En route from New York to Philadelphia — It would be hard to imagine a nicer, swankier bus than Dinesh D’Souza’s. “It’s a lot better than Tom Cruise’s,” says Jerry Molen. He would know. Molen has been in Hollywood for many years, and knows everybody. He was the producer of several Spielberg movies, and he is D’Souza’s producer as well.
D’Souza is touring the country, rolling out his new movie, America: Imagine the World without Her. He travels like a rock star, and is sometimes greeted like one. For years, he was an intellectual and a writer of books. He still is. But he also has this new stardom. I ask him, “How does it feel?” The answer, in a nutshell, is: Strange and good.
His first film was 2016: Obama’s America, released in the summer of 2012. It is the fourth-highest-grossing documentary of all time. First is Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. In between are March of the Penguins and a Justin Bieber flick. (Bieber may have a nicer bus, if he has a bus.) D’Souza is the anti-Moore: someone who has taken to the big screen to press conservative points.
His new movie was screened in New York City last night. The theater was in Union Square, hard by Greenwich Village — not a bastion of conservatism. The audience included many young people, of various hues (for those keeping racial score). D’Souza tells me, “Young people haven’t rejected conservatism; they’ve never really been exposed to it.”
In Union Square, the radio host Mike Gallagher warmed up the audience, citing the old political line “Vote early and vote often.” He and D’Souza want people to go to the movie early, and go often. That’s what fans did for the 2012 movie.
The first words of the new one are arresting: “September 11th.” A revolutionary soldier is writing home to his wife on September 11, 1777. He’s telling her about their wonderful commander, George Washington. The movie proposes a what-if: What if Washington had been felled by a sniper’s bullet, before completing the revolution? What if America had never gotten off the ground?
In the movie, D’Souza pronounces, “I love America.” He sure does. He loves it as perhaps only an immigrant can. (D’Souza came from Bombay.) He loves it without embarrassment, without apology. When I was growing up — and where I was growing up — you couldn’t really talk this way. You had to remember America’s sins. You were loath to be a jingo, an Archie Bunker. D’Souza knows all about America’s sins. But he knows about the rest of the world’s, too. And he is equally appreciative of America’s virtues.
His movie quotes Lincoln, who said that no danger can come from abroad. It must “spring up” among Americans themselves. “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.” D’Souza asks, “How do you convince a great nation to author its own destruction?” He answers, “You start by telling a new story.”
He then explores what he calls the “shame narrative” of American history: We stole the land from the Indians (the American Indians, not the Bombay ones); then, to add insult to injury, we committed genocide against them. We proceeded to build the nation on the backs of African slaves. We stole the Southwest from Mexico. We unleashed imperialism on much of the world, including Vietnam. And we degraded our own people with capitalism.
You will find the shame narrative in Howard Zinn’s textbook, which has sold more than 2 million copies, and is a principal teacher of Americans. You will find it in many other places, too. D’Souza talks back to it. The shame narrators focus on maybe 20 percent of the story, he says. D’Souza simply puts the other 80 percent — the rest of the story — back in.
#page#The second part of his movie deals with today’s politics, and two figures in particular: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He portrays them as Alinskyites, i.e., followers of Saul Alinsky, the author of Rules for Radicals, and the original community organizer. There is now a right-wing smell about pointing out Obama’s and Hillary’s ties to Alinsky. But it used to be fairly straightforward. In 2007, as the two Democrats were squaring off for their party’s presidential nomination, the Washington Post ran an article headed “For Clinton and Obama, a Common Ideological Touchstone.” And that touchstone was Alinsky.
I myself depart a bit from D’Souza on Alinskyism: I regard Obama and Hillary as mainstream Democrats, no different from Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, and the rest of the gang. And this gang commands the respect, or at least the votes, of approximately half the country.
In any event, D’Souza is highly skilled in defending his point of view. Scarcely anyone is better in Q&A. I have seen him handle questions for years (often very hostile questions). I saw him do it again last night, after the screening. (These were not so hostile.) In one of his answers, he startled me: saying he was not only an immigrant but a “person of color.”
