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I'm Certain That Sartre Would Agree That The MAGA Movement Poses An Existential Threat To Democracy

Also Political Violence— Reminiscent Of 1930s Italy And Germany


“Figure With Meat” by Francis Bacon

This is objectively, provably true: far right extremism poses an existential threat to democracy, including in the U.S. This kind of existential threat has little to do with the existentialism best known through Sartre’s philosophical works, even though there is a relationship— inasmuch as it taps into the existentialist focus on fundamental, profound questions about existence and survival, let’s say, confronting the basic realities of democracy’s existence. I have not the slightest doubt that Sartre would wholeheartedly agree. He believed that we’re fundamentally free and must take responsibility for our choices. A democratic society, which allows for individual freedom and collective decision-making, aligns with this.


Far right extremism, which seeks to impose authoritarian control and limit freedoms, directly threatens these core values. Sartre’s concept of “bad faith” involves denying one's freedom and responsibility by conforming to external pressures or ideologies. Far right extremism— like fascism and Trump’s MAGA movement— promotes conformist and dogmatic thinking, which Sartre would see as a form of bad faith, undermining the authenticity that democracy seeks to cultivate in its citizens. He absolutely recognized that external forces threaten individual and collective freedom. MAGA extremism, with its potential to dismantle democratic institutions and erode civil liberties, represents such a threat. Sartre would likely argue that preserving democracy is essential for maintaining the conditions necessary for authentic existence and freedom.


On Tuesday, Matt Gertz, warned, not for the first time, about the imminent and existential dangers Fox News and far right media pose to American democracy. He comes right out and says what many fear but never say out loud: “evidence is everywhere that the right is planning to end the American experiment in representative government if it fails to legitimately return Donald Trump to the White House. It was clear just a few months after Trump’s seditious plot to subvert the 20020 presidential election concluded with a violent mob of his supporters storming the U.S. Capitol that the right-wing propaganda apparatus was laying the groundwork to try again in 2024. Fox News and the rest of the MAGA media, which spent the weeks after the 2020 election fabricating and amplifying a host of election fraud lies and conspiracy theories to undermine the results, had begun working to institutionalize Trump’s lie that the 2020 election had been stolen from him and to construct an alternative path to the presidency in which compliant party officials would secure a Republican victory by any means necessary. Fox had become a loaded gun aimed at American democracy. Three years later, the bullet is in the chamber.


His point is simple: “The disinformation ecosystem which revolves around Fox is telegraphing a plan to reject the results of the 2024 election if Trump loses. The former president’s propagandists will once again use baseless allegations of widespread fraud as a pretext to seek to overturn the vote— and GOP leaders are publicly signaling their willingness to comply… Fox stars aided Trump’s 2020 subversion plot. They were lying. And they’ll do it again… Fox’s top executives and biggest stars knew for a fact that Biden was the legitimate winner of the 2020 election, even as the network’s coverage sought to undermine the legitimacy of the vote. The network, filings show, was intentionally peddling conspiracy theories in support of Trump’s stolen-election deception in order to compete with its far-right rivals.”



[F]ormer employees keep loudly warning that Fox is a dangerous cesspool that produces Trumpian propaganda. The cogs who remain on the job, meanwhile, know without a doubt that they are part of a machine that manufactures lies. The pressure the network faces to hold on to its audience— including by promoting voter fraud conspiracy theories and other right-wing extremism— is stronger than ever. And so if Trump demands that Fox’s propagandists again focus on building him a pretext to overturn an election, they will do it.
… MAGA propagandists are priming their audiences to disbelieve the election results and take action in response. They keep viewers in a state of terror with incendiary warnings that Biden is a jack-booted dictator who is deliberately trying to endanger their families, ensuring that some fraction would seek his removal by any means necessary. They valorize the January 6 insurrectionists as honorable patriots who did what they thought was right and were smeared by the media and punished by “deep state” malefactors. They flood the right-wing information ecosystem with lies and conspiracy theories about Democrats tainting past election results.
And they have already begun warning that the 2024 election will be rife with  election fraud— and that only such cheating could explain a Trump defeat.
…[The J-6] scheme failed in part because too many Republican officials were unwilling to aid the effort. But since then, Trumpist propagandists like War Room host Steve Bannon and Fox’s lineup of right-wing stars have helped make election denial a core GOP value, and now, the guardrails are collapsing:

  • Republicans purged their ranks of the sorts of GOP officials who resisted Trump’s subversion effort at the local, state, and federal level.

