As we have seen in the two previous discussions of the topic, PragerU is a festering cauldron of misinformation, misdirection and smugness — disguised as a benevolent, informative “university”. Its coterie of “credible thinkers” (also known as “course presenters”) pontificating in 5-minute videos reads like a partial Who’s Who of contemporary lunatic demagoguery. The roster includes Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder (see below), Glenn Beck, Tucker Carlson, Dinesh D’Souza, Jonah Goldberg, Charlie Kirk, Michelle Malkin, James O’Keefe, and Candace Owens, among many others.
PragerU very well might be thought of as the anti-TED. Whereas TED Talks is a symposium on the human potential for creativity, progress, expansive mindset, vision, constructiveness and love, PragerU is a symposium on the human potential for destructiveness, regression, reductionist mindset, purblindness, division and hate. And the Pragerists don’t even have the decency to be forthright in their aims; their mission is cloaked in pseudointellectual pretensions of patriotism, piety and moral high-mindedness.
Tune in and you’ll find videos rehashing the same inane talking points you’ve heard (and heard debunked) many times before — in support of a border wall, and the electoral college, and theocracy, and capital punishment, and other tireless bastions of right-wing bigotry and intellectual bankruptcy. A video on nationalism tries to make it sound benign by drastically shifting the semantic goal posts. One video on the electoral college observes that:
In a pure democracy, bare majorities can easily tyrannize the rest of a country.
Never mind that merely electing a president by popular vote by no means would constitute a “pure majority”. The thing is that the present arrangement (as has become painfully evident) can help a distinct minority tyrannize the rest of the country.
All of this is blended with a (very) small amount of material that really is informative or at least harmless. We previously mentioned a video affirming that the Civil War really was about slavery (which is something there really shouldn’t even be any debate about). Another one purports to teach you (in 5 minutes) how to develop more resiliency to avoid being thrown for a loop by catastrophic events. It’s essentially fluff, but evidently well-meaning enough.
The many talks that Dennis Prager himself has delivered include a regular series of fireside chats (no, seriously) in which he expounds upon all manner of topics on which he considers himself the ultimate authority. Looking like Santa Claus groomed for a job on Wall Street, he follows in Ronald Reagan’s footsteps in demonstrating that an avuncular persona can mask all manner of devious machinations. And PragerU itself often demonstrates the banality of evil; while posing as a cheery self-help site, it subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) goads its viewers to loathe half of their fellow Americans.
One of these “courses” is a whole series of cutesy little “man on the street” videos by Will Witt, who is officially PragerU’s “social media influencer” (a title that speaks megabytes). You know the type of video: the intrepid sleuth sets out with a certain premise, interviews people he hopes will confirm that premise, selects the few who do and discards the others, sprinkles it all with a bit of selective editing, and voila! proves himself to be a great sage and visionary.
Witt’s customary narrative is that them librulz iz dumm; he’s particularly obsessed with trying to establish that college students are naive librulz being force-fed propaganda by sinister librul professors. He himself claims he dropped out of one such university because he was being indoctrinated with facts that didn’t fit his worldview. (Does the word snowflake mean anything to you, Will?) So now, by god, he works for a real university where he can learn, teach and manufacture his own facts.
In one video, he asks students whether they can name one good thing the forty-fifth White House Occupant has done in office, and they have a hard time coming up with one. Imagine that. (Give them a break, Will — this was before he helped the Democrats regain the House.) In another, he ridicules a “leftist” book that “brainwashes” little kids by telling them about the concept of… wait for it… activism. You know, such as he himself attempts to practice. Another of his videos is titled “Do College Students Support Abortion Or Life?” Yes, that’s the actual title. (If you don’t see anything wrong, please read our two discussions of abortion and the one on straw men.)
But of all the PragerU videos I have watched so far, surely the most egregious is one that was posted for the occasion of Columbus Day. It was designed to ridicule the “politically correct” efforts to question the wisdom of celebrating such an occasion, and to defend the myth of Columbus as a noble, heroic figure. This talk was delivered by Steven Crowder, who has a website called Louder With Crowder — a name perfectly exemplifying the notion these people have that being louder and more obnoxious makes you more accurate and morally defensible. He’s labeled Christine Blasey Ford a “lying whore” — while acknowledging that her accusations could be true — and suggested that by denouncing her attacker, she was guilty of name calling that was equally vile. Credible thinkers, every one.
