by Benjamin Collinger & Cristian Vargas
Dinesh D’Souza seems to take his rhetorical flair from President Trump. While D’Souza’s conservative credentials certainly exceed Trump’s, the two men share a flagrant disregard for truth. D’Souza’s credentials, rhetorical skill, and misleading arguments confirmed pro-Trump orthodoxy to a friendly audience. He argued that the Left “tries to keep people like me from speaking on campus” because “the ideas that I put forward can’t be refuted by these people. They don’t know enough.” Later, D’Souza challenged the audience to refute his claims.
“I could be right or you could be right, and that’s why we’re here: to find out who’s right in the spirit of real debate and real dialogue,” D’Souza stated. It is in this spirit that we say: ‘challenge’ accepted. Accordingly, we have annotated selected portions of Dinesh D’Souza’s March 7 speech at Trinity University. Our answers appear in italics, while D’Souza’s speech appears in regular type.
Thank you very much. Man, this is quite a crowd. Who caused this to happen? Don’t tell me it’s the guys who defaced my posters! Oh boy.
For analysis of these contentious circumstances, please see Nipuni Gomes’ recent article in The Contemporary under the subheading “The Ironic Lead-Up”.
What we’ve seen since the election is a convulsion without precedent in American politics. The way to think about this is if a group of Republicans had demanded recounts. Remember, this is not the year 2000, we’re not talking about states that were votes apart. Demanding recounts when Obama won decisively, refuse to attend his inauguration, show up en masse and start bashing windows, overturning cars, burning Starbucks. Show up en masse at Berkeley with masks and weapons and knock down police barricades and start beating up people.
D’Souza here is referring to the recount efforts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin following Trump’s electoral victory. However, he fails to mention that these efforts were spearheaded not by the Democrats but by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. The chance that these recounts could change the outcome of the election was essentially zero, and Stein’s primary motivation was to verify the absence of computer hacking, not some conspiracy to help Clinton. Stein brought forth legitimate grievances, especially in Wayne County, Michigan, where officials could not reconcile vote totals for almost one-third of the precincts. Interestingly, Trump and his supporters attempted to block recount efforts in these states, and were successful in all states but Wisconsin, to which Stein criticized Trump for “[putting] party politics above [the] country”. Ironically, Trump would later call for investigations into supposed voter fraud, claiming millions of illegal votes cost him the popular vote.
Citizens are not required to attend presidential inaugurations. Citizens are also perfectly within their legal rights to peacefully protest a President they disagree with by choosing to stay home during his inauguration. The Trump administration’s claims that the media deliberately misled the public about inaugural attendance, and that Trump’s inauguration drew “the largest audience…in person and around the globe”, wither under close scrutiny.
We agree that the First Amendment protects the right to peaceful protest, and that any violent protest, regardless of partisan affiliation, does little to further civil discourse.
Now, this kind of reaction in the aftermath of the election is completely unprecedented. The Democrats have actually not responded this badly to an election since the election of Lincoln. That was the last time they were the most upset when they were facing the threat of the Republicans taking away their slaves. (cheers).
For someone who claims to be well versed in American history, D’Souza cleverly omits select events in history to smoothen his narrative about the racist history of the Democratic party. Admittedly, the Democratic party supported slavery leading up to the American Civil War. However, D’Souza deliberately fails to mention the platform switch between the parties following Reconstruction, ultimately culminating in FDR’s New Deal. The modern Republican party more closely resembles the old Democratic party, while contemporary Democrats more closely align with old Republicans. Any cursory glance at historical electoral maps since 1864 shows that the American South used to be a Democratic stronghold—yet today the South remains a Republican stronghold.
These Southern segregationists did not switch parties because they suddenly decided to stop being racist, but rather because the Republican platform by then had switched to become more closely aligned with their beliefs in what became known as the Southern Realignment. Black voters especially began to flee the Republican party starting with the New Deal, but prior to the Civil Rights era, about one-third of black voters were still affiliated with the GOP. Today, about 90% of black voters align with the Democratic party, according to political scientist Vincent Hutchings of the University of Michigan. The proximate cause of this dramatic shift, Hutchings argues, was the Republican reaction to the Civil Rights movement, summarized by the nomination of Barry Goldwater as their presidential candidate. But this trend had begun long before the 1960’s for a number of reasons, which American historian and UC Davis professor Eric Rauchway explains here.
