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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

How much money would you spend to defend America? Before you answer, remember that we’re talking about America here. The America. It’s in need of defense, and good soldiers like you and me must heed the call and quite literally pay our dues. So how much cash would you lay down? A thousand dollars? Ten thousand? Can you even put a price on something so vital and necessary as the defense of America?

Even if you can’t, Newt Gingrich certainly can. For just $50 you can sign up for Newt’s online course called “Defending America,” which consists of six video lectures delivered by Gingrich himself that “provide patriotic Americans like you with the historical facts and arguments you need to debunk the Left’s agenda in your own community.” Newt’s been all over Fox News of late reminding its viewers that “Defending America” is something that they, as patriots, can spend their money on.

As a patriotic American who loves historical facts, I convinced my bosses (suckers) to hand over the company credit card so I could spend $50 on America Defense lessons from Newt Gingrich.

Here’s what I learned.

Newt just wants to eat baklava

“The left didn’t like the concept of a singular civilization called America,” Gingrich declares in his lesson on the evils of multiculturalism. And as part of its war on the American cultural monolith, “the left” is making it impossible for good patriots to eat the pastries of their choice.

“Think about the problem this gives you with baklava,” Newt says as part of a determinedly obtuse harangue about cultural appropriation. “Can you only eat baklava if you’re Greek or if you’re Turkish? Or if you’re Greek, do you eat Greek baklava but not Turkish baklava? And if you’re not Greek or Turkish, why are you even allowed to have baklava?”

But it’s not just about the freedom to cram one’s maw with endless varieties of honeyed pastry, Newt explains. The key question of who can eat which type of baklava goes right to the very heart of the leftist conspiracy to destroy America. “While I’m making fun of it, this is not funny,” Newt says. “This is at the center of the intellectual corruption of the American academic community, and the news media, and the American entertainment communities that grow out of and draw from the academic community.”

“The left” is mainly student activists and professors at West Coast colleges

The conceit behind “Defending America” is that there exists “a deliberate strategy by the left to instill anti-American values to fundamentally change this country.” The primary movers in the nefarious, country-ending cabal, at least according to Newt’s estimation, are campus activist groups and academics who write op-eds. And as the baklava example makes clear, Newt’s shtick involves tweezing out what he believes are the most extreme examples of their behavior and presenting them as what “the left” writ large stands for.

Newt’s “lessons” on “Defending America from the Multicultural Disaster” and “Defending Free Speech from Left-wing Censors and Thought Police” focus almost exclusively on various perceived outrages committed by student groups and the occasional professor. “Universities are increasingly becoming havens of resegregation and reverse racism,” he declares in his lesson on the evils of multiculturalism. “There’s a school in Washington state that wants to kick all white people off the campus for a day.”

The school in question, Evergreen State, became a brief focus of national controversy when a faculty member proposed that, as part of a longstanding annual “Day of Absence” protest for minority rights, white students who chose to participate in the protest leave campus for the day as a show of “solidarity.” After a biology professor objected to the idea, student protests erupted. Conservative media seized on the story, threats were made against the school, the biology professor resigned, the faculty member who proposed the idea resigned, and the school canceled the “Day of Absence” protest in the face of dwindling enrollment numbers.

From this and a handful of other cherry-picked examples of campus activism, Newt concludes that there is “a psychosis across our entire academic, news media, and entertainment world, which is a mass hysteria involving people who believe things that are crazy because all their friends believe the things that are crazy, and they need to be crazy together or they’d be alone, and then their friends wouldn’t like them.”

“The left” is both a ridiculous joke and an urgent threat to America’s existence

“There is no better evidence of the weakness of the left than the fact that they can’t debate,” Gingrich says at the beginning of Lesson Four. “They can’t defend their positions. Part of it is because they don’t know anything,” he adds with a mocking smirk. “There is no capacity on the left to have a serious debate about their values, and so they scream.” This is a running theme of all the lessons: “The left” is full of ignorant dopes whose whacked-out positions are worthy only of mockery and sneering disdain. “We have these college campuses that are totally subsidized, with people there full time who don’t teach very much, don’t learn very much, and don’t do very much,” Newt explains, “and so they’ve been gradually vegetating into weirder and weirder positions.”

Somehow, though, these same indolent pontificators and mock-worthy extremists are simultaneously a nefarious and altogether implacable force for American destruction whose influence drives the highest levels of politics and entertainment. Newt wants to have it both ways: The left is a feeble joke, and the left is also an existential threat to the country.

Not surprisingly, this lazy thinking leads Newt into mistakenly dismissing genuine threats to conservative political power as little more than leftist tantruming. The 2017 Women’s March stands out as one of the most important moments for left-wing activism and candidate recruitment in the era of Donald Trump. But Gingrich dismisses it as “a collection of nutcakes, gathered together, made important because The New York Times and The Washington Post covered them. Otherwise it would just be, sort of, a gathering of random weird people, sort of like a family reunion on the Mall.”

