Call Today's Republican Party What It Is

Oh my Godwin, do you not see what is plainly in front of your eyes? The Holocaust came after 22 years' buildup of — and tolerance for — right-wing extremism.

You know how to induce scorn in a certain class of liberal political observer? Just call Sen. Rand Paul a Nazi.

Or Josh Hawley or Tom Cotton. Or Rep. Madison Cawthorn. Or his fellow reactionaries GOP Congresspersons Paul Gosar, Louie Gohmert, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan or Marcia Taylor Greene. Or Republican Governors Gregg Abbott, Kristi Noem, Doug Ducey or Ron DeSantis. Or Steve Bannon or Steven Miller. Or Tucker P.O.S. Carlson.

Or the Congressional “Freedom Caucus.” Or the full Republican Party. Or Donald Trump. Because when you start naming names, comes the sanctimony and protest.

Nooooooo. They're not Nazis, the scoffers scoff. Don't abuse that term. Your hyperbole both undercuts the rigor of your argument and, worse still, trivializes the Holocaust.

It’s not a new complaint. Reductio ad Hitlerum, is the term political philosopher Leo Strauss coined in 1953, which was a play on reductio ad absurdum, which is what happens when extrapolating or distilling a problem to its worst imaginable extreme renders the comparison weak, and your moral authority right along with it. An “association fallacy,” in other words. There is also the wry Godwin’s Law to be reckoned with. That's the playful but trenchant observation, circa 1991, that “as an online discussion continues, the probability of a comparison to Hitler or to Nazis approaches one.” The reflex Godwin lampoons is that argument seeks logical extension to a rhetorical destination so irresistibly extreme that the debate must end; just trace an inevitable line to the Holocaust, drop your mic and leave the stage.

Of course, the fallacy Godwin’s Law astutely implies — à la Leo Strauss — is that such dramatic extrapolations aren't necessarily as strong as the argumentative impulse; the logical extension doesn’t really extend logically.

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