No, Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. The Republican Party is not the Nazis, and America is not the Third Reich. But in these fiery last days of America’s first seditious President, there is a sense that The White House will become the President’s bunker.
So it’s worthwhile to go back to Berlin in May 1945 to the Führerbunker, to get a sense of the bunker mentality that pervaded its final Wagnerian chapter.
The best account of those desperate days is provided by British historian, Hugh Trevor-Roper, in The Last Days of Hitler, which The Guardian proclaimed as one of the 100 best non-fiction books of all time.
One of Hitler’s secretaries, Erna Flegel, claimed of Hitler that, even then “his authority was extraordinary. He was charming.” She also said that as the Russians drew closer to Berlin, others inside the bunker “began to live outside reality.”
“At the end we were like a big family,” she said.
Many reports tell of a strangely carnival atmosphere in the final days, mixed as always with Hitler’s fits of rage. In the week before he shot himself, his aides simply stopped obeying his orders. As Armin Lehmann, a fanatical 16-year-old member of the Hitler Youth, and message runner to and from the bunker, said: ‘It never entered my mind, even then, as the bombs rained down, that we would lose.’ Still, many slunk out of the bunker, hoping to disappear into the civilian population of the city, or even flee Germany itself.
Last month, Alex Ross wrote in the New Yorker about revisiting Hitler’s final days in the bunker. He lists all kinds of memes comparing Trump and Hitler, and says: “The spectacle of a power-hungry narcissist receiving his comeuppance is irresistible, and it has played out innumerable times in history and fiction.”
But Ross believes that comparisons between Trump and Hitler “ring false on many levels.”
I couldn’t agree more. Yes, like Hitler, Trump presents himself as the single source of truth. His “fake news” echoes Hitler’s Lügenpresse (“lying press”). They both referred to reporters as “enemies of the people.”
But, if anything, Trump’s minions, including his family, are more delusional about what the future holds for them than the rag-tag band of never-enders in 1945.
Let’s look at what happened last Wednesday just before and after the insurrection.
At 12 noon Trump spoke for 70 minutes (God save us) at a “Save America” rally at the Ellipse outside The White House. There, he claimed: “This election was an egregious assault on our democracy…. We will not let them silence your voices. ……We are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and we are going to the Capitol…”
The rest is already history.
But at 11:30 a.m., the President went to the VIP tent behind the stage where he watched the crowds gathering. Clearly, he and his family weren’t just celebrating; they were dancing. It feels like being in the VIP tent at a giant tailgate party.
So what were Trump and his people doing while the Congress was being stormed?
At the time when the Senators had been evacuated from the actual Senate and were in a large holding room to escape the mob, the President called Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville from Alabama. But he dialled another Senator by mistake, Mike Lee of Utah, who then put the President on hold and went to find Tuberville, who eventually did speak with Mr. Trump, who kept him on the line for nearly 10 minutes to persuade him to make additional objections to the Electoral College vote. Even though Trump was watching all this on television at the White House, at no time did the President call his Vice President, who was in a secure room in the Congress building, to ask if he was safe.
What was Republican Senator Ted Cruz doing as the rioters smashed windows to get into the Congress Building? He was raising funds. As his nemesis, Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, goaded in a tweet: “Isn’t this you? Your campaign sent out this fundraising message as people were sieging the Capitol. You claimed to be “leading the fight to reject electors.” Clashes started around 1:20 pm. This message was sent after the Capitol was breached.”
Here is Cruz’s message at 3:33 pm: “Ted Cruz here. I’m leading the fight to reject electors from key states unless there is an emergency audit of the election results. Will you stand with me?” This was followed by a link to his fund-raising site.
Ten days from now, Joe Biden will be sworn-in as President.
In the infinity between now and then, as the Trump administration scrambles from cocky to cornered, from White House to bunker, we will see if the parallels to Berlin on April 30, 1945, are close or not.