On the bus, I pursue this subject: “Your ‘Indianness’ must be an advantage in your work, right? I mean, in debating others, in approaching the Left for interviews, and so on.” It is, he says. “My ethnicity is a matter of complete indifference to me, an accident, of no intellectual or moral significance whatsoever. However, in the politicized context of American life, with all the racial and ethnic taboos that surround us, I realize that having brown skin is in fact a tactical asset. I have a certain amount of ethnic immunity in addressing otherwise forbidden subjects. I see it as almost my moral obligation to use that immunity to raise the curtain on these issues.”
One of D’Souza’s most interesting contentions is that “the shaming of America is related to the shakedown of America.” If you can convince people that they are guilty, you can rob them of their stuff. If you can convince them that their goods are ill gotten, you can get them to fork them over to you. This explains much of Jesse Jackson’s brilliant, extortionist career. D’Souza says, “I know a shakedown when I see it, and I blow the whistle on it.”
He further says, “What I resent most of all about the Left is that they exploit American decency.” Tell Americans that they are wrong, and they’re apt to say, “I’m sorry about that. How can I do better, and how can I make it up to you?” This very decency, in D’Souza’s eyes, makes Americans vulnerable.
Here is another advantage of D’Souza: He is absolutely clear-eyed about the Third World. While liberal Americans romanticize it, he has lived it. In his film, he playfully asks a retired Border Patrol agent whether he ever saw anyone try to sneak into Mexico from the United States. The answer, of course, is no. Not many people would have asked the agent that question, I think.
Possibly, D’Souza’s most compelling insight is that justice is a more powerful idea than freedom, in political debate. Justice will trump freedom every time. D’Souza points out to me, “What do little kids say? ‘That’s not fair!’” Conservatives will defend capitalism, and a free society, on grounds of efficiency; they are woeful at defending those things on grounds of justice. The Left eats our lunch, justice-wise.
President Obama talks unceasingly about “fairness.” He has since the 2008 campaign. “It is the core theme of his presidency,” says D’Souza. Conservatives may think the fairness, or justice, of freedom obvious. But to many people, it’s not. Throwing off complacency, we have to connect freedom to justice. For years, the Marxists have had an effective line: “Freedom, sure: the freedom to sleep under bridges.”
In Union Square last night, Mike Gallagher said, “Millions of Americans have been praying for this man, caught in the government’s crosshairs.” He was referring to D’Souza. What did he mean?
In the 2012 election cycle, D’Souza made a financial contribution to Wendy Long, the Republican nominee for Senate in New York. She is an old friend and college classmate of his. She was an underdog by a lot — indeed, she wound up losing by some 45 points — but D’Souza wanted to help her anyway. Wanting to do yet more, he asked two friends of his to make contributions, for which he would reimburse them. That is illegal. And it was “cockamamie” and “dumb” of him to do, he tells me. “I was swamped, I was rushing, and my brain just shut down.” There were all sorts of legal ways he could have helped his friend: by setting up a PAC, for example.
The FBI found out about the reimbursement in a supposedly routine review. The matter went to the U.S. attorney’s office in New York — that office being a Democratic stronghold. D’Souza was prosecuted and, in May, pleaded guilty, to one count. He will be sentenced in September. And faces up to two years in jail. He and his defenders say that the prosecution was spectacularly selective and suspect, smelling of political retribution.
Regardless, his career will continue (perhaps with an aspect of martyrdom). His goal, he says, is to create a movie company that will offer maybe two products a year: a documentary and a feature film. “The Left knows the power of telling a story,” he says. “Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg are much bigger than Michael Moore. They don’t make liberal films — they just make films, and they have a point of view. I want to make films with a different point of view.”
The best-selling book he ever had sold 150,000 copies — which is a huge number, in the book world. But his first movie was seen by 8 million people. That’s a bigger megaphone, as he says. And, as he also says, conservatives need more and bigger megaphones. The resources are there, but the know-how and initiative largely aren’t.
I tell him that I regard him as someone who came from a foreign land to teach or remind Americans what is good about their country. He enjoys quoting a remark from Jeane Kirkpatrick: “Americans need to face the truth about themselves, no matter how pleasant it is.” America, I believe, is sometimes like a pretty girl who, afraid to be stuck up, is a self-condemnatory, neurotic wreck.
For his part, D’Souza says that America welcomed him with open arms. In no other country could he have enjoyed such a life (jail or no jail). “I see myself as standing up for an America that has been good to me.” That is a worthwhile, even noble role. And if it pays off, with film stardom and all that goes with it, so much the better.