On top of that, you have a civil war within the Republican party and so Trump’s victory becomes almost surreal. Since the Trump election there is an effort – a kind of shift of paradigms – a shift of meta-stories. When we think of the media, we think the media writes stories and we’re often trying to catch someone out in a lie. ‘Hillary lied about Benghazi’ or ‘Obama lied about healthcare’, but these are mini lies.
You can call them retail lies. A wholesale lie, what I call the meta lie, is the lie behind the small lies. And meta lies are hard to detect because they’re so big. They encompass a lot. And I want to talk about two meta lies that are made about Trump, but more broadly about the Republican party. They pertain a lot to what goes on in higher education because they’re right in the vocabulary of higher education. Specifically, the two meta stories or lies are that Trump is a fascist, and that Trump is a racist.
Later in this piece, we will counter each of these claims more directly. Take the concept of the ‘meta-stories’ or ‘meta-lies’. First, we find it amusing that D’Souza concedes that truth exists and that Trump wants anything to do with it. In the context of D’Souza’s speech, we can find no such reverence for the truth. D’Souza seems to take his approach from President Trump’s hostile relationship to the truth.
I want to say a little word about both of these things. First of all, the idea that Trump is a fascist is now the dominant narrative in describing this president. ‘Trump is a fascist’. It’s almost taken for granted that a point has been proven. Robert Paxton, one of the leading scholars of fascism was interviewed recently in Slate magazine. He makes the point that ‘when Trump crosses his arms and looks to the left, he bears a resemblance to Mussolini.’ I guess he failed to mention that Trump is also an aficionado of Italian food. But this notion that Trump is a fascist is actually very important to the Left right now because it licenses this orgy of de-legitimation, hatred, and even violence that is unleashed against Trump and is justified in the name of fighting fascism.
In this interview, Paxton’s conclusion is the opposite of what D’Souza alleges: he does not call Trump a fascist. “I’m very, very reluctant to use the word fascism loosely, because it’s almost the most powerful epithet you can use,” Paxton said. Yet, Paxton identifies numerous parallels between fascist movements – specifically those of Hitler and Mussolini – and Trump’s campaign. The summary: “The use of ethnic stereotypes and exploitation of fear of foreigners is directly out of a fascist’s recipe book. ‘Making the country great again’ sounds exactly like the fascist movements,” Paxton said.
The portion of this interview D’Souza seems to be referring to is when Paxton says that Trump “even looks like Mussolini in the way he sticks his lower jaw out, and also the bluster, the skill at sensing the mood of the crowd, the skillful use of media.” D’Souza’s characterization misses the context of Paxton’s argument. Paxton’s comment about Trump’s mannerisms is an aside, not the central argument.
But one does not have to argue that Trump is a fascist to question his legitimacy. As Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic argue in Lawfare, Trump is facing a crisis of confidence with the public and his bureaucracy. Their argument centers upon the significance of the president’s oath. The presidential oath supports our government’s functional understanding of how the presidency operates. In the past, we have assumed that the president is truthful and truly wants to “take care” that the laws are executed properly. But if a substantial portion of people in the bureaucracy and the public doubt that the president has the mental capacity or a relationship with the truth to honestly swear the oath, the foundation of the president’s authority falters immeasurably. The end of the “presumption of regularity” in executive conduct, Wittes and Jurecic state, is devastating for our civil society.
There was a scholar in the 1960s – a kind of guru of the new left – his name was Herbert Marcuse. And his slogan was ‘no free speech for fascists.’ The basic idea was something like this: ‘we, the left, are extremely tolerant. However, we have no obligation to be tolerant of the intolerant. Therefore, we are perfectly justified in unleashing by any means necessary – by the way, one of the protest groups at Berkeley – blocking as best we can, repressing even if we have to, free speech. Why? Because how else could you stop Hitler? If Hitler were coming to power in the 1930s, wouldn’t it be justified to use repression and even violence to shut him down? Look at all of the carnage that could have been prevented.’ So Marcuse’s argument was, this was in a famous essay he wrote called ‘Repressive Tolerance’, that tolerant people have got to learn to be intolerant.
