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Trump and Goebbels: “Ve Vill Vin!”

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March, 1945 was not a good time for Hitler’s Nazi government. The war was essentially lost: Russian troops pouring in from the East, British and American troops from the West. Allied air power had reduced scores of German cities to rubble: Berlin, the capital, had no electricity, no transportation, and no food. The German people themselves were so demoralized, they were hoisting white flags from their windows in anticipation of being liberated by Americans. Germany had lost millions upon millions of soldiers, and more were falling every day. The whole world knew that Germany had lost the war—except for the most fanatical of the Nazi leadership, who believed against all odds that “a miracle” would save the day.

Those fanatics were led by Hitler himself. But just below Hitler was the number two man in Germany, Hitler’s Minister of Enlightenment and Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. We are fortunate, from a historical point of view, to have his personal diary, which contains a day-by-day account of almost the entire war period. (The diaries were recovered by Allied troops. Some pages had been burned in an obvious attempt to destroy them, but most survived. The diary is housed at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.)

Goebbels understood on some level that the cause was lost, but he could not admit it. He wrote, on March 14, “…the German economy can [only] hold out for another four weeks…”. His own ministry headquarters had just been bombed to smithereens; by his own admission, Germany was “defenseless” against Allied bombing. “A vast number of worrying problems now come before me,” he writes. “One wonders where on earth a way out of this terrible war dilemma is to be found.”

There was, of course, no way out. Within six weeks, Hitler was dead, by his own hand. Goebbels killed himself, too, along with his wife, who before she took poison gave cyanide capsules to their six young children. Germany signed the act of surrender the first week of May. The war in Europe was over.

But Goebbels lived in his fantasyland until the last moment. Despite the wedge closing in on Berlin, “…it is essential to keep a cool head and not to lose one’s nerve,” he wrote. Armed with books about Frederick the Great and the Punic Wars—metaphors for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat–Goebbels convinced himself (and tried to convince everyone who would listen to him) that a miracle would occur. “One must accept defeat after defeat in order to emerge victorious,” he wrote, adding: “There is no question of any doubt in my mind regarding the possibility of victory…”. All it takes is “the will” to see things through.

Doesn’t that sound like Trump? The refusal to recognize reality, the threat to fight on and on regardless of the consequences, the grim determination that even though everything is collapsing, will power alone will seize victory from the ashes of defeat—it’s all so Goebbelsian, or should I say Trumpian. As Germany’s collapse became increasingly clear in April, Goebbels still refused to give up; he formed so-called “Werewolf” squads, assassins and terrorists who would continue to battle, guerilla-style, even as the German Army and Air Force vanished. He vowed to fight on, to contest the results of the war, which Germany was losing through “treachery.” Germany had been “sold out” by “traitors,” not because she was a loser.

And here we have Trump, in basically the same position. He will lose, badly. As with Goebbels, on some level he knows it. But he’s living in a delusion. He will never give in, never concede defeat, never be gracious, as every prior losing candidate for President has been. His “traitors” are the media, Hillary Clinton, crooked election officials. If he loses, it’s because the election was “rigged.”

When he loses, will Trump have his own Werewolves? If there are recalcitrant die-hards who cause trouble, they’ll come from the Trumpistas we see on television, in their Trump hats and red, white and blue Trump costumes, the defiant ones, open-carrying firearms, who snarl about revolution and civil war. Their chant isn’t “Heil Trump,” it’s Jail her!” Will Trump’s Werewolves form a sort of Fifth Column—sleeper cells of violent partisans, fighting for a lost cause, like those Japanese soldiers who refused to admit they’d lost the war in the Pacific, and hunkered down in caves on remote islands for decades, getting crazier and crazier?

We’re about to find out.

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