In the days when the horrors of Nazi Germany seemed, to some people (particularly people who are not German) something far away that could never happen here, it became understood that once someone accused another of being like a Nazi camp guard or like a little Hitler, this was a clear sign that insults had taken over from reason. Hence the growth of the convention, known as Godwin’s Law, that when a discussion got to the point where those analogies were being thrown around, the first person to use them had automatically lost the argument. It was a nice idea.
But times have changed. The fact is that there are now real analogies between what is happening in the UK and America and what happened in Germany in the 1930s. For the avoidance of silliness, let me make it clear that I’m not saying that May is a little Hitler in the making. Perhaps a little Thatcher, which is bad enough, but not a Hitler. I don’t, however, have the same certainty about Trump. Jonathan Freedland, amongst others, recently summarised his awfulness better than I can. To quote one paragraph:
So a President Trump will change lives far beyond the US. An American leader who believes climate change is a Chinese hoax, who believes terror suspects should be tortured and their family members killed, who believes that Saudi Arabia should have nuclear weapons, who is fascinated by nukes’ power of “devastation” and who has asked repeatedly why the US doesn’t use them; a man who says, “I love war”; a man who drools in admiration for Vladimir Putin and whose disregard for Nato, and refusal to promise to defend a member state if attacked, would all but invite Moscow to invade one of the Baltic states – such a man would plunge all of us into a dark future. That we are not living in the US will not protect us.
But consider this. Hitler’s appointment as chancellor may have been alarming, but it was legal. Intimidation played a significant part, but his acquisition of “temporary” power to act without the consent of the German parliament – to become a dictator – was also legal. And we all know how well that went. (The Wikipedia article on Hitler’s rise to power is worth a look if you’re not familiar with the story.) The parallels are real, and Godwin’s Law no longer applies: we have broken the Godwin Barrier.
Which brings me back to Brexit. Sure, May is not remotely like Trump, thank the Lord. But the ranting of the gutter press, demanding that Parliament should be bypassed, and that the legal system that guards us from dictatorship is an “enemy of the people” is frightening. They are asking for the road to a dictatorship to be opened up. And this, merely on the basis of the fact that the resounding “Errmm…” spoken by the British people had a marginal leaning towards “leave”.