Here’s how he begins his little homily on the austere occasion of Columbus Day:
Thanksgiving. Independence Day. Memorial Day. Holidays are a great time to riddle Americans with needless, oppressive guilt.
Not a hint as to exactly how those holidays inflict “needless, oppressive guilt” on people. It’s one of those things you’re supposed to just believe because you’re supposed to just believe. And clearly a tribute to the popular straw man of “liberal guilt” we discussed previously. And here’s what he’s leading up to:
But the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest is Columbus Day—the day where progressives indoctrinate your children into believing Columbus to be Satan incarnate, the USA to be his evil spawn, and the Native Americans to be pacifists.
Wow. There’s almost too much horseshit packed into that one sentence to adequately dissect it all. But let’s whip through it briefly. First, notice the cute red herring/ straw man tacked onto the end. Who exactly is claiming that Native Americans were uniformly pacifist? And what exactly would that have to do with respecting Native heritage and culture and the Native peoples alive today? It’s very telling that Crowder and his like consider it “indoctrination” when progressives try to set the record straight. But for the record, progressives generally just want the truth to be known, whether about Columbus or anyone else. If someone concludes that he was “Satan incarnate”, that’s a conclusion they would be drawing from his actual record — and there is plenty in his record that might warrant such a characterization.
The most interesting thing about this sentence, however, is its bald illustration of the propaganda technique of flag waving, wherein the perpetrator presents himself as impeccably patriotic because of his ideology, and proclaims that anyone who does not concur with his beliefs is unpatriotic or even anti-American. In this silly extreme example, he is claiming that anyone who dares to expose the seamy side of Columbus is trying to paint America itself as the “spawn of Satan”. Indeed, he’s declaring that it’s even worse than that:
Feeling the urge to self-inflict grievous bodily harm yet? That’s only natural, because the whole charade has become an exercise in hating Western civilization, which is really just an exercise in hating yourself.
Got that? If you want the facts told, you hate not only America, not only all of Western civilization, but even yourself. Instead, you should deal yourself a huge dose of love by believing this:
First, as far as Columbus goes, the guy deserves some credit, right? Flawed, to be sure, but he was the greatest navigator of his age—the first person to cross the Atlantic from the continent of Europe. And he did so without any maps and only three small ships. If you can name them, by the way, comment below, as I’m sure your professor can’t.
Clever, huh? Simultaneously taking a dig at those sinister liberal professors teaching liberal facts to impressionable students, while also putting in a blatant plug to drum up viewer interaction by challenging them to respond to a simplistic trivia question. Don’t worry, Steve — if you and the other Pragerists can’t name the three ships, just about any fifth grader can bail you out.
But there are indeed some “liberal” facts that he can’t spin away. To call Columbus the “greatest navigator of his age” is, to put it charitably, a wee bit of a stretch. Among other things, Columbus grossly miscalculated the dimensions of the globe. It would be more accurate to say that he was a ruthless, greedy egomaniac and a lucky bungler who stumbled his way into the history books (not unlike the forty-fifth White House occupant). We’ll discuss the myths about Columbus (who, by the way, never even set foot on the continent) in a future post; for now, let’s just remind the venerable Mr. Crowder that there’s actually a reason the Native peoples of America are now known as “Indians”.
He goes on to apply a very interesting and illuminating double standard. He acknowledges on the one hand that Columbus and crew were far from perfect, and suggests that we therefore should be willing to excuse them for knocking off a few indigenous people. And on the other hand, he insists that the Natives were not perfect either, and therefore, we should be willing to overlook the fact that many of them got knocked off by European immigrants. It’s a technique related to what is known formally as tu quoque, though it’s more commonly known as”bothsidesism” or “whataboutism” or “it takes one to know one”, or “I’m rubber, you’re glue”, or “so’s your old man”. However you phrase it, the idea is that you can somehow exonerate someone from charges of wrongdoing by pointing out that someone else did something wrong too.
