Last night, my daughter showed me a meme comparing Donald Trump to Adolph Hitler. On one hand, it was a pointed critique of some truly disturbing rhetoric by him. On the other hand, it was ugly slander.
I’ve watched the same Nazi comparisons leveled against Barack Obama and other political leaders. And in each case, I’ve come away shaking my head.
One of the rules of internet discourse is Godwin’s Law. It basically states that the longer a debate goes on, the more likely someone is to resort to calling another person a Nazi. A corollary of the law is the first person to mention the Nazis loses the argument.
I especially like that last part.
Playing the Hitler card is a conversation stopper and a relationship killer.
When someone accuses another person of being a Nazi or acting like Hitler, we’ve moved from any reasoned conversation to name-calling and accusation. And as John Gottman has shown, this is the number one relationship killer we’ve got in our arsenal.
When we move into this kind of language, we are no longer listening. All we’re doing is trying to win, while hurting someone else in the process.
Resorting to calling someone a Nazi is hate language.
In the modern Western world, there is no group so universally despised as the Nazis. They embody evil.
To call someone a Hitler or a Nazi is to dismiss that person entirely. He has no value as a human being. She is the devil incarnate and should be resisted in every way possible.
I’d even go so far as to say that use this kind of amped-up language is to wish for the other person’s defeat and death.
In our conversations online and on political matters, it is essential to retain the humanity and dignity of the people we’re talking with or about. Any kind of name-calling kills this and should be avoided.
At the same time, if we’re interested in truth, we need to resist unfair comparisons, which are themselves logical fallacies. Nothing Obama or Trump have done has come anywhere near what the Nazis achieved with the Holocaust, so to compare them is ludicrous.
Instead of name-calling, we need curiosity. And humility.
However small it may be, where is the truth in what this person is claiming? How can I preserve that truth while resisting what is false in what is being put forward? And when I resist what is false, how can I convey truth and justice myself in a way that is considerate and winsome?
[Oh, and if you’re interested in rational discourse, you might want to avoid simplistic memes.]