We do not condone the violent protests in Berkeley, and agree with D’Souza on this point. The violence did the Left a disservice. However, we disagree with D’Souza’s application of Marcuse’s 1965 essay. In contrast to D’Souza’s mischaracterization, Marcuse defends free speech for all. “Tolerance of free speech is the way of improvement, of progress in liberation, not because there is no objective truth, and improvement must necessarily be a compromise between a variety of opinions, but because there is an objective truth which can be discovered, ascertained only in learning and comprehending that which is and that which can be and ought to be done for the sake of improving the lot of mankind,” he said.
The essay argues that intellectuals should “break the concreteness of oppression in order to open the mental space in which this society can be recognized as what it is and does.” Rather than calling for violence, Marcuse simply points out that citizens should question their governments and the status quo: “Tolerance is extended to policies, conditions, and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery.”
Marcuse makes a more nuanced point about the meaning of tolerance. He problematizes the “active, official tolerance granted to the Right as well as to the Left, to movements of aggression as well as to movements of peace, to the party of hate as well as to that of humanity I call this non-partisan tolerance ‘abstract’ or ‘pure’ inasmuch as it refrains from taking sides–but in doing so it actually protects the already established machinery of discrimination.” In other words, challenging structural violence is critical for societies to move forward and tolerance of such violence is repressive to those affected by it.
And I guess this was sort of the motive of some of the guys who defaced my posters. ‘No free speech for fascists!’ Now, leave aside the irony, which you can see if you saw the protests at Berkeley of storm trooper like leftists dressed in all black. Head to toe with masks, carrying weapons. So, leave aside the irony of using fascist tactics to fight fascism.
I actually want to raise the prior question which is: is it really the case that Trump is a fascist? Is the GOP a fascist party? First of all, this whole business of Trump and the GOP being fascist relies upon an assumption that is never questioned: that fascism is something that is right wing. If you think about it, most of us haven’t thought about why fascism is right wing. What does it mean to be right wing, and what is it about fascism that makes it right wing? ‘Well, the fascists were really ultra nationalists.’ First of all, being ultra-nationalist hardly makes you right wing. Che Guevara was an ultra-nationalist. Stalin was an ultra-nationalist. In fact, he talked about motherland Russia and what he called ‘socialism in one country.’ Ghandi was a nationalist. FDR was a nationalist. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela was a nationalist.
D’Souza rightly raises questions about the definition of fascism, which continues to be debated intensely. Neither scholars of fascism nor fascist scholars can arrive upon a mutually agreed upon definition, so D’Souza certainly cannot be expected to provide an academically rigorous definition either. Paxton has written extensively on fascism and admits that fascism did borrow elements from both left-wing and right-wing ideologies, and continues to evolve dynamically. Its dynamic nature complicates attempts to define fascism, but nevertheless Paxton argues that fascism refers to “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.” A more accurate description of Trump may arguably be that of a neo-fascist, but not a fascist proper.
So clearly, it can’t be that nationalism alone, a fierce attachment to one’s own country automatically makes you a fascist. ‘Well, Trump is against immigrants.’ I’m an immigrant, my wife here Debby is an immigrant from Venezuela. You might think that we’ve been living in fear since Trump’s election (he says sarcastically). When you open the New York Times every day, I see headlines like ‘Trump getting ready to deport millions of immigrants’. Millions of immigrants. Not ‘illegal aliens’, but ‘immigrants’. Notice that somehow suddenly ‘illegal aliens are conflated with ‘immigrants.’ I don’t even mean illegal immigrants. If you’re illegal, you’re not an immigrant. People say that Trump is getting ready to deny the illegals their constitutional rights (laughs). Yes, this is actually the implication of the argument. Now, it is not an argument from fascism. It is an argument right out of Locke and John Stuart Mill and the most liberal of liberal traditions, to believe that society is a social compact. It’s a bargain or a deal among a group of people who come together, form a government, agree to relinquish the exercise of certain basic rights in exchange for certain forms of protection. This social compact is between and among citizens in the same way that the rules of the club apply to its members. If someone is outside the social compact, they do not have any constitutional rights (applause).
