I’m hearing this narrative more and more in the media to describe Newt Gingrich. Somewhere along the line he was successful at re-labelling himself from propagandist and ideologue to historian. The media now perpetuates the fiction he parades as fact, holding him up as some sort of unparalleled expert, but for any reasonably intelligent person with a nominal grasp of actual history Newt Gingrich is a perverse and dangerous nationalist.
I’ve seen his type before in the Balkans and in Rwanda. His particular perversion is a craft, honed by a keen sense of what is acceptable to the mainstream media, and fully aware of the potential ignorance and latent bigotries of his target audience. What is behind his clever toying with hate is not the fabrication of history, but rather its carefull and deliberate manipulation.
Evidence his comments about the Palestinian’s being an invented people. Anyone spending 5 minutes on-line would immediately realize how careless or ignorant his statements were. The Palestinians are no more or less an invented people than Americans, or Serbs, Mexicans or Canadians. These are not races, but the amalgamation of cultures and races and ethnicities with constructed and layered and evolving histories.
A cornerstone to manipulating history is the carefully laid groundwork of a manipulated history with a basis in fact. Fact is the anchor, but as I’ve argued before, facts can just as easily be lies-through omission and purposeful arrangement- as truth. But history is a process, a truth propagandists like Gingrich or Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic ignore. Instead, they pick arbitrary points to start that history, or cherry-pick facts that suit their preconceived intention.
Listen closely, at the heart of every nationalistic history is a single theme. There is an outside enemy, an internal group of otherwise righteous and holy victims, and an internal betrayer. Along with that is the glory myth, an inflated or idealized past (the good old days) that has been or is being stolen. The Nazis, as a simple example and not a comparison, held the Communists as the external and the Jews as the betrayer, with Aryans as the holy victims. The Serbs crafted themselves as victims from the 1389 battle of Kosovo Polje, inventing a Bosnian Prince as betrayer and Muslims as the external enemy-ignoring that they bargained with the Muslims to keep from being exterminated by their Christian Hungarian neighbors.
Slowly, the pressure is increased on the “chosen” group, the sense of being under siege or threat driving up the ambient fear and robbing them of all true perspective accept the one that fits with their fear and ignorance. For perceived safety the group eschews all outside information, especially as it is portrayed as representing the outside enemy or internal betrayer.
Every nationalist and nationalist movement follows this same template. At its core it is exclusionary on the broader scale, and constructed to benefit and enrich a select few who may or may not fully believe in the message on the smaller scale. But what does that tell us about Gingrich in his run for the presidency?
In Saturday’s debate Gingrich made an oddly revealing statement. It was oblique, having to do with infidelities he had while leading the charge against Bill Clinton over the Lewinski affair. He claims he’s changed since then and that “his” god has forgiven him. Did god actually say that he’s forgiven Newt, does Newt take it on faith that he has or does he just assume? What is interesting for a man who has “changed” is that his politics and attitudes about society and the world have not.
Gingrich has always been about division. He flings terms like socialism, communist, and liberal to impune any dissenting opinion, or as veiled terms to describe any group attempting to assert their rights. He promotes the idea of a “Christian” nation which excludes all the other religions held by citizens in this country. His antiquated views on gender and gay marriage is all about what his views on how the world should be: white, wealthy, selfish and aloof.
His views on unions are a direct assault against middle class working people whose hours, wages, benefits and safety all come from the effort of unions to raise the level of working families. He accuses teachers and public workers in Wisconsin and Ohio and across the country for wanting a living wage, secure benefits and a dignified retirement after a life at work, while ignoring corporate abuse and greed at the tax payer’s expense. He advocates racial profiling, such as profiling Muslims at airports or checking the citizenship of “Questionable” persons in routine police stops. And he has called the hundreds of thousands of Occupy Protesters-men and women of every age, education level and income level, filthy hippies who need a bath. And he supports the predatory abuse of banks in foreclosing against millions of homeowners.
Given all that, where is the change in Newt Gingrich? He entered politics and stoked the moral majority fools as a means to get rich and become powerful. He helped invent the current marketing parade of political tripe masquerading as books that feeds his fortune from the fear and paranoia of his audience.
Think back upon the men who founded this nation. Would any of them have had anything to do with a greedy, flabby, flat-footed, elitist clown like Gingrich? What would have become of the fledgling republic under a man who sought division as a means to enrich himself, as Gingrich has done being forced out of Congress by fellow republicans? And finally, does he inspire or aspire to compassion, and the idea of America as welcoming and good, or an America that is cruel and exclusionary?
One thing is clear, and that is the historical Gingrich would not have signed the declaration of independence of the constitution, because both were clearly power sharing assertions, and very clearly socialist in nature, far more in keeping with the message of the Occupy movement than in the narrowly divisive ideology he espouses now. But then again, any real historian would know that.