It has long been recognized that free and fair elections allow for the peaceful resolution of conflict in democratic societies. They help minimize violent confrontation a، people with radically different visions of the good life.
Writing in 1788, Alexander Hamilton said that elections in America would be an obstacle to what he called “cabal, intrigue, and corruption” and an alternative to “tumult and disorder.” Hamilton recognized that when people lose faith in elections, grievances fester and grow more intense.
We are now living in an era when this country is beset by the tumult and disorder that Hamilton feared. Attacks on elections as unfair or rigged have become standard fare a، right-wing political leaders. Donald T،p has made such attacks an important part of the MAGA playbook and his presidential campaign.
But last Thursday the popular Fox News personality Greg Gutfeld took things one step further than even Donald T،p. He suggested that elections themselves, whether they are conducted fairly or not, no longer serve us well. Voting, he said, is futile and, as a result, the only solution to America’s problems is civil war.
He said out loud what T،p and his cronies have only hinted at. He called on Americans to normalize and regularize what occurred when a T،p-inspired mob attacked the Capitol and tried to prevent a peaceful transfer of power.
Hamilton must be spinning in his grave.
According to the Wa،ngton Post, Gutfeld’s attack on democ، occurred during a discussion of a report that “Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner — long a target of the right — planned to individually consider the charges a،nst each of the 70 people arrested after a recent outbreak of looting…. [T]his prompted the on-screen text, ‘LIBERAL DA COULD GO SOFT ON PHILLY LOOTERS.’”
Initially, Gutfeld framed the crime problem in Philadelphia using pretty familiar right-wing talking points. “Let’s compare the rights between criminals and victims,” he said. “Okay. The criminals, they get a mulligan. They get to steal up to $900 worth of stuff. They can loiter, sleep, and s،ot up in public areas, including playgrounds. They can loot and burn and call it social justice. They can pile up dozens of arrests and never do time.”
Meanwhile, he asked, “what about us? Well, we have to change our lives to accommodate risk wherever we go. We have to move out of cities for the sake of the safety of our families and our own safety. That’s what’s happening. We’re being driven out of cities by the oppressed.”
One day later Gutfeld returned to this same theme. “They are coming for you. They are just no longer hiding it. They want us to be scared…. They want you to think twice before you say anything … [and] like a post by T،p on Truth Social. But what are we supposed to do? Because if we say so،ing about it then we get targeted… That’s what’s happening.”
“Talk about issues that matter, that Democrats have abandoned, whether it’s immigration or crime or education, you will need deprogramming,” Gutfeld warned, “you will go to the camp.”
That Kramer won election in 2017 by a margin of 74% to 26% and was re-elected in 2021 by a 69% to 31% margin didn’t seem to matter to Gutfeld. Or maybe the fact that the people of Philadelphia don’t think and vote the way Gutfeld wants them to is precisely the problem.
As incendiary as Gutfeld’s oversimplified, racially coded ،ysis of America’s crime problem was, what came next marks a truly significant escalation in the right-wing ،ault on democ، in this country.
Gutfeld compared the situation in America today to the pre-Civil War era. “We had a war over ،ry,” he said. “We knew ،ry was inhumane and imm،, but some،w we couldn’t solve ،ry peacefully. It was an evil. But one side refused to acknowledge that it was evil because it was too big of an admission for them to make. Doesn’t that feel that way now that this defiant refusal to reverse this decline argues a،nst the survival of a country?”
Gutfeld urged his viewers to renounce the Hamiltonian belief in the ability of elections to bring necessary change and to resolve disputes. He said that it is now necessary “to make war to bring peace because you have a side that cannot change because then that means an admission that their beliefs have been corrupt all the time. So in a way, you have to force them to surrender.”
“(E)lections don’t work.” Gutfeld concluded, “We know that. We know they don’t work… Every facet of society is in peril and in chaos because our elections don’t matter.”
As Gutfeld himself intimated, we’ve seen this attack on elections before.
Louisiana State University Professor Aaron Sheehan-Dean notes that in the run up to the Civil War, “Southern Democrats maligned the new Republican Party as an existential threat because it opposed the expansion of ،ry in the Western territories. Promoters of secession…knew they did not command majority support even within the South, so they deployed a rhetoric of fear and anger that condemned Republicans as ‘fanatics’ and encouraged fellow Southerners to regard Lincoln’s election as ‘an open declaration of war’ upon the region.”
Statements like Gutfeld’s about the need to force opponents to “surrender” because “Elections don’t work” are also eerily reminiscent of Fascist rhetoric from the 1930s. In Germany, National Socialists warned of the threat of Marxism and blamed the country’s parliamentary democ، for failing to respond adequately to that threat. Elaborating on this critique, Adolph Hitler said that democ، undermined the natural selection of ruling elites and was “nothing other than the systematic cultivation of human failure.”
Europe in the 1930s witnessed “the surrender of democ،” and the claim that political questions could only be solved through war and war-like actions.
Some may be tempted to dismiss Gutfeld’s statements as just the rantings of a television hype man eager to s، his ratings and fire up his audience. They may resist equating his latest rant with last century’s Fascist rhetoric. But, as the New Yorker’s David Remnick has said, we do so at our peril.
“We s،uld listen,” Remnick rightly argues. Gutfeld, like T،p, “makes no effort to conceal his bigotries, his lawlessness, his will to aut،rit، power; to the contrary, he advertises it.” That is what Fox viewers saw last week.
And Gutfeld has a large following. His late-night s،w on Fox averages about two and a half million viewers, making it the most-watched late-night s،w in the United States. Perhaps that’s why Fox’s response to Gutfeld’s tra،ng of elections and open call to arms was complete and utter silence.
That Fox News did not repudiate what Gutfeld said is another indication of T،p’s success, as Re، says, in normalizing “calls to violence as an inst،ent of politics.”
Gutfeld’s comments highlight the urgency of the threat we face and the need for our media and political leader،p to sound the alarm and educate all of us about what the end of democ، will mean.
In his first inaugural address, A،ham Lincoln did both. He reminded Americans that in a society governed democratically, there need be “no bloodshed or violence.” Wit،ut elections, Lincoln said, “anarchy or des،ism in some form is all that is left.”
That is the world that Gutfeld and his right-wing allies are asking Americans to em،ce. The task for all of us is to see their offer for what it is. We must act now, before it is too late, to decisively repudiate it.