Nobody is suggesting that the Natives were perfect or that they were all benevolent, peaceful souls. They were human, and any large enough group of humans is going to have a few rotten eggs. So yes, some of them did commit their own atrocities. And guess what? Not a single one of them is even remembered today, much less exalted as a hero or honored by a major holiday.
As far as the genocide by violence, you can look at any historical account of even the most one-sided battles and find that they were still just that—battles. Take Wounded Knee (although hundreds of years later, I only bring it up because I know that if I don’t, you will). It’s become ubiquitous with the idea of Native Americans’ genocide. After all, there were 150-350 Aboriginals killed or wounded. That’s terrible, but there were also 25 American soldiers killed and 39 wounded. That’s not genocide; that’s a one-sided beatdown with Old Glory wielding the hammer.
Aside from the fact that his math is a little questionable (somehow he regards 128 years as “hundreds of years”), he illustrates how you can argue just about any kind of absurd premise if you’re willing to redefine your terms and cherry pick your facts drastically enough. If you’re going to transform a massacre into a “one-sided battle”, it helps if you forget to mention that the altercation began as an official visit; and that the army was trying to confiscate the tribe’s weapons, to go along with the confiscated lands; and that many of the 300 or so Native casualties were women and children.
And he offers an even more absurd deflection:
Not only did the Natives brutally take out PEOPLE, but they took out entire forests and hunted species to extinction.
So the Fifteenth Century Natives deserved to be slaughtered because they didn’t apply Twenty-First Century knowledge of proper environmental management? One must infer that what he’s implying here is that anyone who exercises a “politically correct” effort to respect Native Americans and their heritage is subscribing to the silly stereotype of the “noble savage”, which enjoyed a brief vogue a couple of centuries ago. And just in case he hasn’t already convinced you how bigoted and clueless he is, he sums up thus:
Columbus is not the issue here, and never was. This whole “Indigenous Peoples Day” charade is about teaching your children to despise Western civilization and anybody who dare defend it.
And then he wraps up with an uncharacteristic touch of candor, intended to be ironic but actually much more accurate than he realizes.
But then again, that could just be my Western civ privilege talking.
No shit, Sherlock.
Reactionaries like Crowder often try to give you the impression that Columbus Day is a timeless, quintessentially American occasion ordained by the Founding Fathers themselves. In reality, it did not become a federal holiday until 1937, and the motivations for making it one were largely political, and based almost entirely on myth. This sums up very nicely what these people classify as “patriotism”.
Summing it up
Within three months of its being posted, this bigoted and brainless little video had been viewed in excess of three million times. It’s been shared, praised, tweeted and et cetera-ed countless times. PragerU videos overall have received more than 1.8 BILLION views. What’s even more disturbing is that if the site’s stats are to be believed (and it’s clearly by no means a given that anything PragerU says can be taken at face value) 70 percent of viewers report that they’ve had their minds changed on some issue by one of the videos. In short, it’s an extremely successful propaganda machine.
And that includes, of course, being financially successful. It’s been reported that each video (there’s a new one spawned every week) costs in the range of $25,000 to $30,000 to produce. They wouldn’t be spending that kind of cheddar if they weren’t raking it in. (Don’t be fooled by the smokescreen of nonprofit status — churches are nonprofits too, and some of them are filthy rich.) Indeed, PragerU’s faithful flock is constantly subjected to dire fundraising pleas, built on the absurd claim that “conservative” material is being censored and repressed by social media, search engines, mainstream media, and the chronosynclastic infundibulum. To emphasize the point, one of its panhandling ads features photos of some of those “credible thinkers” with their mouths taped. If only.
Such absurd claims have been debunked eight ways from Sunday — even though a great deal of right-wing Internet content inspires violence and other harmful actions, right-wingers actually have an advantage in the cyber world. (The reason you’re reading about PragerU right now is that it kept rearing its ugly head in my Facebook feed, quite uninvited, over and over and over.) But they want more than an advantage. They want absolute and total domination. And anything less than that will prompt them to wail about censorship and repression — and even conduct congressional hearings to look into such poppycock. And they will continue to play the censorship card as long as there are plenty of Kool-Aid guzzlers to fleece out of cash.
It’s often said that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. To this aphorism we should add the corollary that nobody ever went broke overestimating the gullibility of ideological fanatics.