"Intimidated and terrorized": Rachel Maddow sounds alarm over Republicans undermining "rule of law"

"Democracy is mortal. It can be killed," the MSNBC host bluntly warned

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published May 7, 2024 12:31PM (EDT)

Rachel Maddow attends Variety & Rolling Stone Truth Seekers Summit at Second on August 02, 2023 in New York City. (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
Rachel Maddow attends Variety & Rolling Stone Truth Seekers Summit at Second on August 02, 2023 in New York City. (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on Monday delved into how former President Donald Trump and his staunchest supporters have endangered the rule of law and democracy at large.

Maddow began by referencing Trump's criminal hush-money trial in Manhattan, specifically highlighting the ex-president's consistent violation of his gag order, which Judge Juan Merchan has repeatedly stated could land him in jail. 

“I also worry about the people who would have to execute the sanction: court officers, the correction officers, the Secret Service detail, among others," Maddow quoted Merchan as saying. "I worry about them and about what would go into executing such a sanction."

Despite Trump's continued inflammatory remarks, Merchan has indicated that he doesn't wish to jail him, as it would disrupt legal proceedings. "Of course, I’m also aware of the broader implications of such a sanction," Merchan said. "But, at the end of the day, I have a job to do … Your continued violations of this Court’s lawful Order threaten to interfere with the administration of justice in constant attacks that constitute a direct attack on the rule of law. I cannot allow that to continue, So, as much as I do not want to impose a jail sanction, and I have done everything I can to avoid doing so, I want you to understand  that I will.”

Maddow then segued into a more comprehensive discussion about the rule of law, which she argued was not an abstract "miasma" but rather, is "specific stuff." She argued that court orders must be obeyed (and any violations should face punitive consequence) and that people who work in the judicial system should be free to complete their work without the fear of intimidation or harassment — as they have been constantly subjected to by Trump throughout his many legal woes. 

"That's the rule of law. That’s a nuts and bolts concrete thing and it is under intense, incredible pressure," Maddow said. 

The MSNBC host then underscored several GOP initiatives that are running concurrent to Trump's hush-money trial that she asserted are further examples of right-wing-led efforts to thwart the rule of law. The GOP-controlled state Senate in Georgia, for example, is reportedly planning to subpoena Fulton Country District Attorney Fani Willis, who is spearheading the former president's election interference case in the state. As soon as Willis launched the probe, Maddow argued, "the Republican-led legislature in Georgia started moving to try to curtail her authority to give themselves the ability to fire her."

Maddow also cited Trump's recent fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, during which he spent a portion of the event verbally attacking special counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the classified documents Espionage Act prosecution against Trump in Florida as well as the election subversion case against him in Washington D.C.

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"Deranged Jack Smith, one of the sickest prosecutors in the world — the sick, evil, thug … take a look at the deranged," Trump said on Saturday in recordings obtained by NBC News. "And he’s perfect because you look at him. He’s not attractive both inside and out. I mean, you couldn’t get a better guy if you’re trying to make the devil that deranged.”

The former president continued, "Yes. This is one unattractive dude. That’s why — fricken a**hole." Maddow also pulled up a screenshot from a Friday post Trump shared to Truth Social, writing, "DERANGED JACK SMITH. HE IS A CRIMINAL!"

The rule of law, Maddow explained, "is not something you just proclaim to be true and then set it and forget it. Terrorizing judges and juries and witnesses and prosecutors is something that breaks the rule of law." She then displayed headlines from various news outlets showing instances of MAGA fans threatening various legal figures — including Willis, New York Attorney General Letitia James, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and more — over their prosecution of Trump. 

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"What you’re seeing here is actively and currently damaging the rule of law right now, because people are being intimidated and terrorized," Maddow said. "People who work in the legal system as these alleged crimes are adjudicated there are being harassed, threatened with firing, and intimidated and threatened. And it is happening in all the criminal cases that surround Trump.”

"This is damage to the rule of law and it is here already," she added. "When participating in the adjudications of alleged crimes by a political figure and his followers bring you death threats — the rule of law has been bent, the rule of law has been broken."

Maddow followed by noting that the notion that a former president of the United States could face jail time for breaking the rule of law is no longer a "thought experiment." It is no longer a "theoretical prospect," she claimed, arguing that legal figures in imminent jeopardy need defending. 

So what is the solution to these sociopolitical quandaries, according to Maddow? "One way to start dealing with that is to stop pretending that it's not happening," she alleged. This is crucial, she said, because it's not only the rule of law that has come under fire with Trump's ascension into power — the democratic system is also at risk. 

Without mincing words, Maddow continued, "Democracy is mortal. It can be killed … it goes away when there stops being an expectation that we are governed by Democratic means. There stops being an expectation that elections are how we decide who’s in power. The way you lose your democracy is by losing the expectation that we are participating in an election because all sides in that election plan to accept the result.”

The Rachel Maddow Show with Rachel Maddow airs on Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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Democracy Fani Willis Hush Money Trial Juan Merchan Msnbc Rachel Maddow Rachel Maddow Show Rule Of Law Trump