This may be rambling and incoherent. I'm venting some thoughts that may get better organized and turned into an essay later, but for now, I just need to get it out of my head, in any particular order.
One of the things that's been chewing on me for almost two decades now is the growing mainstreaming of fascism, and not just in the US. Hell, the US is behind the curve on this; Hungary and Turkey were this far along over a decade ago, and have gone full-on fascist since; Greece came within one lucky break of having overt Nazis in their governing coalition a few years back, and the renamed British and French Nazi Parties (UKIP and the National Front) are both growing at an alarming rate. And I've said before and I still think that part of this is that the center-left parties' abject surrender to mostly untaxed, mostly deregulated capitalism has left a gap that, in the wake of the last two recessions, the extremist parties have flooded into. But that didn't feel like enough of an explanation; at the very least, it certainly failed to explain why it's always been far-right extremism that's gained as the center left has become discredited, and never the far left.
I did some reading a while back, about Europe in the '30s, and something from Beevor's "The Battle for Spain" and Evans' "The Coming of the Third Reich" is starting to really jump out at me. Forgive me if this goes long, but the Spanish and German governments made exactly opposite mistakes that both resulted in fascist takeovers, and I feel like I need to explain that.
Spain's national founding myth is that they won their independence back from the Caliphate thanks to an explicitly Catholic army, lead by fighting bishops. Thanks to that myth, once even rudimentary democracy came to Spain, the Spanish legislature was dominated by a coalition of parties whose leadership was dominated by the hand-picked spokespeople of the local Catholic church and retired army generals, plus a smattering of wealthy landowners; despite that, a fairly ordinary center-right coalition. By the late 20s, Spain had two separate fascist parties, but they were never let into the government; the election results consistently skewed so far right that the other right-wing parties never NEEDED them, and they didn't want them, so they were political outcasts.
On the left were a mixture of pro-union, farm laborer, socialist, secularist, and left-anarchist parties; there was also the Communist Party of Spain, who were, like the fascists, unwanted by their own side. But there finally came an election where the center right parties lost enough votes that, even if they had accepted the fascists, they couldn't form a government. So the leading center-left party offered Spain's biggest center-right party a deal: we keep denouncing the Communists, you join our government, we pass only a few modest center-left reforms, we schedule new elections soon after that. The center right party refused to compromise. So the center-left parties formed a government the only way that they could: by accepting the Communists into the coalition.
That was the excuse that the Spanish Army used to accept aid from the Nazis in Germany and the Fascists in Italy in overthrowing the government, and how Spain ended up with an overtly fascist government that lasted long after World War II.
Over in Germany, the situation had run the exact opposite direction. It had been a coalition of center-left parties that had pushed Germany, one step at a time, towards democracy; it was the leader of that center-left coalition that the last German emperor ceded power to; and it was their prestige as the successful government that brought peace and freedom to Germany that cemented the center left's power for over a decade. Germany also had a handful of unpopular center-right parties. It also had a Communist Party and a fascist party, the Nazis, neither of whom were welcomed by their respective sides, both denounced.
So when the Great Depression came and the center-left parties lost votes and the Nazis picked up votes, the head of the winning center-right party made the same offer to the biggest center-left party: we'll continue to denounce the Nazis, you join our government, we'll pass only a few modest center-right changes, and then we'll hold new elections at the earliest date. The center-left party held out for even more concessions: no new legislation, period. So the center-right party formed a government the only way that they could, by accepting the Nazis into their coalition. Which the Nazis took over from within, which is how Germany ended up under Nazi rule until the US conquered them and outlawed them altogether.
Something has happened. I don't entirely know what. I can see the beginnings of it in Britain and the US in the '80s, I can see it growing world-wide and coming to a head in the last 15 years or so, and that's a growing determination on the part of all the world's center-right parties not to compromise, in even the tiniest way, with any center-left party. And even though every center-right party denounced fascism back in the '50s and early '60s, step by step, one compromise at a time, it seems to me like every center-right party has felt that their fascist far-right was, well, manageable, containable -- that if what it took to form a no-compromises center-right government was to accept endorsements from fascists, that was an okay price to pay, as long as the fascists weren't given anything in return.
Just like the center-right parties in Germany who thought that Hitler's one tiny, purely symbolic office, and one tiny, will probably never be triggered constitutional clause, were an acceptable price to pay in order to form a solidly middle of the road center-right government. Just like the center-left parties in Spain, who thought that as long as they didn't make any actual policy concessions to the Communists, no harm would come of accepting Communist endorsements, if that was the price of forming a solidly middle-of-the-road center-left government.
But here's the thing that I'm thinking, now. Accepting extremists into your coalition grants them something you don't dare give them: legitimacy. You think that the endorsement runs one way, but you're wrong, because (and here's the important party) THAT'S NOT HOW "SIDES" WORK. If you tell your voters that the Nazis are "on our side," then your voters accept that they're on the Nazis' side, that the right-wing parties are all one side.
Does that mean that every Republican is a Nazi now? No, of course not, any more than the Catholic Center Party and the German National Party were Nazis back in '32. But it is why it's suddenly so hard to get police, and ordinary Republicans, to take seriously the fact that, on average, at least a couple of Jewish sites have been attacked, by Nazis, every day since the inauguration. The Nazis are on their side now. And they don't want to think that their side is doing anything wrong. They think that as long as Trump himself isn't a Nazi (never mind who he gets his news from), that the whatever percent of the Republican coalition who are straight-up fascist aren't a problem, because Trump doesn't intend to give them anything.
But he has already given them something. When they came out for him, in a big way, he spent months looking the other way, and when he has denounced them, it's only in the tepid and formulaic of ways, including lying about them to cover up for them. He gave them the thing that they needed most: the image of legitimacy that comes from being an accepted part of a ruling political coalition. Hell, we now have perfectly sober liberals telling us that the reason it's wrong to punch a fascist is that fascists are just ordinary people expressing an ordinary political opinion, as if violent authoritarianism of any stripe were in any way ordinary!
We've mainstreamed something really dangerous now, in the US and in every Eurasian country except (ironically) Germany. It's become like the Confederate flag ever since the Compromise of 1877. We won the war to prove that slavery was evil and that the slave states were evil to plunge us into war over it, but then we failed to stomp it out, and when America's racists needed a symbol to rally around after losing some court cases in the '50s, we let them rehabilitate that symbol of horrible evil into just another political symbol, into The Noble Lost Cause, when what we should have kept doing, back in the 1870s and to the present day, was what the Germans did after the Nazis: made sure that every generation grew up knowing what evil was perpetrated, made every generation pledge "never again."
Instead, in the US and in so many countries, we did the same thing with the fascists that we did with the confederates: the generation that had to fight them pledged never again, the generation after them were taught to say "never again" but allowed to forget what it was they were supposed to be opposing, and after that, we dropped the subject.
Well, the long an so-far failed effort to wipe that traitorous rag and its 19th century pseudo-science of "racism" off of the Earth should let us know what we're in for now that the Republicans have just as thoroughly mainstreamed the fascists. We'll be fighting this awfulness for another couple of centuries now, because we didn't bury that ideology when we had it down.