Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

The Conservative Propaganda Site That’s Best at Owning the Libs

There was a time when PragerU warned about the perils of nationalism. These days? Not so much.
September 26, 2019
The Conservative Propaganda Site That’s Best at Owning the Libs

In the Trump era, governing is pretty much beside the point. Who cares if you can pass legislation or conduct a coherent foreign policy? What really matters is owning the libs. 

It’s the primary motivation for Trump’s obnoxiously frequent and frequently obnoxious rallies. MAGA heads live to see what Trump will do to send his enemies and political opponents into a furor. Trump-friendly commentators and publications routinely focus on “dunking on” the mainstream media and celebrating Trump’s fight against progressive enemies. 

No one reflects this trend better than PragerU, a video series put out by conservative radio host Dennis Prager since 2009. In many ways, it is a reflection of what’s happened broadly across the conservative movement. 

PragerU’s mission statement is “to promote what is true, what is good, what is excellent, and what is noble through digital media.” To do so, PragerU takes “the best ideas from the best minds and distill them into short videos.”

In its early days, PragerU fulfilled that mission with videos on familiar conservative sawhorses such as fiscal conservatism (remember that?), debunking the gender wage-gap myth, and minimum-wage laws. The videos were presented by think-tank fellows and academics.

But what exactly constitutes “The Best Minds?” in the Trump era? Doctors? Historians? Political Philosophers? PragerU’s definition of “The Best People” is far more expansive these days. Common “best minds” include the likes of Allie Beth Stuckey, Dave Rubin, Charlie Kirk, and Candace Owens.

What about the best ideas? Well, the videos created by Prager include such important topics as “Why God is a He”, “Hollywood Wants your Money and your Mind”, “Politics and Sports: Keep Your Hands Off My Football”, “Why The Right is Right” and “Make Men Masculine Again”. Perennial topics include leftism in academia, the danger of Islam and sharia law, and the evil of politcal correctness. In other words, far from discussing the best ideas by the best people, it’s your average propaganda machine in the conservative media ecosystem.

The problem is, mixed in with these run-of-the-mill propaganda videos and podcasts are some truly heinous ideas. For example, pushing the narrative that white nationalism doesn’t exist, and that all nationalism is good, as it fights against the globalists and leftists. It didn’t start this way. In 2017, PragerU put out a video condemning the blood and soil ideology of the alt-right. But as time has gone on, PragerU boarded the nationalism train and began espousing these ideas. Of course, the videos portray it in a much more sanitized manner, but the foundational ideas remain the same. 

Prager’s notion of nationalism is one that posits that nationalism is just allegiance to one’s country, and patriotic pride in said country. He attempts to refute the idea of nationalism being tied to ethnicity. For instance, he states the Rwandan massacre was not due to nationalism, but “ethnic tribalism.” He argues that the state doesn’t care about race, merely the citizens of a nation. Moreover, Prager explicitly rejects the notion that nationalism was intrinsically tied to the carnage of World Wars I and II. There’s a reason PragerU spends so much time pretending that Hitler wasn’t a nationalist. Instead, PragerU wants nationalism to be about respecting borders, stopping illegal immigration, and putting “America First.” It’s the Trumpian worldview with a new paint job.

Never mind that nationalism has always meant blood and soil since its propogation, and in its historical context in the United States, it has always meant white nationalism (See: The Birth of A Nation). There is a reason the alt-right, Ku Klux Klan, and American Nazi party all have nationalism as cornerstones of their ideology. Since the 19th century, nationalism has been understood in Western civilization to be about an ethnic and cultural heritage. To pretend that “American” nationalism is something else entirely is a blatant lie used to push a narrative that supports Trump-style Republicanism. In other words, PragerU uses its work to attempt to redefine nationalism for a political agenda, rather than face the historical reality of the genuinely ethnocentric ideals of nationalism. If there’s one thing that the majority of the world agreed on in the past 80 years, it’s that Nazis were bad. And yet, here we are.

Why not just ignore PragerU? The site claims that its videos have been viewed more than 2 billion times. These ideas don’t stay in the confines of the propaganda machine. Let’s not forget that Tucker Carlson, America’s most watched cable talk host, regularly engages in white nationalist rhetoric, calling it a hoax and and coming just shy of saying the infamous 14 Words. And of course, it all comes back to Trump. Since he calls himself a nationalist without an understanding of the history and connotations of nationalism as an ideology, those in the GOP must now twist themselves into ideological pretzels and change the definitions of words to justify their new positions. The irony that PragerU commonly accuses the left of this very tactic is lost on them.

What are the long term implications of PragerU’s propaganda? In my lifetime, the thought leaders in the Republican party have not been conservative legislators, but the commentariat. The progeny of Rush Limbaugh and Dennis Prager have shifted the focus in Republican grassroots from the actual business of government to the fighting of liberals and Democrats. Despite very few actual accomplishments, Trump enjoys sky high approval ratings from Republicans because “he fights.” 

Republicans have so abandoned governing that the fight is all they have. Fighting with the left, and with anyone on the right who is insufficiently battle-ready. It’s how Sohrab Ahmari is able to make a case for authoritarian theocracy, and how Kurt Schlicter keeps getting attention even though he’s written books reflecting white genocide paranoia. It’s how Steve King keeps getting sent back to Congress.

 All of this contributes directly to the tribalism and cultural divide so many conservatives decry. If we cannot own our own contributions to the polarization of America, we cannot be honest about the steps necessary to begin to heal our cultural divides, and learn to live with our neighbors once more.