Rhetoric Gone Wrong: 75 People and a Cat Who've Been Compared to Hitler

Image of Scott Baradell
Scott Baradell

To conclude the "home-school trilogy" I started at the Idea Grove blog, I want to follow up on lessons I've learned from America's best days and Europe's storied history to share some thoughts I have on the most notorious figure in modern world history -- Adolf Hitler -- and how he achieved and has maintained that level of historical resonance, even 75 years after his death.

Hitler did monstrous things unparallelled in human history. But our world has had no shortage of monsters. 

Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin killed more people than Hitler. Leopold II of Belgium killed 10 million people -- and you've probably never heard of him, perhaps largely because his victims were Black Africans.

The Use and Abuse of Hitler's Name in Online Discussions

One reason why Hitler remains a fixture on the History Channel -- and in our online discourse -- relates to the first public relations art: rhetoric. The original PR practitioners were rhetoricians. The sophists of ancient Greece were thinker-philosophers who taught noblemen seeking public office the art of persuasion through rhetoric. 

From the beginning, rhetoric (which simply means the art of persuasive speaking or writing) has been viewed with suspicion. The sophists were mercilessly criticized by Socrates, and the result is the word "sophistry," meaning the use of fallacious arguments to deceive.

The nature of Hitler's rise and fall uniquely lends itself to sophistry, as is evident in all manner of public discourse today. And sophistry breaks down trust online.

As attorney Mike Godwin asserted in what became known as "Godwin's Law":  "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches." 

When Hitler Comparisons Lose Their Meaning

I've been tracking Hitler comparisons online off and on in the media for the past decade. Following are just a small portion of the folks who've been compared to Hitler by various commentators, along with relevant links. There's something about seeing the full list at once that demonstrates just how ridiculous the use of Hitler as a rhetorical tool has become.

  1. U.S. President Donald Trump
  2. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
  3. Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness
  4. Flint, Mich., City Council President Monica Galloway
  5. The kid in "EuroTrip"
  6. First Lady Michelle Obama
  7. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
  8. Hallandale Beach, Fla. Mayor Keith London
  9. Auckland, NZ, Mayor Phil Goff
  10. South African politician Julius Malema
  11. Movie director Michael Bay
  12. Conservative talk host Glenn Beck
  13. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
  14. Pope Benedict XVI
  15. German politician Björn Höcke
  16. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
  17. Terrorist Osama bin Laden
  18. Concordia University Business Professor Hodai Hemami Shahla
  19. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
  20. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer
  21. U.S. President George W. Bush
  22. U.S. President Jimmy Carter
  23. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
  24. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro
  25. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro
  26. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney
  27. Ugandan Dictator Idi Amin
  28. U.S. President Bill Clinton
  29. Naturalist Charles Darwin
  30. Syrian Dictator Bashar Al-Assad
  31. Animator Walt Disney
  32. King Leopold II of Belgium
  33. Chinese President Jiang Zemin
  34. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
  35. Climate activist Greta Thunberg
  36. Conservative writer Dinesh D'Souza
  37. Filipino kleptocrat Ferdinand Marcos
  38. Filipino strongman Rodrigo Duterte
  39. Poker champion Annie Duke
  40. White supremacist Richard Spencer
  41. Equatoguinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
  42. Halloween celebrant Bryant Goldbach
  43. North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-Sung
  44. North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-il
  45. North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un
  46. Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore
  47. Roman Emperor Nero
  48. Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein
  49. Christian Messiah Jesus
  50. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones
  51. Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg
  52. U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy
  53. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln
  54. Entertainment Software Association founder Doug Lowenstein
  55. Financier Bernie Madoff
  56. Murderer Charles Manson
  57. Conservative Christian activist Ginny Maziarka
  58. U.S. Senator John McCain
  59. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara
  60. German Chancellor Angela Merkel
  61. PETA president Ingrid Newkirk
  62. U.S. President Richard Nixon
  63. U.S. President Barack Obama
  64. U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
  65. Italian comedian and politician Beppe Grillo
  66. Russian Dictator Vladimir Putin
  67. Rhodesia and Rhodes Scholarship founder Cecil Rhodes
  68. Zimbabwean Dictator Robert Mugabe
  69. University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez
  70. U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  71. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
  72. Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger
  73. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
  74. Roman Catholic nun Mother Teresa
  75. Slain abortion doctor George Tiller
  76. Leonardo the Cat

Have you found one to add to the list? Share it in comments.

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