Our era of super-low-information debate, made possible by the Internet, doesn't allow for much subtlety. One result of this is that it's very common for people to get all bent out of shape about what they think of or tendentiously construe as "comparisons."

You know what I'm talking about. You mention something that two things or events or people have common — usually some incidental particular or minute aspect — and you're suddenly accused of "comparing" the two things, which in this context is actually (again, incorrectly) defined as "asserting that two things are more or less the same."

Everyone does this. Maybe I've even done it. But it's becoming really annoying. We all ought to stop.

For example, last year, President Obama invoked that classic exhortation to political participation, pointing out that the German National Socialist Workers' Party (i.e., the Nazis) only won their first election because of low voter turnout. I don't know how many times I had heard people bring this up in an academic context before the Internet, and no one ever thought it was an insinuation that our current leaders were Nazis. Yet somehow last year, this was construed as a direct comparison between President Trump and Adolf Hitler.

Another minor example: A state legislator in Georgia, discussing a proposed 20-week abortion ban, tried to invoke his veterinary experience to discuss (a bit clumsily perhaps) how our shared humanity leads us to feel compassion for other sentient beings when they suffer and die in front of us, both at birth and during later life. The obvious intention of what he said was to communicate that it takes a cold heart indeed to close one's eyes to the killing of a tiny human. He said:

“Life gives us many experiences … I’ve had the experience of delivering calves, dead and alive. Delivering pigs, dead or alive. ... It breaks our hearts to see those animals not make it.”

The headline from ThinkProgress? "Georgia Republican Compares Women to Cows, Pigs, And Chickens." Yes, really. And similar headlines spread all over the left-wing internet.

This is the state of modern discourse, and it's pretty bad.

Today, there's what I'd characterize as a similarly stupid kerfuffle over a floor speech by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Here's what Flake said (he's addressing the president of the Senate, not Trump, when he says "Mr. President") that got everyone's panties in a bunch:

“The enemy of the people” was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017. Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase “enemy of the people,” that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of “annihilating such individuals” who disagreed with the supreme leader.

So, did Flake "compare Trump to Stalin" as some are now ham-fistedly asserting? I think the answer is pretty clear: Trump used the same words as Stalin, didn't he? And the same phrase that Trump used was later suppressed by Soviet authorities when they tried to bury Stalin's legacy after his death, was it not?

There you have it. Flake made two completely true statements about the words Trump used. I don't even see a comparison in there.

Trump might have everything or nothing else in common with Stalin, but Sen. Flake didn't comment on any of that because he did not compare, and was not comparing, Trump to Stalin. He was arguing that it's disgraceful to have an American president throw a term like that around, especially given its chilling and loaded origins. It's up to you whether you want to agree with Flake on that question, but don't say he "compared Trump to Stalin," because he didn't.