Days ago, as Americans raged against immigrant families being separated at our southern border, former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden did what many have done before:
He compared Trump to Hitler.
The comparison came on Twitter, which included a photo of Auschwitz.
"Other governments have separated mothers and children," Hayden tweeted.
He isn't alone in making such comparisons. Cher. Glenn Beck. "Saturday Night Live." The current Mexican president. The former Mexican president. They've all compared Trump to Hitler.
But such constant Trump-Hitler comparisons need to stop.
Not only are they often inaccurate, such comparisons are often dangerous.
Because if everything is likened to Nazi Germany, then, sooner or later, nothing is.
When everything looks like Hitler, then, sooner or later, nothing does.
In the 1990s, a lawyer named Michael Godwin noticed the increasing tendency for Nazi comparisons to emerge during online conversations. The longer one spent online, the sooner a Nazi analogy would surface.
Later dubbed Godwin's Law, it presaged our current cultural and political climate, where Nazi analogies are ubiquitous.
The one analogy that should be most reserved — Use Only In Case of Emergency — is now street-corner plain, everywhere, which means it now means nothing.
Is Trump authoritarian? Does he trend toward authoritarian tendencies?
Yes. Most certainly.
Has there been an increase in hate groups and neo-Nazi activity since his election?
Yes. Most certainly.
Is it right to be vigilant and outspoken in our defense of human rights, especially during this presidency?
Yes. Most certainly.
But to categorically lump all of Trump into a Hitler comparison is reckless and unwise.
For three reasons.
First, it distorts both Trump and Hitler.
"Hitler was a psychopath," writes Jewish author Shalom Auslander in the Washington Post. "Trump is just a con man."
Hitler built a regime with precise strategy, designed to carry out clear mass murder.
This is not what Trump is doing. Nor, with his mercurial and moody leadership, is he capable of doing it.
To compare Trump with Hitler is to water down the depth of Hitler's premeditated and genocidal monstrosity, which was far more hegemonic and detailed than Trump's border policies.
"He had an elaborately developed, hideous, deplorable theory of how things worked, and he believed in it deeply," Auslander said. "Trump doesn't."
It also confuses and muddies our ability to see exactly what Trump is doing; yes, his border policy is vindictive and hard-heartedly cruel. But he is not gassing children. Or shooting them in the head. There are no mass graves or death marches. No Night of Broken Glass.
"He's no Hitler," Auslander said. "Not even close."
Second, such comparisons are beginning to feel like we're crying wolf.
Or crying Hitler.
The abundance of Hitler comparisons steals credibility from actual and veritable criticism the Left might make. (We're reached the point where Hitler comparisons now generate eye-rolling. Think of that!)
It ruins rational discourse.
It dampens the crucial need to make insightful and precise commentary.
"Comparing Trump to Hitler says a lot more about the accuser than the accused. If you truly want to convince someone else to not vote for Trump, while maintaining your intellectual honesty and ostensible acumen, you really need to stop comparing Trump to Hitler," blogs Bill Ozanick on thehill.com.
Third, the Trump-Hitler comparisons allow us to forget our own history by projecting our own tendency to evil onto 20th century Germany.
Don't compare Trump to Hitler, but to Andrew Jackson, and his forced removal policies.
Or FDR, who created internment camps for Japanese-Americans.
Or Southern politicians who upheld the evils of segregation by arguing for "rule of law."
The real comparison we should consider?
Who ... are ... we?
"The comparison that matters is not, "Is Donald Trump like Hitler?" but, "Are we like Hitler's willing executioners?" Auslander asks.
Because the Holocaust didn't happen solely because of Hitler.
It happened because ordinary Germans fell under his spell, thus allowing Nazism to flourish.
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.