D’Souza does not represent the vast majority of immigrants in the United States. The essence of his argument is as follows: he is an immigrant. He does not live in fear of Trump. Therefore, all immigrants have nothing to fear. Not only is this argument a logical fallacy, but it is also incredibly callous given the reality many immigrants face. The rise in hate crimes and harassment, especially in the weeks following Trump’s election, has many immigrant communities fearing for the safety of their loved ones. Trump campaigned on anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant platforms, calling for surveillance of domestic Muslims, a travel ban on those coming from majority-Muslim countries, increased deportations and border militarization, and even going so far as to suggest that immigrants from Mexico are drug dealers, criminals, and rapists.
So far, Trump has kept his promises by issuing the aforementioned travel ban (twice) and moving forward with a number of campaign promises related to border security, including massively expanding Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and empowering local and state police to act as immigration officers. Additionally, the highly publicized and recent detention of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient Daniela Vargas, minutes after speaking out against ICE in calling for immigration reform, has sent waves of fear and uncertainty throughout the immigrant community, especially since DACA recipients are supposed to be safe from deportation. While D’Souza sits safely behind his money and political prestige, the majority of immigrants lack that luxury.
D’Souza also suggests that undocumented immigrants should be called “illegal aliens”, not immigrants. First, as Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor argues, “no human being is illegal”. Second, the very notion of “illegality” is one that is socially constructed, as breaking immigration law appears to be the only act that makes one “illegal”. In her book Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal, Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History at Salem State University, correctly points out that prior to the creation of the Border Patrol in 1924, “illegality” did not exist in its modern incarnation. Once made “illegal”, immigrants then enter an immigration court system separate from the broader criminal justice system–where many immigrants lack any legal counsel or any knowledge of the legal system–and are held in inhumane detention conditions, according to Chomsky. If D’Souza agrees that immigrants have human rights, then he should be outraged at the conditions in immigration detention facilities and the clear lack of justice present within the immigration court system, regardless of Constitutional rights or any social contract theory D’Souza may attempt to apply. Just because an individual may not yet be a part of the social compact does not justify the state in terrorizing and mistreating the individual
I’m not suggesting that they do not have natural rights. Nor am I suggesting that they do not have human rights. But constitutional rights are the result of a civil bargain among citizens. And like I say, this is the core of the meaning of liberalism. ‘Well yeah, but it’s vaguely reminiscent of all the stuff that Hitler used to do.’ Now, first of all, we live in a society where the term ‘Hitler’ has taken on a certain bizarre significance. The philosopher Leo Strauss talked about what he called ‘reductio ad-Hitlerum.’ Basically, if Hitler was for it, that makes it bad. But, the point I want to make – in California, for example – this whole notion of Hitler, the Nazis, is preposterously used to refer to things that have nothing to do with Nazism. You have people with great excitement say ‘I’m a food Nazi’, ‘I’m a surf Nazi’, ‘I’m a health Nazi’. For them, Nazism denotes commitment. Being really dedicated to something makes you a Nazi
Now, here’s what I want to say. Hitler was not anti-immigrant. The Jews in Germany were citizens. They weren’t immigrants, they were citizens of Germany. So clearly, Hitler’s distinction was not between the immigrant and the native, Hitler’s distinction was within Germany. It was a kind of ethnic or racial distinction in which some citizens belong – the nordics, the germanics – and some citizens were excluded. Hitler preferred Austrian Germans over German Jews. So, right away, this whole immigrant thing has nothing to do with Hitler. He was operating on a totally different compass.
Hitler did make distinctions between the immigrant in the native. For example, the 1933 Nazi Party platform states “Only those who are our fellow countrymen can become citizens. Only those who have German blood, regardless of creed, can be our countrymen. Hence no Jew can be a countryman…Any further immigration of non-Germans must be prevented. We demand that all non-Germans who have entered Germany since August 2, 1914, shall be compelled to leave the Reich immediately.” Even if the Nazis were not anti-immigrant, the distinction D’Souza makes between immigrants and citizens – for the purposes of this historical analysis – is quite arbitrary. The denigration and isolation of certain members of society today based upon the idea that they do not belong has echoes of Nazi Germany. It is important to remember that extermination was only possible with legal dehumanization over time.
