Someone suggested that in writing about Dinesh D’Souza, I should not “presuppose D’Souza’s villain status.” I’m going to ignore that advice.
Dinesh D’Souza is a virulently racist homophobe who peddles insane conspiracy theories lacking any basis in reality, such as the assertion that President Obama is purposefully running up the sovereign debt of the United States in order to promote the global redistribution of wealth (apparently because he has daddy issues or something).
He’s compared gay marriage to autocracy. His mistress (apparently the “sanctity of marriage” isn’t so important to him after all) has publicly argued against women’s suffrage and suggested that Republican men should prevent their wives from voting for pro-choice candidates. While editor of The Dartmouth Review, he wiretapped a meeting of the Gay-Straight Alliance to find out if they were using school funding for “gay parties, gay orgies, or whatever” and published the names and sexual orientations of its leaders, leading at least one student to attempt suicide.
In case you still have doubts about his “villain status,” you can check out his video “Why Obama Wants to Destroy America,” in which he accuses President Obama of intentionally undermining American allies and supporting its enemies in the Middle-East. Why? Because he wants to uphold his (Muslim—gasp) father’s legacy of anti-colonialism. Or so D’Souza says, without any evidence whatsoever.
Or this video, in which he claims that America practices “rational racism” and argues for the repeal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He also has claimed that slavery was not racist and rejected the premise that racism is “irrational.” I’m not pulling facts out of thin air when I call this man a racist; he more or less admits his racism himself.
Yet I’m also going to take some issue with the students who protested D’Souza’s talk this past Tuesday. Not because I think they’re wrong—I agree completely with their assessment of D’Souza—but because I don’t think they went far enough. The fact is, although D’Souza may be a virulently racist homophobic nut, his ideas are solidly part of the ideological mainstream of American politics; if one wants to condemn D’Souza for his beliefs, one must also condemn with equal fervor everyone else who holds those beliefs. That includes, however, the overwhelming majority of American politicians, including the president himself.
Now wait a second, you say, President Obama doesn’t think he’s intentionally trying to destroy America because he has daddy issues, and he’s not a homophobe—D’Souza is a fringe conspiracy theorist; you can’t tar Obama with his beliefs. That’s only partially true. Although President Obama may be more level-headed rhetorically (call it “politically correct” if you’d prefer), his disagreement with D’Souza is a lot smaller than one might think.
Take for example D’Souza arguments about black culture. In his controversial book, The End of Racism, D’Souza argues that the main problem facing African Americans today is not racism, but their own culture. He writes:
While whites have tended to view government as the enemy of rights, historically, blacks have found the federal government to be an ally and a friend. The federal government ended slavery. The federal government ended segregation. In this century, the federal government was an employer of last resort for many blacks. So it’s understandable that blacks would look to the federal government as, as a helper in a positive light. I’m just saying that that cultural orientation, which made sense for a long time, is today a liability.
Elsewhere he blames African Americans for the breakdown of the inner city, the crack epidemic, violent crime rates, and pretty much every other problem affecting the African American community. People have taken issue with this argument for good reason: it ignores the many structural forms of racism that systematically disadvantage people of color and essentially blames the victim. Yet President Obama has made nearly an identical argument, as Ta-Nehisi Coates recently pointed out in The Atlantic:
The idea that poor people living in the inner city, and particularly black men, are ‘not holding up their end of the deal’ as Cosby put it, is not terribly original or even, these days, right-wing. From the president on down there is an accepted belief in America—black and white—that African-American people, and African-American men, in particular, are lacking in the virtues in family, hard work, and citizenship.
Coates goes on to quote a speech in which President Obama blames “Cousin Pookie” and “Uncle Jethro” for watching too much SportsCenter and not voting as an explanation for why American politics systematically ignores the needs of African Americans. In a separate article Coates collects other instances of President Obama ascribing the cause of black problems to black culture such as the following from 2008:
That’s why if we’re serious about reclaiming that dream, we have to do more in our own lives, our own families, and our own communities. That starts with providing the guidance our children need, turning off the TV, and putting away the video games; attending those parent-teacher conferences, helping our children with their homework, and setting a good example.
That’s not to say there aren’t any salient differences between their views on race. For one, President Obama at least admits that racism is a relevant issue. But that doesn’t make his claims about black culture any less wrong or implicitly racist. As Coates points out:
But is the culture of West Baltimore actually less virtuous than the culture of Wall Street? I’ve seen no such evidence. Yet that is the implicit message accepted by Paul Ryan, and the message is bipartisan. That is because it is a message that makes all our uncomfortable truths tolerable. Only if black people are somehow undeserving can a just society tolerate a yawning wealth gap, a two-tiered job market, and persistent housing discrimination.
