Godwin's Law at Clemson

Godwin’s Law says that online arguments devolve into comparisons with Hitler or Nazis. We can extend that, I think, to almost any American argument involving politics and include “fascist” in the list of comparables:

A student at Clemson University in South Carolina, in order to bring attention to the university’s past involvement in racism, has started a campaign to add black stripes to the Clemson “solid orange” campaign. It’s a cute conceit: the Clemson tiger, after all, is the school’s mascot, and the tiger’s black stripes are as important to its identity as its “orange.” The community may be “solid orange,” but it includes its “black stripes” as well. The student is clearly not anti-Clemson but pro-diversity and in favor of recognition of the complete history of the university.

Of course, this does not sit well with everyone:

“I don’t believe that the slogan of the athletic department on campus in any way ‘covers up’ or ‘paints over’ the history of Clemson’s founders and the land upon which the university sits,” Nick James, Chairman of Clemson Young Americans for Freedom, told Campus Reform. “Solid Orange is about the family of Clemson, it’s about equality. Everyone here has a common purpose, a common goal.”

YAF? Inclusive? Well…. James may be ignoring the real point, though that’s not surprising, coming from a representative of an organization whose founding in 1960 owed a great deal to the fear of the “other” (that “other” being Communism, in this particular case). But he is saying enough, and politely enough, that real discussion can ensue–whatever one may think of the organization he represents. As a teacher, I would take him and his comments seriously and treat him with respect–all while letting him also know my feelings about his organization.

What concerns me is not the comments of one student arguing with another, whatever their points of view. That’s a good thing. Even though I may roll my eyes at James’s statement (I think it deliberately misconstrues the point about stripes), I think he and A.D. Carson (the spark to the “See the Stripes” campaign) could, together, actually do something good for the university–if they do talk to each other and do so publicly. Their words are civil and inviting to discussion. I applaud them both.

That’s not quite so easy to do for another comment, this one coming from a faculty member. Dr. J. David Woodard says:

“It’s fascism. It’s looking at things only through racial lenses and not seeing anything else when in fact there is no racism associated with this,” Woodard told Campus Reform.

Calling something “fascist,” “Hitleresque,” or “Nazi” makes conversation afterward almost impossible. Woodard, a professor of Political Science and something of a political operative (according to his university profile, his clients have included Senator Jim DeMint, Senator Lindsey Graham, Former Congressman Gresham Barrett , Congressman Trey Gowdy, and Congressman Jeff Duncan) on the Republican right, certainly doesn’t see the debate as a “teachable moment.”

Many conservatives, from David Horowitz on, complain that it is leftist professors who stifle debate on campus….

One thought on “Godwin's Law at Clemson

  1. This is yet another Far Right rhetorical strategy: turn the accusations against you and your fundamental principles into the very things that you are rightly being accused of. These accusations that Progressives are the “real” Nazis and racists because they will no longer let Nazis and racists do what they do without challenge is almost mind-boggling. The Far Right press regularly accuses Obama of being a Nazi, and then the so-called mainstream press refuses to be “inflammatory” by showing the extremists who are a constant presence among the anti-Obama protesters at his appearances. Those extremists include, of course, many Aryan Brotherhood and Neo-Nazi types, complete with very visible swastika tattoos. That lack of “mainstream” media coverage accounts, in large part, for why these rhetorical strategies are given any credence whatsoever.

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.