THOUGHTS ON BAD WAYS TO RELINQUISH POWER

Much has been made of US President Donald Trump’s aspirations toward a quasi-dictatorship in the vein of that set up by Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Though Trump’s efforts at undermining the law of the land appear to have largely failed, we can still draw fruitful comparisons with Trump’s behavior during his final days in power with that of an honest-to-god, full-on dictator: Adolf Hitler.

Hey! Wait a minute! Trump is nowhere near as evil as Hitler!  I agree. Hitler’s brand of evil was far more repugnant than Trump’s. No fair basis for comparison resides on that score. I will suggest, however, that Trump has been as delusional during his final months in office as Hitler was during his last hundred days.

Let us begin with Hitler.  Hitler was never stable—spend thirty minutes with Mein Kampf, and you’ll seen what I mean—but one could argue that he became completely unhinged in the autumn of 1942, dismissing generals who questioned his decisions and denying the reality that the German armies in Stalingrad would perish if they did not retreat from the city.  When newly-minted Field Marshall Friedrich Paulus, the commander of the German army trapped in Stalingrad, surrendered to the Soviets after months of bitter street fighting, cold, and hunger, Hitler exploded in rage, branding Paulus a traitor.

Fast forward to April 1945.  Hitler has retreated to an underground bunker in Berlin and mighty Russian armies are at the gates of the city.  It is clear to everyone that the days of the Third Reich are numbered. Suddenly, news arrives that American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt has died. Hitler and his cronies are jubilant.  Surely, the death of America’s wartime president will spell the end of the US’s involvement in the war, leading to the collapse of the anti-Nazi alliance.  The Nazis will prevail!

Meanwhile, the German army is a spent force.  Yet Hitler refuses to concede that the armies that he directs exist only on paper. When his generals point out that the armies do not exist, Hitler erupts, calls them traitors, and insists that the Russians will suffer a humiliating defeat in Berlin. The Red Army continues its inexorable advance into Berlin.

Amid the shelling in the city, Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress, arranges for a party to celebrate Hitler’s birthday, April 20. Realizing that the game is up, several of Hitler’s longtime lackies appear at the party, only to scurry away shortly afterward, abandoning the doomed Fuehrer to what awaits him. One of them, Minister of Armaments Albert Speer, informs Hitler that he has disregarded the order to flatten Germany’s infrastructure.  One might conclude that Hitler commands loyalty only so long as he has something to offer; once that ability crumbles, his supporters melt away. Meanwhile, against the advice of those who remain in the bunker, Hitler refuses to leave Berlin, the seat of his power.

Soon thereafter, Hitler learns that longtime henchmen Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler have attempted to displace him, whereupon he relieves them of their posts and reshuffles the remaining personnel to form a new government.

On April 29, before he takes his own life, Hitler dictates his final testament, a screed that blames the failure of the Third Reich (which he has finally come to accept) on the disloyalty of those he had trusted and on the German people who were unworthy of his leadership.

Now, let’s consider Trump’s behavior and whether we may detect a few parallels with that of Hitler.

Trump demands unconditional loyalty.  Much like the generals in the German army, anyone in the Trump administration who so much as raises a doubt about his judgment or the certainty of his electoral victory gets a pink slip.  Too many to mention. Now think about those who fled the Fuehrer in April 1945 to save their own skins. One need only consider those GOP members of Congress who have jumped ship on Trump, now that his time is nearly over.

Trump likewise refuses to accept defeat, regardless of the facts on the ground.  Hitler refused to give up the fighting because he saw salvation, however dubious, in the death of FDR and the appearance of imaginary armies under his control. Trump refuses to concede to Joe Biden. The President’s attempts to intimidate Michigan judges, his attempts (most recently in Georgia) to undermine the US political system, all with an eye to clinging to power, suggest that he and the facts have long ago parted ways.

While huddled in his bunker, Hitler ordered Albert Speer to flatten Germany (though allied bombers were doing well enough on that score, thank you!). Country be damned. Trump now huddles in the White House, fuming about his imminent loss of power while ignoring the accelerating COVID disaster, the pervasive joblessness, exhibiting a perfect willingness to let the country burn while he pursues his legal fantasies. Country be damned.  Trump has a famous temper. You will recall Hitler’s explosions when those around him addressed him with the language of reason. Hitler refused to leave Berlin. In the end, Trump may refuse to leave the White House. That would come as no surprise. I suppose that his last testament will assume the form of a falsehood-laced social media diatribe about how betrayal by others deprived him of power

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