Godwin’s Law in politics

If you haven’t read it in a forecast yet, you’ll read it in an analysis next week: The “Nazis” are back in Germany, with a good likelihood of coming in on third place in the German elections next Sunday. Soon the Germans will wear brown shirts again, grow mustaches, and roll their tanks all over Europe. Really? What sounds like a big story in a newspaper headline in reality is far more harmless. It is more a problem of Godwin’s law in politics, where the likelihood of a politician calling another politician or party anywhere to the right of himself a “Nazi” approaches 100% towards election day.

The German elections this weekend are boring. The two parties that govern today together, the center-left SPD and the center-right CDU together will have well more than 50% of the votes. The CDU has about 35%, the SPD 22%, and there is no chance of the SPD overtaking the CDU. 4 smaller parties each have around 10%, with the AfD, which is to the right of the center-right CDU probably getting something like 12% of the vote. So, is that a sign of a growing Nazi resurgence in Germany, or is there a simpler explanation?

The reason why the AfD has more votes than usual is that they are the only party with a strong anti-immigrant position (not counting the regionally limited CSU). The center-right CDU in Germany is well to the left of conservative parties elsewhere, like UK conservatives or US Republicans. Citing Christian values the CDU has welcomed a large number of refugees to Germany, Syrian and other, in previous years. This large influx of immigrants wasn’t unopposed. And so it isn’t really surprising that 12% of voters end up supporting a party that is anti-immigrant, the AfD being their only option in this case. Compare that to other countries, where anti-immigrant parties and policies are in the majority. The news is 88% of voters voting for pro-immigrant parties, not 12% voting for anti-immigrant parties. What you see is an anti-immigrant protest vote, by people who wouldn’t necessarily vote for the AfD if they had any chance at all to actually come to power.

Personally, I have been an immigrant for the last 20 years, and so of course I am pro-immigration. But I do believe that liberals have done a lousy job to explain the advantages of immigration, and to address the various fears of voters regarding immigration, from job competition to crime. I do think that an anti-immigration party has to exist in a democratic society. And we should stop calling people “Nazis” just because they are anti-immigration.