Analogies and Comparisons in Political Dialogue

Evoking analogies and comparisons to the past can be a natural response to contemporary political developments. There are both advantages and disadvantages to these actions. Recalling historical figures or events in relation to present ones can sometimes help society grasp the gravity of a situation and serve as a warning. Conversely, it can also risk trivializing the true nature and repercussions of a historical event if it is compared to a recent one. This is because we do not have the luxury of viewing the present through the lens of history, and thus our analysis of it can be prone to personal biases and a lack of nuance.

In Peter E. Gordon’s article, he refers to a recent example of a politician comparing migrant detention centers on the southern United States border to the concentration camps of the Holocaust. Gordon briefly summarizes the debate that ensues and the positions of those on both sides. In writing that “all human atrocities are human acts, and as such all are candidates for comparison,” Gordon does not explicitly affirm the validity of this comparison, but he suggests that such comparisons can stimulate a healthy and respectful dialogue. I can appreciate his point, but I also think that there is a danger in overzealous politicians employing these analogies to appeal to the raw emotions of their constituents, at the expense of those who were personally affected by a traumatic event.

Similarly, Samuel Moyn discusses the potential inadequacies of comparing the present and past, specifically with regards to the Trump administration and the parallels some have drawn between it and Nazi Germany. What I took from Moyn’s article is that in times of uncertainty, it is human nature to rummage through the historical record to find something that matches the present circumstances. When Trump was elected in 2016, many were anxious as to what the future held and some saw the situation reflected in the rise of Hitler during the 1930s. The dangers in this however, it that we risk overlooking the conditions that allowed Trumpism to take hold and thus we are unable to engage in thoughtful dialogue with those on the other end of the political spectrum. Simply dismissing Trump supporters as Nazis is unproductive and lazy if we truly wish to effect meaningful change.  

Works Cited

Gordon, Peter E. “Why Historical Analogy Matters.” The New York Review, 7 Jan. 2020, nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

Moyn, Samuel. “The Trouble with Comparisons.” The New York Review, 19 May 2020, nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/

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