Now, I’m writing about this and I’m going to have a lot more to say about it. I’ll make one more brief observation about fascism and then I’ll move to racism which is going to be a little more my focus.
Now, how do you pull something like this off? How do you fool most of the people most of the time. You can only do it if your group, the left, is sufficiently dominant in academia, media, and Hollywood. If you have that, you have the three biggest megaphones of our culture. So you can broadcast all kinds of whoppers and lies. All kinds of fake news and fake history. And even if some guy in the audience knows differently, you don’t have a big enough megaphone to contradict this orthodoxy. And this is kind of why there is a mentality on the Left that tries to keep people like me from speaking on campus. Not because I’m coming here to blast out racial epithets. I don’t need the pompous ‘I’ll defend to the death his right to speak’. It’s not about that. It is ultimately the ideas that I put forward can’t be refuted by these people. They don’t know enough. And so, they become very bitter and inwardly frightened because I’ll say things, I’ll present facts, and they’re facts of a scientific nature by which I mean simply, that they are open to refutation. Open to refutation.
D’Souza’s self-righteous condescension is laughable, especially given his passion for selling falsehoods. At best, he’s playing to a friendly crowd of Republicans. At worst, he’s a propagandist. Dr. Bruce Lannes Smith, an expert on propaganda who worked as an analyst in the Organization and Propaganda Analysis Section of the United States Department of Justice War Division during World War II, presents an analysis that aligns well with D’Souza’s rhetoric.“The propagandist has a specified goal or set of goals. To achieve these he deliberately selects facts, arguments, and displays of symbols and presents them in ways he thinks will have the most effect. To maximize effect, he may omit pertinent facts or distort them, and he may try to divert the attention of the reactors (the people whom he is trying to sway) from everything but his own propaganda,” Smith said. If you find no merit in this argument by the time you finish reading this speech, we will be very surprised.
Now, the people who are saying that Trump is a racist. Trump is a racist based on what? ‘Well, you know, he referred to a federal judge as a Mexican.’ Well, alright, the guy is a U.S. citizen. I’m a U.S. citizen. That’s kind of like calling me an Indian. Ok, at the worst, it’s a bit insensitive. But insensitivity is a long way from bigotry.
Dinesh, could you please make it harder for us to refute your claims? Trump’s comments about District Court Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel were quite different than D’Souza claims. Trump told the Wall Street Journal that Curiel had “an absolute conflict” in presiding over the litigation given that he is “of Mexican heritage” and a member of a Latino lawyers’ association. Even Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House, called Trump’s comments the “textbook” definition of a racist comment: “Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment,” Ryan said.
Let’s look at the people who are actually pointing the finger at Trump: the Democrats. This is the party that was the vigorous, and indeed politically, the sole defender of slavery in the United States. All over the world, slavery has been defended as a regrettable necessity. Aristotle says that there’s dirty work to be done and that’s why we have slaves to do it. Never in the history of the world has any group or party actually argued that slavery is good, not only for the master, but good for the slave. Good for the slave! This was the so called positive school of slavery. Advanced, invented, and promulgated by the Democratic party. Now, you might say ‘wait a minute, that wasn’t the Democrats, John C. Calhoun may have been a Democrat, but he was a southerner. This is really a debate between the North and the South.’ No, not so. The northern Democratic party protected slavery with the same cunning and relentless ingenuity as the southern Democratic party. Most southerners did not own slaves. Most confederates did not own slaves. The secession debate, it is true, was a North-South debate. But the slavery debate, no, it was exclusively between the anti-slavery republican party and the pro-slavery democratic party. This is a fact.