Blaming racial inequality on black culture is like blaming sexual assault on the victim’s clothing; even if it plays a role in the outcome, it obscures the fact that the primary cause is systemic injustice. Both President Obama and D’Souza are saying that black culture is not good enough for American society, when the reality is that it was American society that decided black culture was not good enough.
Or look at D’Souza’s arguments about colonialism and American hegemony. In his article “Two cheers for colonialism,” D’Souza argues that “the primary cause of Western affluence and power is internal” and that “it is simply wrong to maintain that the rest of the world is poor because the West is rich, or that the West grew rich off ‘stolen goods’ from Asia, Africa and Latin America.” For D’Souza, it was the triple invention of science, capitalism, and democracy by the West that explains its dominance over the world; violent conquest, genocide, and industrial-scale slavery apparently had nothing to do with it.
The thing is President Obama said pretty much the same thing this past March:
And it was here in Europe […] that a particular set of ideals began to emerge: The belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose. The belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed, and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding. And those ideas eventually inspired a band of colonialists across an ocean, and they wrote them into the founding documents that still guide America today, including the simple truth that all men — and women — are created equal. […] we believe in democracy — with elections that are free and fair; and independent judiciaries and opposition parties; civil society and uncensored information so that individuals can make their own choices. Yes, we believe in open economies based on free markets and innovation, and individual initiative and entrepreneurship, and trade and investment that creates a broader prosperity.
Again, their views are not exactly identical: D’Souza puts more emphasis on the innate superiority of Western culture, while President Obama is more willing to admit to the West’s past wrongs, but they still share the belief that Western dominance has been a net positive for the world; in other words, they are both colonialists; they both uncritically laud the superiority of a culture responsible for the deaths of millions and the subjugation and immiseration of billions more.
Finally, compare their positions on LGBTQ rights. D’Souza notoriously blamed the attacks of September 11th on gays and the cultural left, saying, “What disgusts [Muslims] is not free elections but the sights of hundreds of homosexuals kissing one another and taking marriage vows.”
And, as I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, D’Souza has also compared the legalization of same-sex marriage to dictatorship:
It is the essence of democracy that people should be able to decide the moral rules that govern the nature of a community. If people don’t have that power, then they are living under an autocracy. […] Now the high court of California has made gay marriage into a right that is immune from restriction by the majority of citizens in the state. We already know what California citizens think about gay marriage: they oppose it. […] So in the California high court decision, we see liberal jurisprudence subverting the legislature and the will of the people in order to achieve its ideological agenda.
President Obama, of course, has never made arguments like this. His language with respect to LGBTQ rights has always been inclusive and respectful, and he counts on LGBTQ support as part of his political base.
Nevertheless, the practical implications of his views are virtually identical. Even though President Obama has now “evolved” on the issue of gay marriage and publicly supports the right of individuals to marry regardless of gender, he says this is a purely personal view and continues to claim that states have the right to define marriage as they please. In other words, although President Obama sympathizes with gay couples who wish to marry, he feels little need to take any concrete action to support them.
This is, in fact, completely in accordance with D’Souza’s position. In the same article I quoted above, he wrote:
This is not about whether you think gays should be allowed to marry. If you think they should, go ahead and vote for candidates who support gay marriage. But you should still oppose the manufacture of bogus rights in order to reach a result that democracy would not by itself allow. […] I know that there are gays who desperately want gay marriage, and in a way I’m happy for them. But at the same time I’m sad for constitutional democracy, which suffered a grievous blow at the hands of the California high court.
Both D’Souza and President Obama, independently of their personal views on same-sex marriage, believe that states have the right to define marriage as they please, which, in practice, translates to the tacit support of the systematic denial of equal rights to LGBTQ individuals.
Perhaps you agree with President Obama (and D’Souza) on these issues. I’m not going to try to convince you that racism, colonialism, or homophobia are repugnant ideologies, because I hope that’s a given. My point here is simply to argue that one cannot simply oppose racism, colonialism, or homophobia when someone like D’Souza expresses them explicitly; one must also oppose racism, colonialism, and homophobia when they are dressed up in the triumphal liberal rhetoric of mainstream politicians like President Obama.