That’s how knees in graphs work. They don’t appear because anything changed. They appear because consistent self-compounding growth does that, and humans consistently fail to see it coming because the left side of the knee looks near enough to linear that people intuitively extrapolate as if it were linear, even if they ought to know otherwise. When the curve transitions from a more-horizontal tangent to a more-vertical one, it happens incredibly quickly and the people who didn’t see it coming start looking for something that caused the apparent acceleration, but there was no cause apart from imagining you had all the time in the world back when the growth was slow.
See climate change.
I should actually correct myself: I would put the middle of the knee at the late 90s. You can divide the history of American fascism into before- and after-Gingrich. But he was not in any sense transformative. His attitudes built on trends that do indeed extend back far before any of us was born. Someone like Gingrich was inevitable. So, I’d argue, was someone like Trump. In fact, although it’s fair to accuse me of hindsight prophecy, I said during the Bush years that if we got another Republican President without a major course correction, he’d make Bush look like a saint and genius. I only half believed it myself because even at that time it seemed intuitively incredible, but boy do I hate having been right.
The thing that will ultimately be their undoing is that their sense of entitlement to power for its own sake has eroded their ability to even pretend to have principles or reasons they ought to have power. The terrifying case would be Trump’s ethics combined with even a little bit of competence, but we won’t see that because accelerating incompetence is part of the trend. What would be competent in a President will look like weakness in a candidate. Witness Jeb Bush, not somebody I would have voted for, but he got demolished in primaries because being the sanest patient in the asylum is boring. Among those still faithful to the GOP someone who isn’t a lunatic is, for that reason, also not electable.
We cannot have another Republican President on this trajectory without becoming North Korea on a massive scale. David Frum was correct when he observed that American conservatives, faced with overwhelming public opposition to their policies, will abandon democracy before their policies. They have invested too much in painting themselves as the heroes in a Manichaean conflict, and bought into their own propaganda even as they become more and more obvious villains.
If we were smart we would abolish and obliterate the Republican Party now, but evidence suggests we aren’t that smart. We, like the Germans before us, will have to await the emergence of a horror that, in the cold light of the morning after, no one wants to admit they were associated with. The thing about asymptotic trends in practice is, time keeps moving relentlessly to the right even when the trend hits a wall. The other side of that wall, too, is inevitable, but there’s a lot of misery left to inflict on this side.