Granted, the Democratic party as an institution has a violent history. However, its core geographic and racial constituency during the periods D’Souza critiques is the same as the Republican party’s today. The reason for this is party realignment – when political coalitions change dramatically – during the early 20th century, the New Deal, and Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”. Nixon’s goal was to disrupt the Democratic party’s “solid south” by swaying southern voters with racial anxieties toward the Republican side. Since the 1970s, little has changed. As Jeet Heer wrote in the New Republic last year, “Trump does represent an innovation, or perhaps a return to form, in one way. The Southern Strategy has long relied on coded appeals to racism—an emphasis on “law and order,” denunciations of racial quotas, and so on—that enticed the bigoted base while still giving the Republican Party plausible deniability.” D’Souza’s critique of the Democratic party’s history of racism may have allowed him to inflate the crowd’s ego, but it was not persuasive to those of us who took U.S. history as freshmen in high school
After the war, the Democrats said, this is very embarrassing. Let’s blame the south. And this is in fact part of the way you promulgate the big lie. The big wholesale lie. And that is, when you make the lie, you say, ‘it wasn’t me, it was the white man who did it. It was the south who did it. It was America who did it.’ Notice how people often say ‘America did this’ and ‘America did that’. Wait a minute, if America did it, it would still be going on. Obviously some Americans did it and other Americans stopped them.
The truth is that the worst bigotry of American history from slavery to segregation to Jim Crow to the Ku Klux Klan to lynching and forced sterilization – this is the actual record of the Democratic party. So, prove me wrong. I assert that every segregation law in the South, without exception, was passed by a Democratic legislature, signed by a Democratic governor and enforced by Democratic sheriffs and Democratic officials. I assert that the Ku Klux Klan, when it had power, was the domestic terrorist arm of the Democratic party. I don’t meant that Klansmen just happened to be Democrats, I mean the Klan was used that way by the democratic party. If you made a list of all of the grand dragons and wizards over 100 years, 95 percent of them would be democrats.
Politifact reported that such claims are false when it fact-checked a state senator’s claim that “The fact is that both the KKK and Planned Parenthood are creations of the Democratic Party.” Politifact’s interviews with historians on this question are worth quoting at length.
Michael Martinez, the author of a 2007 book “Carpetbaggers, Cavalry and the KKK,” told us many angry Southern whites during the 1860s and 1870s were Democrats and a smaller number of them joined the KKK.
So there is some historic link between Democrats and the KKK. But Martinez said it is misleading to say that the hate group was started by the Democratic Party because it was more of a grassroots creation.
There’s another point to consider.
“To say that the Ku Klux Klan was started by the Democratic Party — it’s not the Democratic party of today,” Martinez said. “(From the) 1930s until today, you think of the Democratic Party being considered the party of the disenfranchised.”
Other historians had similar takes.
Carole Emberton, an associate professor of history at the University at Buffalo, wrote in an email that various “Klans” that sprung up around the South acted as a “strong arm” for many local Democratic politicians during Reconstruction. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest — believed to be the KKK’s first Grand Dragon — even spoke at the 1868 Democratic National Convention, said Emberton, author of “Beyond Redemption: Race, Violence and the American South after the Civil War.”
But Emberton added a major caveat:
“The party lines of the 1860s/1870s are not the party lines of today,” she wrote to us. “Although the names stayed the same, the platforms of the two parties reversed each other in the mid-20th century, due in large part to white ‘Dixiecrats’ flight out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican Party after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By then, the Democratic Party had become the party of ‘reform,’ supporting a variety of ‘liberal’ causes, including civil rights, women’s rights, etc. whereas this had been the banner of the Republican Party in the nineteenth century.”
Thus, it is clear that D’Souza’s claim is more than a little misleading.
As I said, I’m an immigrant and I believe in American exceptionalism. When I was a student at Dartmouth, my professors told me ‘you can’t say things like that, because they imply the superiority of American culture. Don’t you know that all cultures are inherently equal? No culture is better or worse, superior or inferior to any other?’ And I thought to myself: if that were true, you’d never have any immigrants. Because we all have a natural attachment to our own family, our own community, our own neighborhood and our own country. Why on earth would you take the trouble and the risk and the fear to pick up and leave to another country if you didn’t think that on the balance, that other country was better than the one you’re coming from.