  • Election lies seem to have become a benefit in GOP primaries and effectively a job requirement at the Republican National Committee, one enforced by the MAGA chorus.

  • Prominent election deniers are recruiting their followers to take positions within the election infrastructure.

  • In the House, Rep. Mike Johnson’s (R-LA) zealous efforts to overturn the election helped garner him the speakership, while in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is on his way out of the leadership after voting to certify the electoral votes and criticizing Trump’s role in the insurrection.

  • Pence is effectively a party outcast after rejecting Trump’s entreaties to overturn the 2020 election results, and the politicians seeking to replace him on the GOP ticket are pushing voter fraud lies and refusing to say they will accept the results of the 2024 election


Circling back to where we started, I admit that Kierkegaard probably wouldn’t see it the same way, but Sartre’s perspective would be more than comfortable for Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, probably Franz Kafka (not a political activist but whose work can be effortlessly interpreted as a critique of authoritarian and bureaucratic systems), and even, albeit in a stretch, Dostoevsky. Camus would likely see MAGAtry as a threat to human freedom and dignity, values central to his existential and moral philosophy. He believed in rebellion against oppressive systems and might view defending democracy as a necessary rebellion. De Beauvoir would certainly agree that MAGA extremism threatens democracy because it undermines the freedoms and rights that are crucial for gender equality and social justice. She would see the preservation of democracy as essential for protecting individual freedoms and preventing oppression.


"Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X" by Francis Bacon

And, like Sartre, Jean Genet was critical of societal structures that perpetuate inequality and oppression, aligning with the existentialist emphasis on challenging and transcending oppressive societal norms to achieve authentic existence. His lifelong focus on rebellion against oppressive forces naturally extended to opposing far right extremism, authoritarian control and suppression of dissent. His plays explore themes of power, identity and rebellion, and he was involved in various leftist political movements, including support for the Black Panthers and Palestinian liberation.


A report by Reuters Tuesday, about Trump-inspired MAGA violence, is worth looking at in this context. The trio of reporters wrote about the incendiary impact of Trump’s “angry and incessant broadsides against the judges handling the criminal and civil suits against him. As his presidential campaign intensifies, Trump has baselessly cast the judges and prosecutors in his trials as corrupt puppets of the Biden administration, bent on torpedoing his White House bid. The rhetoric is inspiring widespread calls for violence. In a review of commenters’ posts on three pro-Trump websites, including [Señor T’s] own Truth Social platform, Reuters documented more than 150 posts since March 1 that called for physical violence against the judges handling three of his highest-profile cases— two state judges in Manhattan and one in Georgia overseeing a criminal case in which Trump is accused of illegally seeking to overturn the state’s 2020 election results. Those posts were part of a larger pool of hundreds identified by Reuters that used hostile, menacing and, in some cases, racist or sexualized language to attack the judges, but stopped short of explicitly calling for violence against them.”



