“We Have a Recurring Problem”: Rachel Maddow Isn’t Done Dredging Up America’s Fascist History
Pop Culture

“We Have a Recurring Problem”: Rachel Maddow Isn’t Done Dredging Up America’s Fascist History

Rachel Maddow is back with another history lesson about the fight against authoritarianism and fascism in the United States. The first season of her Ultra podcast, about the little-known Great Sedition Trial of 1944, was a smash hit that Steven Spielberg optioned to make into a feature film. It took listeners back to the ’40s, when a Nazi agent infiltrated Congress and colluded with more than 20 sitting members as part of a plot to overthrow the US government in the lead up to World War II. She’s remained obsessed with the tales of demagoguery and antidemocratic tactics at the heart of Ultra, using the research for season one as inspiration for her latest book, Prequel: An American Fight Against Fascism, and now returning to the series with a second installment.

Image may contain Advertisement American Flag Flag and Poster

Ultra is among the projects that the MSNBC host has been able to pursue through the megadeal she negotiated a few years ago, which allowed her to step back to hosting one day a week and turn her focus to more long-form endeavors, like various docuseries and scripted projects. Season two, the first episode of which is out today, tells another little-known story about the American ultraright, taking listeners back to the postwar 1950s, in which, as Maddow put it to me in an interview last week, “a bunch of totally crazy shit happens.” The story includes “an American fascist who ends up becoming a mole inside the war-crimes trials, working for the Nazis” and “becoming essentially the godfather of American Holocaust denial,” she explains. It also involves two senators—one perpetrating a Nazi propaganda hoax in the Senate, the other trying to stop them—who become mortal enemies. “By the end of it, one of them blackmails the other, and the guy who’s getting blackmailed kills himself, and the other one almost becomes president—and it’s not the good guy,” Maddow says.

The idea that the latter senator “launched as an American demagogic political figure feels very resonant to me, in terms of what we’re going through right now,” Maddow adds. “Demagoguery works, and has a powerful history in American right-wing electoral politics that we like to forget.”

Below, Maddow talks to Vanity Fair about the point of doing historical deep dives, what she’s learned from this work, and what she thinks is the most important factor in the 2024 election.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Vanity Fair: Can you give me a brief overview of how you discovered this story and realized that it was going to be your next big project?

Rachel Maddow: So the origin story for this is a little bit the same as the origin story for Ultra season one. I was sort of flummoxed during the rise of Trumpism and the Republican Party that it also seemed to be coincident with a real upsurge in Holocaust denial and crazy conspiracy theories that I used to associate with the very far fringe right, and not at all with electoral politics. And so when this new movement is rising in electoral politics, why is Holocaust denial now becoming a more mainstream thing? And that’s what started me down this path, trying to find, what are the earliest instances of American Holocaust denial and where did they come from?

It is helpful to me in terms of understanding where we are. And history does accumulate, it doesn’t just recur. It piles up. And so seeing what we’re standing on is really helpful. And knowing that the country has been deeply alarmed about factually unhinged, antidemocratic forms of right-wing extremism in electoral politics—it’s good to know that we can take some lessons from the people who fought it.

The first season of Ultra came out just as the Oath Keepers sedition trial began, and this one is coming out just as [Donald] Trump has been convicted. Have you thought about that timing? I’d assume you believe there’s something to learn about the threat of fascism and authoritarianism through these historical stories, but it seems like it’s a little more, not even on the nose…

Yeah. Do you think it is too on the nose?

No. I need another phrase, because ‘on the nose’ is typically taken as an insult—

Shocking parallel?

Sure. There you go. I mean, listening to you talk at the end of episode one, I think it could just as easily be the monologue you gave last night. I think some people might wonder why Rachel Maddow isn’t doing a podcast about our current moment. What would you say to that?

She is. [laughs] I mean, the reason that I’ve done these history-related projects is because this is the way my brain works. When I’m trying to figure out what’s going on now, I’m not looking for obscure moments in history that provide parallels that I can decorate my current thinking with. The point of it is, if you go back to figure out where these things came from, there are all sorts of antecedent events, characters and movements, and sort of political crucibles that brought us to where we are. All of this stuff accumulates over time.

If you go back and you look at the regular mainstream press and magazines about politics in 1952, 1953, early 1954, it is impossible to believe that you are not reading about Trump: The way they are freaking out about an antidemocratic, popular, fast growing, factually unhinged, sort of un-American movement, ascending on the American right that is going to swamp American politics. And that if the Republican party doesn’t figure out a way to police itself in terms of the extremism that is now permeating its ranks, the American Republic is going to fall. I think it’s helpful to know that these fears have existed before. It’s helpful to know it tactically, in terms of how other people fought these things and how they were beaten and why the worst fears didn’t come to pass. But it’s also helpful to know that we have a recurring problem with this in the country, and if we don’t figure out that it recurs, we’ll never figure out how to stop it from recurring.

Originally Published Here.

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

The Best Watches From SIHH
Orphan Black: Echoes Review: It’s All Coming Back
Lauren Boebert rages at Joe Biden for getting pronouns wrong despite misspelling “woman”
Observational and Anomaly Horror Game ‘Shift 87’ Coming to Steam July 23 [Trailer]
FOX Unveils Fall 2024 Premiere Dates