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Rachel Maddow on Speaker Mike Johnson, Donald Trump, and Democracy on ‘Colbert’

Rachel Maddow Stephen Colbert
Image: YouTube @ColbertLateShow

The celebrated MSNBC host discussed Trump’s “vermin” comment, American fascism, and Republicans’ inability to govern amid Speaker Mike Johnson’s new role.


In an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday, Rachel Maddow, the esteemed host of MSNBC’sThe Rachel Maddow Show, offered observations on the state of American democracy, the rise of modern extremism, and her new book, Prequel: An American Fight Against Fascism.

Maddow’s conversation with Colbert centered on the concerning rhetoric of former President Donald Trump, especially his reference to the left as “vermin” during a Veteran’s Day speech. She stressed the deliberate nature of this language.

“This is something that he’s doing deliberately,” Maddow said. “And if you know one thing about fascist dictators of yore, that they call the people they want to eliminate vermin.“

She underscored the significance of such dehumanizing language, drawing parallels with historical fascist regimes.

The award-winning journalist also touched upon Trump’s authoritarian inclinations, including his reported plans to establish large residential camps and invoke the Insurrection Act.

Trump’s “Vermin” Comment Wasn’t a Slip of the Tongue - Rachel

“Camps for millions of people in America—he also wants to invoke something called the Insurrection Act, which will allow him to use U.S. military force against American civilians at home,” Maddow explained.

In discussing the appeal of fascism, Maddow and Colbert delved into its simplicity and the allure of a strongman figure.

“[Trump’s] trying to build an anti-democratic movement in this country where people want a strong man to hold power by force rather than for us to use elections,” Maddow said.

Maddow’s insights extended beyond her conversation with Colbert, as highlighted in her recent interview with The Advocate. In it, she spoke about the resonances between past and present-day extremist movements in the U.S., emphasizing the dangers they pose to marginalized communities.

Reflecting on the peculiar alliances against marginalized groups, Maddow remarked, “It’s because it’s not an alliance of people who see themselves as compatriots. It is an alliance of people who are all using the same tactic, and the tactic works for all of them.”

In her book and interviews, Maddow stressed the importance of historical context in understanding and combating modern-day extremism.

She outlined four indicators that signal a democracy at risk, including “scapegoating of a minority,” “incursion of violence into what counts as the political sphere,” “an assault on truth,” and the “withering functioning of democracy.” She highlighted the trend of violence seeping into the political realm as a “real red flag” in the current climate.

Prequel explores the historical foundations and contemporary consequences of fascist movements within the United States. The book is the culmination of extensive research undertaken by Maddow for her popular podcast, Ultra. Maddow's latest made its way to the bestseller's list.

“You only have one weapon, and that is democracy,” Maddow told Colbert. “You cannot fight an anti-democratic movement with anti-democratic means. You have to treat your fellow Americans like human beings. It’s ‘small d’ democratic commitment, and we need it more than we’ve ever needed it this year.”

Maddow also discussed the political dynamics in the U.S. House of Representatives, specifically addressing Speaker Mike Johnson’s role.

Maddow observed, “I’m sure Mr. Johnson is very smart and capable and knows exactly what he’s doing, but he got this job because the previous guy was driven out with pitchforks and torches for having had the temerity to speak to political opponents rather than just wishing them dead.”

She highlighted the irony of Johnson’s position, where his need to cooperate with political opponents contrasts starkly with the partisan hostility prevalent in contemporary politics.

“This is not a party that is trying to govern,” Maddow said. “This is the Republican Party still not even wanting to keep the government going because they don’t believe that governance is what we need in this country.”

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