On July 20, 1944, members of the Wehrmacht high command failed to assassinate Adolf Hitler with a bomb hidden in a briefcase.
But two setbacks prevented the conspirators from succeeding.
First, Hitler survived the bomb blast.
Second, the plotters failed to seize the key broadcast facilities of the Reich.
This allowed Hitler to make a late-night speech to the nation, revealing the failed plot and assuring Germans that he was alive. And he swore to flush out the “traitorous swine” who had tried to kill him.
Mass arrests quickly followed. Among the first victims discovered and executed was the conspiracy’s leader, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. Standing before a makeshift firing squad at midnight, he cried: “Long live our sacred Germany!”
At least 7,000 persons were arrested by the Gestapo. According to records of the Fuehrer Conferences on Naval Affairs, 4,980 were executed.
Had the conspiracy succeeded, history would have turned out differently:
- If Germany had surrendered in July or August, 1944, World War II would have ended eight to nine months earlier.
- The Russians–who didn’t reach Germany until April, 1945–could not have occupied the Eastern part of the country.
- This would have prevented many of the future conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union over access to West Berlin and/or West Germany.
Untold numbers of Holocaust victims would have survived because the extermination camps would have been shut down.
Thus, history can be altered by the appearance or disappearance of a single individual.
Which brings us back to Donald Trump.
Since declaring his candidacy for the Presidency on June 16, Trump has been the first choice among the Republican base.
At first, he was dismissed as a bad joke–by Republican Presidential candidates as well as Democrats.
Surely voters would reject a bombastic, thrice-married “reality show” host who had filed for corporate bankruptcy four times.
Yet from the outset Trump dominated the field–and a series of Republican debates. The other Republican candidates watched him with envy–and desperately tried to steal some of his limelight.
Making made one inflammatory statement after another, he offended one group of potential voters after another. Among those groups:
- The disabled
These insults delighted his white, under-educated followers. But they alienated millions of other Americans who might have voted for him.
While some of those offended are unlikely to respond with violence, others have powerful motives–and means–for doing so. Among those groups–and the insults Trump has leveled at them:
- Mexicans: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” He’s also promised to “build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”
- Illegal aliens: Trump has threatened to forcibly deport millions of mostly Mexican and Central American residents.
- Blacks: At a Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama, he was interrupted by black activist Mercutio Southall, who repeatedly shouted: “Black lives matter!” Trump ordered his removal, and several of his supporters beat and kicked Southall. Later, Trump said: “Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
- Trump retweeted an image of a masked, dark-skinned man with a handgun and a series of alleged crime statistics, including: “Blacks killed by whites – 2%”; “Whites killed by blacks – 81%.” The image cites the “Crime Statistics Bureau – San Francisco”–an agency that doesn’t exist.
- Muslims: Trump has boasted he would revive waterboarding of terrorist suspects. He would require Muslims to register with the Federal Government. And he would close “some mosques” if he felt they were being used by Islamic terrorists.
- Islamic terrorists: Trump has bragged that he would “bomb the hell” out of oilfields controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS): “I would absolutely cut off their source of wealth, which is the oil.”
- Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman: Referring to the Mexican drug lord in a tweet, Trump wrote: “Trump…would kick his ass!” Trump hurriedly called the FBI after he received a death threat from a Twitter account associated with Guzman.
Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern politics, warned against hurling threats and insults: “For neither the one nor the other…diminishes the strength of the enemy.
“[Threats make] him more cautious, and [insults increase] his hatred of you, and [make] him more persevering in his efforts to injure you.”
But Trump revels in insulting anyone who dares to challenge him.
In 1935, Louisiana U.S. Senator Huey Long intended to occupy the White House in 1936 and unseat then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His “Share Our Wealth” program was hugely popular among millions in Depression-era America.
On September 8, 1935, he was shot and fatally wounded by Carl Austin Weiss, an idealistic young doctor.
His motive: Long had gerrymandered Weiss’ father-in-law, a district judge, out of his district and spread vicious rumors about his ancestry.
Writing about Long’s assassination, historian William Manchester noted: “Huey Long was one of the very few men of whom it can be said that, had he lived, American history would have been dramatically different.”
If the same fate removes Donald Trump from the 2016 Presidential race, future historians may write the same about him.