Recent events have led to some very interesting developments and comments that I thought I’d briefly go over.
The first is that comparisons to Nazism online have gotten so much more fraught than before that one of Mike Godwin’s clarifications on his eponymous axiom has made the LA times.
For those that don’t remember, “Godwin’s Law” is:
“As an online discussion continues, the probability of a comparison to Hitler or to Nazis approaches one.”
While the noted internet luminary does still stand by the law in its original form despite suggestions it can shut down discussion, (mostly due to application of the law as the “end of a thread” by moderators rather than its original formulation, given above) he has interesting and nuanced discussion that is both cautious of even today’s comparisons to Nazism, and appropriately scathing of the Trump Administration’s attempts to separate families. I highly suggest reading the article in full, as while it is very balanced and cautious, it achieves that balance without letting anyone off the hook, like the best sort of factual writing.
We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order. Most children come without parents…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2018
The most troubling and revealing part of this is the tail end of his original comment about how appointing more immigration judges might result in corruption: “Now can you imagine the graft that must take place?” This indicates Trump’s real opinion of the judiciary: that they’re there to be bribed, not to make objective decisions. I’m torn between assuming he must be promoting cynicism in the branch that acts as his biggest check and balance, or that maybe this is reflective of his past tactics trying to deal with judges.
This is in response to suggestions that he should expand the number of immigration judges to simply avoid having to detain immigrants for long periods of time- a thoroughly reasonable suggestion if your purpose in immigration enforcement was actually to enforce the law, and not to punish people for political purposes. (ironically, so-called “illegal” immigration, which is more rightly referred to as “improper entry” to the United States, is responsible for a lot of the country’s core economic activity, and is the only reason its unreasonably low minimum wages are in any way sustainable. It’s also not a criminal but rather a civil violation at the moment)
Finally, there’s the case of one Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, who was recently ejected from a restaurant for her participation in the Trump Administration.
There have been a number of interesting discussions on the morality or respectability of shunning people with extreme political views from polite society. Republicans in the US seem to be treating this as the first pebble in a slippery slope, and as usual blowing any perceived slight way out of proportion.
It was also very interesting to see Andrew Geddis noting the legal implications of similar actions in New Zealand might be less benign:
(Naturally, not everyone was in agreement with Geddis’ reading of the law, of course) There’s also other takes in New Zealand that are a bit less charitable:
“…and I politely left.” Before using her work twitter account to let her 3 million followers know the name of the latest target in the culture war. Bullies on the right are always the same: victims when called out. pic.twitter.com/lnQeBadz2S
— John Hart (@farmgeek) June 25, 2018
There’s some small validity to saying that it’s uncivil to seat a woman at a restaurant because she works for an administration you dislike, if dislike was all there is to it. But there’s also a lot more validity, in my opinion, to the position that shunning people who violate human rights from polite society is the cost of their own decidedly uncivil behaviour to others, and a perfectly valid form of protest in a democracy.
It’s worth remembering that in New Zealand we didn’t arrest a woman for throwing a sex toy at a politician, so we clearly have a sense that protest is allowed to be offensive, but so-called “sensible centrists” in the USA have a long history with privileging civility over protest, sadly. We should do better. Civility doesn’t mean letting people get away with breaking our democratic norms and hurting other people. It means behaving in a way that reflects our civic duties- which arguably, in a modern democracy, obliges us to protest the intolerable, however we choose to do so.