This isn’t so much education as it is marketing. Newt wants his “students” to feel that they’re standing up against a dangerous enemy, but also that the enemy can be easily vanquished. It’s a message that’s tailor-made for someone who is already apt to believe that “the left” can be defeated with fifty bucks and a few Ben Franklin quotes.

“The left” can be defeated with fifty bucks a few Ben Franklin quotes (or “quotes”)

The key to dismantling the anti-Americanism of “the left,” per Gingrich, is rote repetition of a carefully curated suite of quotes from the Founding Fathers. Over the course of the six lessons, Newt laboriously sifts through the collected utterances of America’s founding statesmen (and other historical figures) to demonstrate that the United States is supposed to be a land of unrestricted gun access with no separation of church and state and a functionally useless social safety net.

Newt isn’t breaking any new ground here; cherry-picking the Founding Fathers is a grand tradition of conservative “intellectuals” who grasp for historical gravitas in their quest to choke off public assistance for the poor. What Newt brings to the affair is the laziness and basic errors of scholarship that you’d expect from a $50 scam history course.

“Benjamin Franklin said it perfectly,” Newt proclaims in his lesson on free speech, attributing to Franklin the following quote, which appears on the screen like so as he reads it:

“Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech; which is the Right of every Man, as far as by it he does not hurt and controul the Right of another: And this is the only Check it ought to suffer, and the only Bounds it ought to know. This sacred Privilege is so essential to free Governments, that the Security of Property, and the Freedom of Speech, always go together; and in those wretched Countries where a Man cannot call his Tongue his own, he can scarce call any Thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing the Freeness of speech.”

That’s great quote! But it’s not Benjamin Franklin’s. It belongs to English essayists John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, who wrote under the nom-de-plume “Cato.” Franklin quoted this passage in an essay he published in The New England Courant under his own pseudonym, Silence Dogood.

Newt doesn’t actually read anyone on the left

Given that the purpose of “Defending America” is ostensibly to instruct conservatives on how to effectively neutralize “the left,” it would be reasonable to expect that the person doing the instructing would be an expert and learned authority on what the left believes and how it operates. But, by his own admission, Newt Gingrich is not that expert.

As part of a live Q&A session posted as part of the course last October, Gingrich was asked if there were “any liberal writers, any left-wing writers you would recommend reading to understand them.” After a moment’s pause, Gingrich responded: “No.”

He went on to explain that he used to read liberal writers back when he was in grad school, but “the modern left is almost like a cancer that has metastasized” and has only “grown weirder and weirder and weirder, and so I think it’s really hard to look to the left to explain itself.” Instead, Newt recommended reading conservative pundits like Ben Domenech and Andrew McCarthy to understand what “the left” is all about.

Newt wants to sell you other products by Newt Gingrich

As a good American patriot, I paid my bosses’ $50 to Newt so he could teach me the secrets of how to Defend America. I assumed that would be the end of our financial relationship, but I was wrong — embedded within these lessons for the preservation of American democracy were further opportunities for me to purchase additional products from Newt Gingrich.

“I would urge you, if you come to Washington, take Rediscovering God in America, walk around to every single monument,” Newt says, hocking his 2009 book during the lesson on “Defending Faith-Based America from Secular Tyranny.” He also works in a plug for Five Principles for a Successful Life, which he co-wrote with his daughter, during the lesson on work and opportunity. “We developed the five principles and went out and talked to a number of people, a really wide range — I mean, Gen. David Petraeus was one, Whoopi Goldberg was another.”

A fulsome defense of America requires sending Newt Gingrich lots of money.

Nothing

Honestly there’s nothing that “Defending America” can teach you because it’s not actually meant to teach anything. It’s part of a scam that Newt Gingrich has perfected in order to make himself very rich. Like many other enterprising hucksters on the right, Newt understands that he can wring large sums of cash from conservative marks by nurturing and exploiting their senses of grievance and victimization.

At no point throughout “Defending America” would you have any inkling that Republicans and conservatives have firm grips on the levers of power in this country. All the carping Newt indulges in about multiculturalism and attacks on “traditional” values pay no heed to the fact that the federal government (controlled by his ideological allies) is busily ramping up deportations, installing right-wing judges on courts, sabotaging social programs, and recklessly pursuing a hard-line conservative agenda. Rather, you’re made to believe that college professors and Hollywood are the real power in the country and are threateningly close to transforming America into a socialist dystopia.

Newt evangelizes this fiction with the shamelessness of a man who has full confidence in the strength of his grift. Lesson Six of “Defending America” is titled “Defending ‘We the People’ From the Washington Swamp” — a hilarious description given that Gingrich himself is the quintessential “swamp” denizen.

“You have bureaucrats who are liberal,” Newt complains, “you have to lobbyists and lawyers who are liberal, and you have the reporters who are liberal. That’s your national capital.” Newt has made a lucrative career in this supposed hellhole of swampy liberalism by monetizing his connections to lawmakers and collecting fees as an unregistered lobbyist. There are few people on this planet with less standing to rail against the corruption and “swampiness” of Washington, D.C., than Newt Gingrich, but here he is doing exactly that for $50 a pop.