|Take the argument that our treatment of those seeking asylum at our border, including children, is not as monstrous as institutionalized genocide. That may be true, but it’s not what you’d call a compelling defense.
The seeds of future horrors are sometimes visible in the first steps a government takes toward institutionalizing cruelty. In his 1957 book “Language of the Third Reich,” Victor Klemperer recounted how, at the beginning of the Nazi regime, he “was still so used to living in a state governed by the rule of law” that he couldn’t imagine the horrors yet to come. “Regardless of how much worse it was going to get,” he added, “everything which was later to emerge in terms of National Socialist attitudes, actions and language was already apparent in embryonic form in these first months.”
So I don’t think GL needs to be amended. It still serves us as a tool to recognize specious comparisons to Nazism — but also, by contrast, to recognize comparisons that aren’t. Sometimes the comparisons can help us spot the earliest symptoms of horrific “attitudes, actions and language” well before our society falls prey to the full-blown disease.
By all means cite GL if you think some Nazi comparison is baseless or hyperbolic. But Godwin’s Law was never meant to block us from challenging the institutionalization of cruelty or the callousness of officials who claim to be just following the law. It definitely wasn’t meant to shield our leaders from being slammed for the current fashion of pitching falsehoods as fact. These behaviors, distressing as they are, may not yet add up to a new Reich, but please forgive me for worrying that they’re the “embryonic form” of a horror we hoped we had put behind us.