As we wait for former Mark Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson to further expose the fascist plot to overthrow the government— and make it difficult to not throw Pennsylvania Congressman Scott Perry in jail-- we might want to turn to a column Paul Krugman wrote yesterday offering some reasons why Republicans have become so extreme. He skirted the topic, but never mentioned actual Naziism. He began by reminding his readers that “Long before Republicans nominated Donald Trump for president, let alone before Trump refused to acknowledge electoral defeat, the congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein declared that the party had become ‘an insurgent outlier’ that rejected ‘facts, evidence and science’ and didn’t accept the legitimacy of political opposition. In 2019 an international survey of experts rated parties around the world on their commitment to basic democratic principles and minority rights. The G.O.P., it turns out, looks nothing like center-right parties in other Western countries. What it resembles, instead, are authoritarian parties like Hungary’s Fidesz or Turkey’s A.K.P.”
[T]he Republican turn toward extremism began during the 1990s. Many people, I believe, have forgotten the political craziness of the Clinton years— the witch hunts and wild conspiracy theories (Hillary murdered Vince Foster!), the attempts to blackmail Bill Clinton into policy concessions by shutting down the government, and more. And all of this was happening during what were widely regarded as good years, with most Americans believing that the country was on the right track.
It’s a puzzle. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately looking for historical precursors— cases in which right-wing extremism rose even in the face of peace and prosperity. And I think I’ve found one: the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.
It’s important to realize that while this organization took the name of the post-Civil War group, it was actually a new movement— a white nationalist movement to be sure, but far more widely accepted, and less of a pure terrorist organization. And it reached the height of its power— it effectively controlled several states— amid peace and an economic boom.
What was this new KKK about? I’ve been reading Linda Gordon’s The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition, which portrays a “politics of resentment” driven by the backlash of white, rural and small-town Americans against a changing nation. The KKK hated immigrants and “urban elites”; it was characterized by “suspicion of science” and “a larger anti-intellectualism.” Sound familiar?
OK, the modern GOP isn’t as bad as the second KKK. [Note: Just wait.] But Republican extremism clearly draws much of its energy from the same sources.
And because GOP extremism is fed by resentment against the very things that, as I see it, truly make America great— our diversity, our tolerance for difference— it cannot be appeased or compromised with. It can only be defeated.
Pulaski, Tennessee, the birthplace of the KKK back in 1865, is the county seat of Giles County, a red shithole. The Klan started out as a violent anti-Black terrorist group and eventually spread out into. anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Today it’s the Republican Party’s Freedom Caucus. Trump won Tennessee in a landslide— 60.7% to 34.7%— but Giles was way ahead of the curve— 71.6% to 26.2%. Four years later, Giles County apparently liked what they had seen from Trump’s presidency. The county had drifted slightly further right, Trump beating Biden 74.1% to 25.0%. The county performs at an R+43 level and is represented in the House by far right extremist Mark Green, a moron best known as the Trump Army Secretary nominee whose nomination was withdrawn when his ugly homophobic and Islamophobic comments started coming out. Needless to say, Green is an ardent member of the fascist Freedom Caucus and he has spread misinformation and flat out lies about COVID, telling his poorly educated rural constituents that the vaccine causes autism. Tennessee is an under-vaccinated state to begin with (55%) but Giles County would be a good place to go if you wanted to get sick and die. The county is just 40% vaccinated, among the worst in the country.
At her blog today, Ruth Ben-Ghiat warned that "Authoritarianism is not something presented to us as a fait accompli, but something we help along, step by step, by acquiescing to changes in political climates that start with pronouncements by the leader and slowly move the boundaries of what is possible. What authoritarian ideas are being floated now by GOP politicians? Watch what they say, and take it seriously... Leaders such as Trump use unsettling language to demoralize and frighten the populace and incite greater political and social polarization. Trump has shown he’s eager to help us lose our conscience and our principles: It’s up to us to let him know we are wise to his game and will stand our ground."