My brother is a collector. Over the decades, he has collected everything from rock-n-roll records, unopened beer cans and refrigerator magnets to pirates and mermaids, palm trees and tropical plants, NASCAR die-cast cars, handguns, postage stamps, and coins.
This hidden activity was unknown to me for many years, and when the knowledge came in dollops here and there, it was a delightful surprise, as I am a collector as well. But there was one activity that I knew well.
While in high school, my brother became fascinated with Nazi Germany. His fascination no doubt was fed by a boyhood friend of a German family who joined him in this exploration of wartime Germany. I remember the shock of my mother. She had drilled into the nascent memory of both me and my brother a prohibition: we were forbidden to utter the word Nazi or the name of Hitler. Yet there he was in a makeshift uniform with a black SS armband, standing at attention, his friend at his side, giving the Nazi salute.
To say that his Nazi portrayal was disturbing was an understatement. It created an emotional rift between mother and son; it was a family secret; it upset the equilibrium of a middle class home in ways that went deep and endured.
Decades later, my brother recanted his Nazi obsession. He sold his collection of Nazi medals, tobacco cards, uniforms, weapons and books. But he kept his knowledge. You cannot manually delete brain data. And in these recent days of what I call The New America, his knowledge has value.
When we talk of Trump, my brother will nod in agreement. Trump is dangerous, I say. He agrees. Trump must be stopped. Yes, he nods. It will get worse. He listens while I detail the latest outrage or describe the newest nexus to the Kremlin or talk about my fears of nuclear bombs, alignment with our enemies, the neglect of our allies. My brother says quietly, succinctly: He reminds me of Hitler. He doesn’t elaborate, perhaps afraid the stigma of his teenage fascination will rebound. I want him to talk. I nudge. He answers. He talks of the shared megalomania. Hitlers demand for personal loyalty. The dissolution of political parties. The equation of state with personality. The thirst for world domination. The outside charm and the utter evil within. The division into pure and impure. That distorted reliance on genetics. Persecution of political enemies. Found scapegoats. Endless propaganda. Attacks on the independent press. The madness.
Each and all shared by Adolph Hitler and Donald Trump.
The resemblance of Trump to Hitler has resonance when one understands history. Actually, without the basic awareness of Hitler – his crawl to power, his ruthlessness, the slaughtered generations of Jews and Romany, the untold numbers of lesbians and gay males killed – then the parallels are hollow.
More and more often, I locate amazing similarities between the history of World War II and The New America. I talked recently of the French Resistance and the Vichy state. I recall that on the days immediately following the presidential election of 2016, the word Resistance entered the American vocabulary. Who initiated this? What was its origin? How did it take root so effortlessly and spread so quickly?
I know now that the genesis of the American Resistance was deliberate. And its originator is a student of history. Not some progressive group making it a cause célèbre or a haphazard confluence of social media players.
The birth of the American Resistance was a planned act. Or perhaps like the German resistance of Claus von Stauffenberg, it was an operation. The operation clicked into being the moment Donald Trump sabotaged the democratic process with the assistance of a foreign adversary. Without a doubt, the intelligence agencies, the still-powerful political players, and yes, our allies would have planned for such an event. Surrendering the most powerful nation without planned resistance would be unthinkable in this post-Hitler world.
As members of the Resistance, it is our duty to take ourselves seriously. We have been activated for a purpose: to keep sacrosanct the principles of our democracy. However we choose to act, it is imperative that we act before history repeats itself, before inhumanity becomes the norm and before we must choose the ultimate option – an operation like that enacted by Claus von Stauffenberg and members of the German resistance.
It is also incumbent upon us to know history.