The Former Guy was clearly losing his shit.
In the waning weeks of Donald Trump’s term, the country’s top military leader repeatedly worried about what the president might do to maintain power after losing reelection, comparing his rhetoric to Adolf Hitler’s during the rise of Nazi Germany and asking confidants whether a coup was forthcoming, according to a new book by two Washington Post reporters.
As Trump ceaselessly pushed false claims about the 2020 presidential election, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, grew more and more nervous, telling aides he feared that the president and his acolytes might attempt to use the military to stay in office, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker report in “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year.”
Milley described “a stomach-churning” feeling as he listened to Trump’s untrue complaints of election fraud, drawing a comparison to the 1933 attack on Germany’s parliament building that Hitler used as a pretext to establish a Nazi dictatorship.
“This is a Reichstag moment,” Milley told aides, according to the book. “The gospel of the Führer.”
A spokesman for Milley declined to comment.
Portions of the book related to Milley — first reported Wednesday night by CNN ahead of the book’s July 20 release — offer a remarkable window into the thinking of America’s highest-ranking military officer, who saw himself as one of the last empowered defenders of democracy during some of the darkest days in the country’s recent history.
The episodes in the book are based on interviews with more than 140 people, including senior Trump administration officials, friends and advisers, Leonnig and Rucker write in an author’s note. Most agreed to speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity, and the scenes reported were reconstructed based on firsthand accounts and multiple other sources whenever possible.
Milley — who was widely criticized last year for appearing alongside Trump in Lafayette Square after protesters were forcibly cleared from the area — had pledged to use his office to ensure a free and fair election with no military involvement. But he became increasingly concerned in the days following the November contest, making multiple references to the onset of 20th-century fascism.
After attending a Nov. 10 security briefing about the “Million MAGA March,” a pro-Trump rally protesting the election, Milley said he feared an American equivalent of “brownshirts in the streets,” alluding to the paramilitary forces that protected Nazi rallies and enabled Hitler’s ascent.
Late that same evening, according to the book, an old friend called Milley to express concerns that those close to Trump were attempting to “overturn the government.”
“You are one of the few guys who are standing between us and some really bad stuff,” the friend told Milley, according to an account relayed to his aides. Milley was shaken, Leonnig and Rucker write, and he called former national security adviser H.R. McMaster to ask whether a coup was actually imminent.
“What the f— am I dealing with?” Milley asked him.
The conversations put Milley on edge, and he began informally planning with other military leaders, strategizing how they would block Trump’s order to use the military in a way they deemed dangerous or illegal.
If someone wanted to seize control, Milley thought, they would need to gain sway over the FBI, the CIA and the Defense Department, where Trump had already installed staunch allies. “They may try, but they’re not going to f—ing succeed,” he told some of his closest deputies, the book says.
In the weeks that followed, Milley played reassuring soothsayer to a string of concerned members of Congress and administration officials who shared his worries about Trump attempting to use the military to stay in office.
“Everything’s going to be okay,” he told them, according to the book. “We’re going to have a peaceful transfer of power. We’re going to land this plane safely. This is America. It’s strong. The institutions are bending, but it won’t break.”
I have never doubted that Trump sees himself in the same light as every other dictator who claims to be the savior of the world and that everyone who disagrees with him is an enemy to be wiped off the face of the Earth. The people who follow him may not be as outwardly spoken as he is, but in their minds they long for authoritarianism and ruling by decree; it makes things so much simpler. (I also believe that’s why certain members of a certain local community are so supportive of him and his possible return; they like dictators as long as the regime is on their side.)
There’s also the messianic complex. When he stated that “I alone can fix it” and the crowd went wild, they saw two things: their deity sent them a magical savior who would relieve their suffering, real or imagined, and they wouldn’t have to lift a finger. No need to bother with the messy details of running a democracy such as working with other people or looking out for other interests. No need to take care of those who are worse off than you; that’s not their problem. All they had to do was sit back and let the stable genius solve all their problems. All they had to do was sacrifice their dignity and their freedoms. It’s a small price to pay for white privilege and patriarchy.
General Milley runs the risk of proving Godwin’s Law, which states “that as an online discussion grows longer (regardless of topic or scope), the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Adolf Hitler becomes more likely.” But in this case, it’s not an internet discussion. It is a statement of fact.