To me, Trump represents an America – ladders of opportunity. And that’s what the Republican party represents. The basic idea is that, and it’s not that government has nothing to do, government has a job: hold the ladder. But we have a job, which is to climb the ladder. And how high you get on the ladder, I admit, some of it depends on luck, but also a lot of it depends on your own creativity, industry, and effort. Now, there is a rival approach to moving up in America, and that needs in fairness to be mentioned. I call it the politics of the rope. The basic idea is that you have a tall building and all of us are down here, and the Democrats from the top are going to let down a rope. Their idea is that if you hold on to the rope, they’ll pull you up.
For analysis of D’Souza’s comments about social mobility, please see Nipuni Gomes’ recent article in The Contemporary under the subheading “Cultural self-hatred, the skewed American Dream, and kicking of the ladder climbed to success”.
As an immigrant, I have to say that on the first glance, the rope is more attractive than the ladder. Why? Because the ladder involves work: you have to actually climb. The rope merely involves hanging on, so it’s kind of more appealing. I can move up while doing nothing! But it then occurs to me that I’m at the mercy of the guy holding the rope. If he lets me go, down I go. Then I look around America and all these people of the rope in our inner cities – I don’t just mean blacks. I’m talking about the barrios of America, the native reservations for American indians and I see that all of these people – going for the rope, a lot of them – and they’re being pulled up. But once they get pulled up a little bit, people at the top of the building seem to hold. Why? To keep them dangling precariously in the air! They’re too high off the ground to be able to drop down, and yet, no one is pulling them up. Why? Because it seems like the interests of the people at the top is not to have these people be independent, but have them be dependent voters. Voters.
Trump is giving a lot of people a new and previously undiagnosed ailment that I am diagnosing for the first time tonight: it’s called Trump derangement syndrome. It is the derangement caused in people by the mere mention of the word Trump. Look, in a little bit of time, this will all settle out. The Left is very frightened of Trump.
D’Souza did not coin this term. It was used prominently by Justin Raimondo in an article titled “Do you suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome?” on Dec. 27, 2016 in the Los Angeles Times.
This is the most energetic, ferocious, fearless guy I have seen in American politics including Reagan. This is a guy who is taking on the Democrats, and taking on some Republicans, and at the same time, taking on the media and finding time in the process to swat Meryl Streep over here and Saturday Night Live over there. He’s fighting the culture war in the middle of the political war, and most remarkably, he’s winning. He’s winning.
This could not be more wrong. President Trump’s first few months in office have been filled with scandal: the botched rollout of his immigration executive order, the firing of Michael Flynn, his ongoing business conflicts of interest, the investigation into his campaign’s association with Russia, and Trump’s false claims that former President Obama had wiretapped him are just a few. If D’Souza has considered each of these damning scandals within his claim, we would love to hear what he considers losing. If that were not enough, he has historically low public approval ratings.
From having observed Trump very closely through the election process and since he’s been elected, he’s truly sui generis. He’s unique. No other Republican could pull off what he’s pulling off right now. How it will end? I don’t know. But I do know that in the 1980s, when Reagan spoke about morning in America, he spoke of a mood of optimism, of possibility, and excitement. Excitement about being alive today and excitement about living in America. And I recognize that after quite some time and some rather interesting adventures with the Obama administration, I now again feel that sense of excitement and possibility and so it remains to be seen, but if I had to bet, I would bet that Trump will in fact deliver what we haven’t seen in a whole generation: morning in America.
Trump and Reagan are completely divergent characters. Even if one can place Trump within the conservative tradition, it is impossible to compare him with Reagan. Reagan was a free-trader, a liberal internationalist, and he was deeply engaged in Republican orthodoxy. Trump is a protectionist, skeptical of and hostile to America’s global role, and plays talking points telephone with Republican orthodoxy. We would love to see President Trump deliver “morning in America”, but not by D’Souza’s standards.
Benjamin Collinger is a sophomore at Trinity University majoring in International Studies and History, and is the Executive Director of The Contemporary.
Cristian Vargas is a junior at Trinity University majoring in Biology.
The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker or writers. The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.
The photo above was taken of Dinesh D’Souza by Gage Skidmore. It is under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license and can be found here.