The Hitler magic is gone.
We used to live in a golden age of comparisons to Nazi Germany. It’s not the Golden Age I would have picked to live in, but it was the one we got, and we seemed to be doing all right. Angry townsfolk, talking TV heads and the proprietors of numerous websites with small fonts and no pictures all delighted themselves by making artisanal, small-batch comparisons to the Third Reich. Yes, these cropped up way more often than anyone would have wished, but at least people labored at them and put a modicum more thought into them than is required to jerk your foot out of that falling sensation right before you go to sleep. No longer. Now they are just everywhere, and they don’t even make the kind of limited sense that any Hitler analogy ever made. It was pretty much zero before. Now it’s definitely zero.
Consider the following (that somehow had people up in arms earlier this week). It is one of the worst Hitler analogies ever made.
“I hope it’s not working,” Ken Langone, the Home Depot CEO, told Politico in a story published Tuesday, responding to the rising Democratic use of campaign tactics based on distaste for the 1 Percent. “Because if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.”
Because if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. If Hitler had said different things, then he would have said this. If you go back to 1933 and replace Hitler’s words with other words, this is what he was saying. This is a direct quote from Hitler, except for the part where it does not use any of the words that Hitler used.
As Elizabeth Stoker notes at Salon, “In that regard all political regimes are virtually identical but with “different words.'”
And people still got upset!
We are in this horrible cycle of Someone Makes Hitler Comparison, Someone Demands Apology From Person Who Made Hitler Comparison, First Person Apologizes But Only Kind Of, but we’ve fallen into a rut.
Of course, if you can use that Hitler-thin logic (as thin as Hitler, if Hitler were not Hitler but a wafer) for Hitler’s language, no wonder the comparisons have flown so thickly of late. “This is just like Nazi Germany,” Tom Perkins clearly meant to say, a few months back, “except for the part where it’s COMPLETELY different.”
“If this were not a campaign against the One Percent that in no way resembles Kristallnacht and were instead Kristallnacht, this would be just like Kristallnacht.”
The point is: the magic has gone out of our relationship to Hitler comparisons.
We have hit peak Hitler. We need to find something else to say about things we dislike. Get Pol Pot into the popular lexicon. Get Genghis Khan. Get something. Because frankly, this is absurd. It used to be that in order to get yelled at for making a Hitler comparison, you actually had to say that it was Hitler-like in some way. But if someone can get yelled at for saying “This is just like Hitler, except not,” then nobody’s paying attention and all this is just empty fanfaronade, if that is the word I want.
I know that “This is just like Hitler, except for the part where it’s not,” is what most Hitler comparisons have always come down to, on some level. But you can’t admit it up front. Then it makes it seem like you’re just saying it for shock value and you don’t actually believe it. And wouldn’t that just be shocking.
Langone has even apologized, issuing a statement and saying: “My remarks were intended to discourage pitting one group against another group in a society. If my choice of words was inappropriate — and they well may have been that — I extend my profound apologies to anyone and everyone who I may have offended.”
YOU KNOW WHO ELSE MADE A POOR CHOICE OF WORDS?
I’m not saying, but…