A hard look at the new Republican Party and the threat it poses Skip to content

A hard look at the new Republican Party and the threat it poses

Our nation faces an existential threat this fall – and that threat is coming from a political party that has been taken over by the former president.

It is clear that Donald Trump has finally completed his takeover of the Republican Party. He has easily won almost all the primaries. Haley is gone, McConnell has caved, and Trump has placed a MAGA loyalist and a family member in charge of the Republican National Committee.

We can no longer find GOP leaders who support what used to be Republican values: free trade, government which was both small and against political meddling with people’s private lives, and a strong military to support our allies in what we used to call the “free world.” Former Republican leaders had a grudging tolerance for Medicare and Medicaid before MAGA types tried to end Obamacare.

Fiscal responsibility, long a leading Republican mission, is no longer honored by Republican presidents, who have increased the national debt when in office more than have Democrats. Donald Trump and his compliant Republican Congress increased the national debt by 33 percent while President Biden has increased it by only 9 percent so far (Investopedia web site 1-4-24).

This new Republican party has a thirst for power that has eliminated its commitment to open democratic government. In Kentucky, Republicans are weakening the open records law, and have passed a law allowing discrimination against people who use federal housing vouchers in Lexington and Louisville, something that limits government accountability and shows disdain for the poor.

Nationally, their presidential candidate and his MAGA followers say openly that the only honest election is one they win. This is their most fundamental threat to American democracy, one which many have not yet taken seriously. We seem to worry more about inflation and the age of the two presidential candidates than we do about the real possibility that our system of government and Constitution will be weakened or destroyed by Donald Trump’s reelection.

It is time to look at history. In 2004, Robert Paxton, a Columbia University historian of my generation, wrote a book entitled “The Anatomy of Fascism” in which he described the warning signals that alert us to a fascist movement, including such things as creating a sense of crisis and blaming it on a vulnerable group of people, identified as the enemy. For Hitler it was Jews, for Trump immigrants. Both ranted that to save the nation we must throw moral restraints and laws out the window and resolve this crisis by turning power over to a single leader. And this crisis makes violence acceptable, even necessary.

Paxton wrote that “Fascism was marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood, and by cults of unity, energy, and purity.” Fascist leaders such as Mussolini and Hitler “collaborated with traditional elites, abandoned democratic liberties, and used redemptive violence without ethical or legal restraint [to pursue] goals of internal cleansing.” (p.218)

In our time Trump says America faces carnage, that there is a crisis at the border that only a strongman like him can resolve. He says his followers are victims of evil non-Christians, Democrats, and drug-dealing immigrants who are destroying the country. His followers see him as a savior who will restore America for true Americans and their fundamentalist “Christian” religion. Echoing the fascists of the 1930s, he encourages violence against his opponents. For Trump, democratic processes and laws exist only to be manipulated. As Hitler did, he seeks to gain power in order to change the rules so he will not have to give it up at the end of his term.

Of course not all Republicans are fascists, but those who deplore Trump are being driven out of the party. Only Trump loyalists can keep the movement pure. And, just as happened in Germany in the 1903s, they are aided by business and political leaders who believe that they can “control” Trump in order to gain power and financial gain for themselves.

But the MAGA movement is a “clear and present” danger to our republic. It increasingly displays some of the worst characteristics of fascist movements of the 1930s and 1940s. It is unfortunate that GOP leaders like Mitch McConnell didn’t see this and impeach and convict Trump in 2021.

Stopping Trump and this fascist thread is now our task. May we prevail, for the sake of democracy and for the country we love.

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Ken Wolf

Ken Wolf spent 40 years teaching European and World History, punctuated by several administrative chores, at Murray State University, retiring in 2008. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

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