Experts on extremism say the constant repetition of threatening or menacing language can normalize the idea of violence – and increase the risk of someone carrying it out. Mitch Silber, a former New York City Police Department director of intelligence analysis, compared the Trump supporters now calling for violence against judges to the U.S. Capitol rioters who believed they were following Trump’s “marching orders” on Jan. 6, 2021.
“This is just the 2023-2024 iteration of that phenomenon,” Silber said. “Articulating these ideas is the first step along the pathway of mobilizing to violence.”
…While Trump himself hasn’t called for violence on judges, his language can signal to followers that judges are no different from partisan rivals worthy of scorn, derision and attack, threatening the legitimacy of the independent judiciary, said experts on political violence.
“Trump is constantly riling up his supporters to be angry on his behalf,” said Lilliana Mason, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist. “He takes that large group of angry people, he points them in a particular direction, and then the judges get all these death threats.”
…Three experts in violent political speech reviewed the posts documented by Reuters, including Jonathan Leader Maynard, a London-based political extremism expert who said many of them echo the “quasi-fascist language” used by “lone wolf terrorists” to justify their bloodshed.
… Calls to execute judges picked up in April on pro-Trump sites, when Merchan began hearing Trump’s prosecution for allegedly trying to hide a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election, the first of four criminal prosecutions Trump faces.
“He should be recused from living,” one Trump supporter wrote of Merchan in an April 14 post on Truth Social. That comment and other calls for violence cited in this story were posted anonymously.
Merchan, 61, has served on the criminal bench since 2009. He grew up in the New York City borough of Queens, also Trump’s boyhood home, and began his career as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, the office now prosecuting Trump.
In 2022, Merchan presided over a tax fraud conviction for Trump’s business, ordering his company to pay a $1.6 million fine. Last year he sentenced Trump’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, to five months in prison after Weisselberg’s conviction on tax fraud.
Trump also has directed vitriol at Merchan’s daughter, Loren Merchan, an executive at Authentic, a digital marketing agency that works with Democratic candidates. Trump has said the judge is “conflicted” because of his daughter’s work and should recuse himself.
Pictures of Merchan’s daughter have featured regularly in broadsides by Trump supporters on Truth Social. Some mocked her physical appearance and called for her arrest. On one website, an avowed white supremacist published personal information about both Merchan and his daughter, including home addresses and the judge’s phone number. Last June, the New York Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics ruled that Merchan’s “impartiality cannot reasonably be questioned” based on his daughter’s work for Democratic campaigns.
A spokesperson for the New York courts, Al Baker, said both Merchan and Engoron have “been subjected to threats as have many other judges” and their safety is “the utmost priority.” He declined to elaborate on security arrangements. Loren Merchan did not respond to a request for comment.
Engoron, 74, has been bombarded with invective from Trump and threats from his supporters.
A New York court security officer reported in a sworn statement last year that Engoron and his staff had received hundreds of threatening and harassing messages, including some laced with profanity and anti-Semitic insults against the judge, who is Jewish.
The hostile communications spiked after Trump attacked the credibility of Engoron and his clerk on Truth Social, the statement said. “Resign now, you dirty, treasonous piece of trash snake,” said one voicemail left at his chambers and included among a half-dozen quoted in the security officer’s statement. “We are coming to remove you permanently.”
… Engoron received a fake bomb threat at his home in January, and an unknown threatener sent an envelope containing white powder to his chambers the following month, said court and law enforcement officials.
In a March 22 post on Truth Social, Trump labeled him a “Corrupt, Radical Left Judge in New York, a Trump hater [at] the highest level.” Calls by his supporters for the judge’s death came quick. One poster on Truth Social said Engoron should be hanged. Another wanted him executed. Online rage thundered for days, accompanied by appeals for violence. “He should be skinned alive, bobbed in a vat of alcohol, then dipped in honey before being staked to an anthill,” read a March 25 post about Engoron on Patriots.Win.
The threats aren’t limited to New York. As state courts in Colorado, Illinois and Georgia have taken up Trump-related cases, at least four judges in those states have faced threats or harassment, according to interviews with court and law enforcement and officials and a review of social media posts. State courts typically provide judges with far less protection than their counterparts receive on the federal bench, where some Trump-related cases have also landed.
… Much of the violent rhetoric documented by Reuters illustrates a phenomenon identified by social scientists: Online communities catering to specific political views can create an echo chamber, where participants spur each other to increasingly extreme posts.
In pro-Trump forums, when someone “pushes the norm of what is considered acceptable speech” by posting a call to execute judges or other public officials, “and no one questions it, then the norm of what is acceptable may shift,” said Cathy Buerger, who studies inflammatory rhetoric at the nonpartisan Dangerous Speech Project in Washington. Buerger reviewed the violent posts identified by Reuters.
That pattern emerged in a series of Gateway Pundit comments posted April 2. In response to an article criticizing “far-left judge Juan Merchan,” one reader referred to a photo of the jurist by saying, “A face only a fist could love.”
“Or a steel toed boot,” another reader replied.
“Or an aluminum bat,” a third wrote.
Another poster upped the ante: “Colt Combat Commander 45”– a popular semi-automatic handgun.

2 Comments


Guest
May 16

What is even more NOT reassuring in this context is that the party you all think is a remedy here... has refused to be such a remedy for almost 60 years.


I don't know how long all this has been percolating in you... but I've been saying this since 1980. To the sound of crickets. At least those cricket noises are getting a little louder lately.


You correctly claim that the nazis are an existential threat to democracy, freedom and all the rest. But you still refuse to recognize that the party that is just a little less authoritarian than the nazis has a 60-year track record of refusing to be a remedy... what they've proved without exception is thei…


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It's not reassuring in this context to note that gun owners visibly lean in a GOP direction.

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