Calling Everyone Nazis Hurts Everyone

Gretchen Remus

As the awaited talk by Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro approaches, I am wondering what type of slanderous flyers leftist student groups will litter campus this time. Most people likely remember when Canadian author Lauren Southern paid a visit to campus this past fall and how flyers depicting Southern’s face along with the caption “Punch a Nazi? Gopher it!” were posted around campus. I shouldn’t have to explain how these allegations that Southern is somehow a “Nazi” are ludicrous, but I have to wonder: will similar rhetoric be used against Shapiro? You know, the Jewish man I’ve never seen pictured without a Kippah. 

It sounds crazy that anyone would insinuate that Shapiro was somehow a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer, but with Nazi becoming such a popular buzzword weaponized by the left nothing would surprise me. President Trump has been tarred with the label despite having a daughter and grandchildren who are Jewish and being extremely supportive of Israel. Not only is painting everyone you disagree with as being arm-in-arm with the likes of Richard Spencer intellectually dishonest, it’s dangerous. When a word is frequently thrown around without regard to whether those slandered by it actually meet the criteria to be referred to as such, the word in question loses its meaning.  

This situation is comparable to the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. If the far left keeps calling people they  disagree with, people who are not in any rational way Nazis, people will eventually stop listening and the word will lose its weight. This is where the danger comes in because as unfortunate as it is, there are still a small number of hateful and misguided people in the United States and around the world who subscribe to various neo-Nazi ideologies. If the term that has always been used to identify and shun such hate loses its gravity, these fringe elements will likely have an easier time passing unnoticed in our society. 

What has happened to our political discourse? In the past it didn’t seem to be acceptable in mainstream political discourse to call individuals Nazis simply because they have different political beliefs than you. In previous decades someone like David Duke would be labeled a Nazi, and rightly so. However, most people would have stopped taking you seriously if you were to use the epithet on someone such as Ronald Reagan  because it simply wasn’t true. One would think that claiming something so blatantly false and sensational would simply discredit those who made such claims. 

Remember the concept of Godwin’s Law. Godwin’s Law originally stated that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” As time went on, Godwin’s Law became widely understood as whoever makes a Nazi comparison first has automatically lost the debate. Mike Godwin, the man behind the law, said that he became tired of people invoking Hitler glibly and carelessly in debates. In an interview Godwin stated, “My feeling is that ‘Never Again’ loses its meaning if we don’t regularly remind ourselves of the terrible inflection point marked in human culture by the Holocaust… key to that obligation is remembering, which is what Godwin’s Law is all about.” 

Those calling Lauren Southern or even President Trump “Nazis” are certainly doing so in a manner that ignores Nazi atrocities in the name of winning a debate at the expense of the true gravity of the term. There are many ways to criticize those you disagree with without resorting to sounding like an edgy teenager on the internet or without minimizing one of the greatest atrocities in human history.