In his 2004 The Anatomy of Fascism, historian Robert Paxton discusses how post-war German conservatives have “made much of their opposition to Hitler and of his hostility to them” (130).
Paxton discusses in some detail the differences between pre-war German conservatives and Nazis. But, “At every crucial moment of decision, however – at each ratcheting up of anti-Jewish repression, at each new abridgement of civil liberties and infringement of legal norms, at each new aggressive move in foreign policy, at each further subordination of the economy to the needs of austerity and hasty rearmament – most German conservatives (with some honorable exceptions) swallowed their doubts about the Nazis in favor of their overriding common interests” (130).
As Trumpism sours or when it is judged in the future, will Republicans emphasize the primary-season opposition to Trump or the “Never-Trump” Republicans? Some Congressional Republicans have stood up to Trump. Senator John McCain has, for example, repeatedly expressed his despair at Trump’s public support for Russian and Turkish authoritarianism. Richard Burr leads the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign at a slow, but steady pace, unlike the disastrous House investigation. But many other Republicans who had loudly denounced Trump have come around to supporting him. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Ted Cruz are perhaps the most embarrassing examples of this.
- Few Republicans are willing to speak out about Trump’s ongoing corruption, including his obvious and willful violations of the domestic and foreign emoluments clauses.
- Many Republicans have joined in with Trump’s attacks on a free and critical press. Among Republican votes, physically attacking reporters is apparently a winning strategy.
- Many Republicans denounce any investigation of Trump as a “witch hunt.” Former House Speaker and vocal Trump apologist Newt Gingrich went so far as to say that a President, by virtue of his position and authority, cannot commit obstruction of justice. Of course, when that President was Bill Clinton, Gingrich voted to impeach him for exactly that.
- Almost no one, Democrat or Republican, wants to hold Trump accountable for unilaterally deciding to wage war against the Syrian government.
- Many Republicans have shifted their position on Russia. During the Obama administration, they denounced Obama for not being strong enough on Russia. Now that Trump advocates for Russia and Russia worked to get him elected, suddenly many Republicans find themselves friendly towards a country that wants to destroy NATO, is trying to claim more territory in Europe, and attacks our elections and democracy.
The above do not compare to the attacks on civil liberties and the rule of law during early Nazi rule. Nor has Trump made headway in increasing his unconstitutional authority beyond what other Presidents, including President Obama, had already done. But Republicans have gotten into the habit of tolerating criminal and authoritarian behavior for the sake of partisan power. History suggests that they’re unlikely to suddenly learn to say no after having gotten into the habit of saying yes.