I’ve many times referenced Godwin’s law in my pieces regarding the state of politics at present. If you’re unfamiliar with Godwin’s law, it was a humorous postulate from the early days of the internet that went thusly: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”
In other words, as things get heated, the ignorant and/or angry tend to call the other side Nazis or Hitler. The corollary is that once the other side invokes the Nazi Party, they pretty much lose the argument; those individuals have shown how threadbare their logic is without resorting to hyperbole or argumentum ad hominem.
Since the election of Donald Trump and other associated shocks, there’s been a concerted movement to suspend Godwin’s law, at least for the moment. “Stop talking about Godwin’s Law: real Nazis are back,” James Ball wrote in the New Statesman America last year in an article which, among other things, trotted out the oft-repeated, empurpled, purposely misleading rhetoric about children being torn from their parents and “caged” at the border.
The Los Angeles Times similarly ran a piece wondering whether it was time to suspend the maxim. Even the eponymous Godwin himself said he would suspend the law for talk about the torch-wielders at the Charlottesville rally in 2017, which I think every sane person agrees is a solid reason for temporarily suspending it.
However, if you think that Godwin’s law should be suspended, I give you as a counterargument Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe.
Tribe was, before the current administration, a respected if slightly nutty constitutional law prof. Nothing unusual for Harvard. He has since gone so far off the academic deep end that even his Wikipedia page says he “has promoted unreliable sources and conspiracy theories about Donald Trump.”
I mention this only because I don’t know how many of you are familiar with how Wikipedia doth roll, but for a liberal to get branded as a conspiracy theorist — particularly a liberal of Tribe’s provenance — takes considerable talent.
Yet, he’s still a professor in good standing at Harvard — one who taught a course on Trump’s impeachment, according to Fox News. He also has a Twitter account, which can be kryptonite to some people. Tribe is unsurprisingly one of them.
On Monday, Tribe took to Twitter and attempted to claim that because of what he saw as similar physiognomy between President Trump and Adolf Hitler, the two must be alike philosophically. “Horrifying. I’m not saying Trump is becoming Hitler, so don’t bother tweeting the distinctions,” Tribe said in a now-deleted tweet, along with these photographs:
— Cameron M Fox (@CameronMFox1) May 14, 2019
“But the physical and behavioral resemblances aren’t altogether irrelevant. No prior president even suggests the comparison.”
The professor replied Thursday to The Western Journal: “My only comment is that my remarks were too easily misconstrued and thus were ill-considered, so I deleted them as soon as it became clear to me that quite a few readers thought I was saying more than I intended. As someone many of whose relatives were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust, I have previously avoided making Hitler comparisons, given how uniquely evil and monstrous he was. I should’ve stuck to that avoidance and plan not to repeat it.”
Tribe was retweeting @wvjoe, who had packaged the tweet along with a quote from Voltaire: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
Of course, @wvjoe ought to have been aware of a different Voltaire quote that might apply under the circumstances: “I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: ‘O Lord make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.”
I’ve made a few more, being a religious believer. (Voltaire, you may have gathered, was not.) However, I didn’t even need to utter that prayer and I’ve been given Laurence Tribe and @wvjoe. The wellspring indeed never runs dry.
And neither does Tribe’s Twitter, though nothing’s quite that bizarre.
The reason I helped frame the Emoluments Clause challenges at the start of 45’s presidency was my conviction that his hidden obligations to foreign powers made him unfit to serve and arguably impeachable from the moment he took the oath of office. https://t.co/hNUmwps4Ei
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) May 14, 2019
Anyone who doesn’t see this danger and fight against it might as well confess complicity in our downfall as a constitutional republic @MalcolmNance @Lawrence @chrislhayes @maddow @AriMelber @BetoORourke @heidibschreck @oliverbutler @PeteButtigieg @JoeBiden @ewarren @KamalaHarris https://t.co/jDo9cWWWGf
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) May 11, 2019
Trump’s willingness to admit publicly that he might need Ukraine’s help to defeat Biden in 2020 suggests that more than vanity must be motivating his obsessive denial of Russia’s role in his defeat of Hillary in 2016. @NicolleDWallace @AriMelber @Lawrence @maddow @RepAdamSchiff
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) May 10, 2019
Tenure is a beautiful thing.
Tribe, by the way, is the guy who once said, “If you’re going to shoot him, you have to shoot to kill” in regard to Trump’s impeachment. He would later apologize for the comment, though it was clear it was meant metaphorically.
Whatever the case, Tribe’s idiocy is perfect evidence of why Godwin’s law is still relevant today. In fact, I would argue it’s more so.
A decade ago, Nazi comparisons would usually be random people online spouting off at the mouth. In 2019, it’s law professors at Harvard. And people wonder why conservatives’ opinions of academia are so low.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.