During the infancy of online communication, an attorney named Mike Godwin noticed something about people calling other people Nazis during debates. Back in 1990, he coined what would become known as Godwin’s law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.”
This is to say that the longer an online discussion persists, the more likely someone is to make an ill-judged analogy between a political position and the Nazi regime.
The 2016 election — and Donald Trump’s subsequent presidency — marked the moment when Godwin’s postulate leaped into obvious relevance. And nobody exemplified this unfortunate jump better than Karen Fiorito.
If you aren’t familiar with Fiorito, you may be acquainted with this delicate, subtle work the artist slathered on a billboard in Phoenix, Arizona.
Not only did Fiorito not apologize for depicting Trump as a Nazi on the billboard — owned by “arts” patron Beatrice Moore — she defended showing the president surrounded by mushroom clouds and dollar-sign swastikas.
“I think a lot of people are feeling this way and I’m just trying to express what I think is on a lot of people’s minds these days,” Fiorito said.
“Some of these issues are so important you can’t not speak out,” billboard owner Moore said. She added that even though the billboard went up for an art festival, it will remain up as long as Trump is president.
Fiorito said that “a lot of people are feeling this way.” Fine. That doesn’t mean a lot of people are right.
Representing Trump as a literal Nazi is to say that his followers are themselves literal Nazis. It is to say that they would countenance the genocide of six million Jews and countless others. It is to say that they hold irredentist views that we should invade other countries and subjugate their people. It is to say that they believe the government should exist to repress and slaughter all that dare oppose it.
Is this what Fiorito and Moore really believe? Is this what they want to stake their artistic credibility on — the idea that they are fighting a literal Nazi and his goose-stepping supporters?
If they don’t, the billboard should come down. If they do — or simply refuse to recognize the gravity of what they’re doing — I have some advice for them. Go talk to a Holocaust survivor. Listen to their stories. See how they feel about you glibly comparing an elected president with whom you disagree to a regime that committed some of the most unspeakable atrocities in human history.
Were they to do this, they would take it down. I’m assuming they’re not going to, though. Instead, they’re going to remain the most high-profile — and sleaziest — proof of how Godwin’s law has made its way into our everyday lives.
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