Godwin’s Law states that the longer a contentious discussion goes on the internet, the more likely somebody is going to compare something to Hitler or to the Nazis. The essential point of Godwin’s Law is that comparisons to the Nazis are usually hyperbolic overblown analogies that trivialize the horrors of what the Nazis (or Hitler himself) actually did.
But we are living in times when, according to one poll, nearly half of all Republicans polled, and twice as many as Democrats, could conceive of a situation in which they support a military coup.
Does this really surprise anyone?
For a party that once prided itself on being the Party of the Constitution, that old saw seems hold little truck with today’s modern GOP. We are living in a world where your Republican frontrunner calls one of the Amendments to the Constitutional “unconstitutional” and argues with Bill O’Reilly— hardly a friend to the Constitution given his desperate need to establish Christianity as the national religion in defiance of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment— that the president would be within his rights simply to ignore the constitution and deport all the so-called “anchor babies” anyway. All in the name of “taking our country back.” Back from whom?
This is a party that is dangerously stoking racial resentments to gain electoral advantage. Watch here as Trump fields a question at one of his rallies from a racist who says we have a “Muslim problem” in America. He calls the president a Muslim— as if that were a bad thing— and Trump fails to correct the questioner, indulging and endorsing the questioner’s patently absurd premise.
You might think that Trump, being Trump in all his base, ugly glory, is alone as the sole extremist candidate for the Republican nomination who says he will openly defy the Constitution. But you’d be wrong. Here, Mike Huckabee says that he won’t rule out using the national guard to storm abortion clinics in order to stop abortions. Remember, however much the Republicans have succeeded in eroding it, Roe v. Wade is still actually the law of the land and abortion is a constitutionally protected right. Yet, Huckabee says that he will use the presidency to invoke military powers to stop United States citizens from exercising their constitutional rights.
So we have Muslims and Latinos being scapegoated for all the evils of our society. We have candidates saying they will openly defy the constitution and become autocrats (that’s a gentler, more polite term for “dictators”). But Godwin, alas, takes the call to alert everyone to the obvious proto-fascism off the table. It is much like the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Anyone in politics who anyone dislikes gets automatically compared to Hitler. It happens so much that when actually Hitlerian politicians begin to emerge on the scene, we are completely incapable of hearing the call, so weary we are of hearing the comparison.
The antidote to Godwin’s Law is to read this novel, It Can’t Happpen Here by Sinclair Lewis. Written in 1935, it accurately prophesies exactly the kind of politician that many of us would be all too happy to promote to dictatorship: charismatic, populist, folksy, “authentic.” It unveils an entirely plausible scenario in which a populist United States senator becomes president and institutes perpetual martial law.
Regarding the dictator-du-jour of It Can’t Happen Here, Lewis writes:
“The Senator was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his “ideas” almost idiotic, while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture, and his yet more celebrated humor the sly cynicism of a country store.
Certainly there was nothing exhilarating in the actual words of his speeches, nor anything convincing in his philosophy. His political platforms were only wings of a windmill.”
Remember, this is 1935. Yet, Lewis readily identifies exactly what kind of American dictator the American people would dearly love to have. The above passage could apply to any number of Republican demagogues currently running for the nomination. We have had the folksy populist streak within us since at least the 1930s, and we have seen broad hints of it in Republican presidents we’ve actually had, most notably Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
But never before have we had Republican candidates bending over backwards to show how much they vilify the constitution of the United States and to abandon dog-whistle campaigns and instead overtly demonize oppressed minorities so openly. If the pundits are correct that Trump is doing so well because he represents “authenticity,” then it raises the question: exactly what is authentic here? The only conclusion one can draw is the profound racism and the frightening yearning for fascism.
Sinclair Lewis posited that there is one and only one proper response to the assertion that fascism can’t happen here.
The hell it can’t.