In a Stunning Display of Whataboutism Newt Gingrich Argues Reparations Would Have To Go to Union Soldiers’ Descendants Too

Newt Gingrich speaks pompously from a podium.

In why can’t that man just stop talking? news, Newt Gingrich has an opinion on reparations he just had to share with us. (Seriously, why have none of the grandchildren he brags about in his Twitter bio taken away his smartphone yet?). According to the former Republican House Speaker, we just can’t possibly talk about reparations for the actual descendants of enslaved people in the Americas because there’s one important group we need to talk about first: the “millions of Union soldiers who put their lives on the line to bring slavery to an end.”

What in hell kind of false equivalence is this? It’s like saying we can’t compensate modern victims of crime because we need to award that compensation to the police instead. (You know, because they’re Very Good Boys, and a salary just isn’t enough.) Which honestly isn’t far off from how a lot of people already think and talk about the police—or actually, how the law itself works, when it comes to civil forfeiture—so never mind, it’s all part of the same racist, power-worshipping ideology.

We all know Gingrich is being disingenuous here, not least because in the article linked in his tweet, he goes on in detail about just how ridiculous he finds the concept of reparations to begin with. He all but says “this is my article of whataboutisms to try and get you to shut up,” and it’s obvious that what he actually wants here is to make the idea of reparations look as absurd and unworkable as he’s decided it is by blurring the bounds of who should be entitled to them. He’s trying to make reparations a nebulous, expansive concept when it’s actually very clear. The descendants of enslaved people are entitled to compensation because their ancestors were the ones enslaved. That’s it, it’s not a hard idea to get your head around, unless you have it inserted firmly up your ass.

Gingrich’s argument is not even a good or clever attempt at whataboutism. There’s a massive logical flaw at the heart of it, which is that unlike enslaved people, Union soldiers actually got paid for their service, and the vast majority of them willingly chose to be there. Not to downplay the evils of conscription (and I think you’ll find most in favor of reparations also want to abolish the draft) but it doesn’t begin to compare with the horrors of slavery—and, again, crucially, Union soldiers were paid for their time, conscripts or not. Now if he wanted to discuss the fact that Black soldiers were only paid around half the amount of their white counterparts that would be another matter, but as keen as he is to bring up the Black death toll during the civil war he conveniently leaves that part out.

Bringing up the Union army’s fatalities during the war seems to be a favorite anti-reparations tactic among certain figures. Gingrich quotes a historian who apparently believes that those of us in favor of reparations are pretending chattel slavery just quietly evaporated one day instead of requiring years of bloodshed to achieve. Which is nonsense. The idea that Union soldiers dying to end slavery somehow counteracts the need for financial compensation for its victims is absurd. They’re not equivalents, and pretending that they are, that they serve the same purpose, isn’t just dehumanizing to everyone involved but a continuation of the same kind of thinking that supported and upheld slavery in the first place. Money and human lives aren’t interchangeable, you can’t use dead soldiers to pay a debt. Those deaths didn’t put food on Black people’s tables, provide them with housing or healthcare, or protect them from the kind of predation former slavers used to continue exploiting their descendants well into the 20th century. And they’re not fixing the long-standing financial inequality or the epigenetic health problems caused by slavery that are still harming Black communities today. These issues also aren’t impacting the descendants of white Union soldiers for obvious reasons, and we don’t pay reparations to the veterans of other wars, so literally nothing about Gingrich’s argument makes sense.

Gingrich ends his piece with the bold claim that “Every time the Left discusses righting America’s past wrongs for the evil institution of slavery, people should propose including the descendants of the Union Army and Navy. This line of reasoning exposes how absurd the entire concept of reparations for slavery really is.” Except it doesn’t. Because it’s nonsensical. All it does is make the speaker look like a disingenuous hypocrite or someone who doesn’t understand very basic concepts. Which, Newt Gingrich. Water is wet.

(featured image: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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