in order to turn the population against Jews, while all De Blasio did was enforce laws that Christians, Muslims, Scientologists, and Atheists were also forced to follow. In fact, the only time Jewish communities and illness have been literally linked in any major way was during the time of the Black Plague, and there the issue was that the Jews weren’t dying enough.)
These comparisons are usually mocked and condemned, not just for being Hitler comparisons, but also for being idiotic. However, a counter-argument to these condemnations has been made by some on the right. And that counter-argument is simple: The left also makes Hitler comparisons on a regular basis. As Matt Walsh said on Twitter on 5/25/2021:
The people who compared Donald Trump to Hitler every single hour of every day for five years straight are now SHOCKED and APPALLED and simply AGHAST at anyone who uses Hitler analogies
Will Chamberlain also jumped in by saying the following:
Almost cared about MTG’s dumb tweet and then realized lefty journos call me and my friends Nazis on a regular basis without blinking
Meanwhile, Michael Knowles posted a series of headlines of liberals and left-wing figures comparing Republicans to Nazis, including:
- “Joe Biden likens Ted Cruz to Nazi propagandist Goebbels for helping Trump spread ‘big lie’ about election fraud” — The Dallas Morning News
- “CNN’s Christiane Amanpour compares Trumpism to Nazi pogrom” — The Independent
- “Trump’s refusal to acknowledge defeat mirrors the lie that fueled the Nazi rise” — The Washington Post
- “Commentary: Trump takes tactics from Hitler’s playbook” — The Austin American Statesman
- “Spike Lee compares Donald Trump to Hitler” — The Guardian
- “One Scholar On Similarities, Substantial Differences Between Trump And Hitler” — Harvard
- “Is it wrong to compare Trump to Hitler? No.” — The Phildephilia Inquirer
- “Trump ‘obviously admired Hitler,’ says Anne Frank’s stepsister, referring to claims he studied his speeches” — Business Insider
- “US Capitol riots: Arnold Schwarzenegger compares pro-Trump rioters to Nazis who attacked Jews during Night of Broken Glass” — Sky News
Now, Donald Trump has been compared to Hitler many times, and many of those times were nonsensical. One popular image pointed out how Trump campaigned on the slogan “Make America Great Again,” while Hitler promised to “Make Germany Great Again.” Of course, “Make America Great Again” was Ronald Reagan’s slogan during the 1980 Presidential Election, and although Trump was appealing to nostalgia with that catchphrase, that is so common in politics that declaring him a fascist over it is making a mountain out of a molehill. Furthermore, while Hitler did promise to “Make Germany Great Again,” after Germany had spent a decade in an economic depression following World War One, many of Hitler’s economic policies were more those of an authoritarian Social Democrat with a cronyism streak as opposed to the more capitalist policies of Donald Trump. Hitler was also a strong environmentalist, while Donald Trump was a disastrous President from an environmental perspective.
You’ve likely heard of Godwin’s Law, named after its founder, attorney Mike Godwin who created this law in 1990, which states:
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.
Mind you, Godwin never said anything about that Hitler comparison being wrong by default, just that it will eventually happen. In 2008, Godwin clarified:
When I saw the photographs from Abu Ghraib, for example, I understood instantly the connection between the humiliations inflicted there and the ones the Nazis imposed upon death camp inmates — but I am the one person in the world least able to draw attention to that valid comparison.
Godwin also said in 2016:
To be clear: I don’t personally believe all rational discourse has ended when Nazis or the Holocaust are invoked. … But I’m pleased that people still use Godwin’s Law to force one another to argue more thoughtfully.
Basically, comparing something to Hitler is on the same level as screaming “fuck you” at someone. A powerful tool when deserved, and one that should not be shied away from if the person truly deserves it. However, it’s also easy to abuse and, despite only being powerful as a last resort, can easily become a first resort for the argumentatively lazy.
However, that is not what you see online, instead, any comparison to Hitler and the Nazis is seen as an admission you lost the argument, no matter how valid that comparison might be. You might remember this Tweet from the user @OhNoSheTwitnt dated 8/13/2018:
2016: Not everyone who disagrees with you is a Nazi.
2017: Not everyone who attends white supremacist rallies is a Nazi.
2018: Not everyone who has a Nazi tattoo is a Nazi.
2019: Not everyone who openly admits to being a Nazi is a Nazi.
Of course, the “not everyone who attends white supremacist rallies is a Nazi,” comment is in reference to something Donald Trump infamously said after Unite The Right:
Excuse me, they didn’t put themselves down as neo — and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group — excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.
With that said, it is common for Hitler comparisons to be nonsensical, either because they’re historically inaccurate or because they’re irrelevant — in fact, the second one is much more common than the first one. Someone points out that Hitler was an environmentalist, a vegetarian, or supported stimulus packages. Seriously, that’s a tactic Steven Crowder tried to use in an article on his website called “MYTH BUSTED: Actually, Yes, Hitler Was A Liberal Socialist”:
After that depression, Hitler made a huge promise to his people: employment for all. How did he do it? Roads and infrastructure.
The WordPress Blog “Stop Obama Now” also gives us some insight into who really created Universal Healthcare:
Adolf Hitler should rightly be called the real father of universal healthcare, at least in a mixed economy. He was the first to regulate the healthcare industry for the entire population in Germany. Of course, the Soviet Union had a universal healthcare system already by 1921, but they were communist. The entire system was collectivized, not so in Nazi Germany, which still allowed privately-owned companies, though they were totally regulated by the Nazi regime. The abuse of the Soviet healthcare system, for example, to diagnose political dissidents as insane and confine them in hospitals, is yet another horror story of universal healthcare when the Government dictates healthcare policy.
TVTropes has dubbed these arguments “Hitler Ate Sugar” after this joke from the Daria episode “Pinch Sitter”:
Tricia — Sugar is bad.
Tad — Sugar rots your teeth.
Tricia — Sugar makes you hyper.
Tad — Hitler ate sugar.
Of course, the issue with these comparisons is simple: Not only does sharing one aspect of agreement with the Third Reich not make you a Nazi, but if a policy truly is bad, the fact that the Nazis engaged in it is not the major issue. Going back to TVTropes, as they explain in their article on this very fallacy:
We don’t think mass murder is bad because Hitler, Stalin, or other bad people did them. We think those people are bad because they committed mass murder. In other words, this trope is backwards. A thing being bad stands on its own as bad.
This is basically my view on Hitler comparisons, if someone is doing something bad, telling them that Hitler did it will not convince them. The issue with evil actions is not that Hitler did them, the issue with Hitler was that he was evil.
If the comparison is valid and the actions are evil, all you should need to point out is that the actions are evil. Anyone who is willing to do what Hitler did is not going to care that another evil did those evil actions, and anyone who goes along with it is going to think you’re ridiculous for the reasons mentioned above.
Hitler probably also made false comparisons, and yet people who make bad Hitler comparisons are not Nazis.