Right-wing political operative Newt Gingrich is warning that the 2018 election results are proof that “the Left is waging—and winning—a linguistic war.” In a commentary first published at Fox and distributed via email over the weekend by Gingrich Productions, Gingrich wrote that “the linguistic war of condemnation, hatred, and intimidation being waged every day by the Left” is just part of what he claims as the problem.
“The efforts to steal the governorships of Georgia and Florida and the Senate seat in Florida are only the tip of the iceberg of illegality and hostility that the Left now practices routinely.”
Gingrich’s amped-up rhetoric about the “illegality” and “hostility” of “the Left” is evidence of his own long expertise in waging linguistic warfare. As People For the American Way President Michael Keegan wrote back in 2011 when Gingrich decided to run for president, “Gingrich is an enthusiastic participant in the right wing’s divisive and destructive McCarthyism, portraying his political opponents as enemies of America’s very existence.”
Indeed, before Gingrich was forced out of his position of speaker of the House, before he had repositioned himself as an advocate for “Rediscovering God in America,” and long before his former mistress and current wife was serving as Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican, Gingrich was responsible for bringing an especially toxic approach to partisan politics. More specifically, as RWW noted in 2012:
His entire political career has been based on destructive, vicious, negative attacks on his opponents. In the 1990s, his GOPAC produced “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” an infamous list of words that Gingrich said Republicans should use to smear and denigrate their opponents. Among the suggested words was “destructive,” along with “traitors,” “sick,” and “betray.” Gingrich perfected the kind of hyper-partisan politics of destruction that are currently making it harder to run the country, and harder to attract decent people to run for office. Obviously, decency hasn’t been a barrier for Newt’s own ambitions.
Gingrich’s recent piece aggressively promotes far-right smears against activists who challenge racism and white nationalism. “The Left claims and occupies more and more linguistic ground with each new fight,” he wrote:
Defense of the Founding Fathers becomes defense of white, racist, slaveowners.
Defense of American identity becomes an act of white male domination. …
Wanting to obey the law in counting votes becomes an effort to suppress votes and disenfranchise poor people, minorities, and immigrants.
And then things get really Orwellian—or perhaps Trumpian—with Gingrich attributing to Democrats and “liberal media” exactly the kind of behavior that right-wing activists and media are engaged in:
Every day, we are watching Democrats break and stretch the law for the sole purpose of winning, while they attack Republicans for wanting an honest count of legal voters.
Democrats and their liberal media allies know that if they repeat something often enough it begins to be accepted as truth.
However, the Left’s interest in winning the language war is only the first step toward legitimizing real threats and mob behavior.
Once they win the language fight, they can claim moral superiority. Once they have gained moral dominance, they can do anything to their opponents because they will be presumed right, and their opponents will be presumed wrong.
Gingrich doesn’t spell out the solution, but seems to be teeing things up for conservatives to turn to him for the answer: “Developing the conservative solution to the left’s linguistic war is a major step toward winning elections in 2020 – and preserving our society.”
And who better to turn to than Gingrich, Inc., right? While Gingrich has spent much of the past decade allied with dominionists and Christian-nation activists to promote his “Rediscovering God in America” books and video brand—and turning to them to promote his failed 2012 presidential bid—he has also never given up his core competence as a political smear artist. For example, at the Heritage Foundation in December 2016, Gingrich said the right should stop using the term “news media” and replace it “the propaganda media.” Before he rose to the speakership in 1996, he made a name for himself for calling Democrats “pro-communist” in late-night soliloquies he delivered from the House floor to an empty chamber, as he leveraged the new C-SPAN cable channel.
President Trump, of course, has been an ardent deployer of the “language as a weapon of control” strategy. Gingrich has praised Trump, saying that the president has “brought out into the open how truly anti-American much of the left is and how much it stands for a set of values that all of us, if you looked at it carefully, would find horrifying.”
And Gingrich has joined Trump’s efforts to discredit both the investigation of his 2016 campaign and his Democratic opponents. “Democratic dishonesty is a lot greater threat to freedom than some unproven Russian conspiracy,” Gingrich said earlier this month, adding, for good measure, “Democrats will end up stealing a lot more votes than Putin ever dreamed of taking.”
During the 2016 campaign, Gingrich warned against “those who would impose a totalitarian secularism on us.” That was a recycled version of comments he made in 2011 at John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church, where he memorably said he was “convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time [my grandchildren are] my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”