Some advice for politicians of both parties, liberal and conservative commentators and social media posters: Before you make a comparison between something happening today and Nazi Germany, think twice.
And then just don’t.
State Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, may have learned this the hard way a few weeks ago when he wore a yellow Star of David on his shirt when discussing COVID restrictions with a group in Lacey, Wash. After briefly trying to defend the indefensible, he apologized.
I wouldn’t bring it up again, were it not for a statement by Gov. Jay Inslee at a recent press conference that people who are not vaccinated are going to be required by their employer to wear masks if they return to an indoor work place. One can almost hear the gears churning in the outrage machine by people who believe vaccination is a personal choice into which the government has no business intruding.
The machine is unlikely to be stilled by the fact that Inslee later referred to such vaccine doubters and refuseniks as “bio-reactor mutation labs” for COVID-19 and described the typical non-vaxxed person as “a 50-year-old man who voted for Donald Trump.”
It shouldn’t be necessary to say this, but here goes: Wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID in 2021 America is not the same as wearing an arm band to mark you as member of a religious faith in anti-Semitic 1930s Nazi Germany. The former is a public health measure, and the wearers are not going to be rounded up for extermination. The comparison is offensive to the survivors of the Holocaust, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And to anyone with a passing knowledge of history.
Such a requirement for masking at work might tempt opponents to compare any state efforts to enforce it to “Brown Shirts,” a reprise of last year’s complaints about state enforcement of “the stay safe, stay home” order and a more recent, tossed-off comment by a Georgia member of Congress. Please note that the Brown Shirts were essentially organized thugs and vandals given the tacit approval to terrorize people and destroy things, not public servants trying to keep others safe, even if you don’t agree that the rules they are enforcing are wise or necessary.
This is not to suggest that only Republicans, conservatives or those with different views about COVID-19 are likely to fall into a trap sometimes referred to as Godwin’s Law, that posits the longer a discussion continues, the more likely someone is to make an analogy to Hitler or Nazis.
During the Trump administration, Democrats and liberals sometimes compared the president’s public spokespersons to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s master of propaganda, despite the fact that such mastery was sometimes lacking. The former president’s insistence that he actually won the 2020 election but it was stolen from him by massive fraud is referred to as “The Big Lie” by his opponents and liberal commentators.
The Big Lie was a term coined by Hitler as mendacity so audacious that people would believe it because no one would dare to make something like that up. He used that technique to convince Germans the country didn’t lose World War I on the battlefield but were betrayed from within by Jews and others.
Considering that there is no evidence of massive fraud in the 2020 election while there are evidence and court rulings to the contrary, Trump’s claims might be considered mendacious enough to be “a” big lie. But the phrase is also generally followed by some kind of statement that the claims are baseless or unfounded or already refuted, so it’s not quite the same as the Nazi government’s Big Lie reinforced by their heavily controlled news media.
To quote Walsh in his radio mea culpa after his mistake: “You can’t use some things as a metaphor, because they go beyond the pale.”
A Sign of the Possibly Improving Times
As Washington crossed the threshold of 70 percent vaccination for those who are eligible to get the shot, Inslee did something he hadn’t done in about 15 months. He held a media briefing and question and answer session in the governor’s conference room with reporters present.
Everett Herald reporter Jerry Cornfield, a colleague from the Olympia press corps, joked that he’d have to work on asking a follow-up question, which is easy to blurt out in person but not possible on a Zoom call when the governor’s staff controls the mute button.
At the press conference, which focused on COVID-19 and climate change, Inslee let slip something that most politicians practice but few freely admit.
Asked by Spokesman-Review reporter Nico Portuondo what the state is doing to compel or help local governments prepare for future heat waves that might be more frequent because of climate change, Inslee replied: “I’m going to answer just a little different question than you asked.”
He circled back to rallying the state to fight the cause of climate change, a point that he’d already made. So at least he stayed on message.
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.