Trump Pardoned Dinesh D’Souza to Troll Liberals
President Donald Trump’s Thursday-morning announcement may have been unexpected—“Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D’Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government!”—but it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Once again, the president gets not only to signal that he will exculpate any of his confederates entangled in the Russia inquiry but also to troll liberals—much as D’Souza himself has done for decades.
Now known largely for his fringey books and bizarre Twitter attacks on universally admired figures like Rosa Parks, he was once considered a respectable right-wing intellectual. In 1991, the late Tom Wolfe told the conservative Manhattan Institute at a Harvard Club lunch, “No longer is he going to enjoy the benefits, and there are some, of anonymity. The hive is buzzing over Dinesh D’Souza.” After the Gingrich Revolution in the midterm 1994 election, David Brooks published a piece in the Wall Street Journal called “Meet the New Establishment” in which he hailed D’Souza as a constituent member.
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That was then. Today, D’Souza’s more outlandish comments have prompted some conservatives to distance themselves from him, including David French, a senior writer at one of his former haunts, National Review. After D’Souza mocked Roy Moore accuser Beverly Young Nelson, French asked, “What has happened to you?” After D’Souza issued a tweet ridiculing the students at Stoneman Douglas High School, the Conservative Political Action Conference deemed his comments “indefensible.”
But did anything drastic really happen to D’Souza? Or is his current stance the logical destination point of his embrace of conservative radical chic—an endless series of provocations masquerading as thought? Even as NeverTrumpers try to distance conservatism from the president, what D’Souza’s intellectual odyssey really reveals is that the movement has not strayed from its roots with the ascension of Trump. Quite the contrary: It has returned to the virulent populism that intellectuals such as William F. Buckley Jr. had originally promoted in the 1950s, when a revanchist right opposed civil rights for African-Americans, praised apartheid in South Africa, and lauded Senator Joseph McCarthy, who rose to fame by smearing loyal Americans as agents of the Kremlin and Red China. In 1991, the Washington Post’s Charles Trueheart observed that D’Souza’s “technique relies heavily on newspaper accounts and outrageous anecdotes, all of it borne along on a narrative river of castigation.” Sound familiar?
Much of D’Souza’s early career centered on an attempt to become the next Buckley, who once admiringly referred to him as “President D’Souza”—heady stuff for a young Indian immigrant who had first come to America in 1978. It would be hard to overstate how much of a gravitational pull Buckley exerted upon the budding young conservatives who orbited around him in the early 1980s. It was Buckley who had pioneered the art of outraging the liberal establishment when he attended Yale along with his brilliant friend and future brother-in-law L. Brent Bozell. Both were phenomenal debaters, and Buckley’s maiden book God And Man At Yale was essentially the first of the welter of books, ranging from Allan Bloom’s bestselling The Closing of the American Mind to D’Souza’s Illiberal Education, denouncing political correctness and the university. Again and again, the right pounded home the message of liberal hypocrisy: The professoriate, far from being open-minded and tolerant and humanistic, consisted of a bunch of incipient totalitarians intent on brainwashing their innocent young charges into mindless conformity with putrid liberal doctrines.
With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the right sought to turn the tables. It would create its own counter-establishment. Unlike the gifted 1960s generation of young conservatives that Buckley had attracted—Garry Wills, John Leonard, Joan Didion and others who moved left, prompting Buckley to quip that he never realized he was running a finishing school for young apostates—the 1980s generation never deviated from its worship of right-wing orthodoxy. It substituted polemical pugnacity for intellectual subtlety. To help deliver its message in what it liked to call “the war of ideas”—a more accurate term might have been “the war on ideas”—the right began aping the tactics of the now old New Left. It launched a guerrilla warfare campaign in the form of campus newspapers.
One potent weapon was the Dartmouth Review, which almost overnight became the epicenter of liberal campus outrage around the country over its weekly mocking of gays, blacks and nuclear freeze advocates. Its advisory board included conservative worthies such as Patrick Buchanan and George Gilder, and the paper enjoyed the support of the English professor and National Review senior editor Jeffrey Hart and became a cause célèbre for conservatives around the country.
Hart’s own son Ben was an editor at the Dartmouth Review along with D’Souza. The masthead contained a box that stated, “Special Thanks to William F. Buckley, Jr.” and the Latin motto of the paper was “No one crosses my path with impunity.” Apparently not. D’Souza was an editor at the Dartmouth Review when it published a notorious piece in 1982 with the headline “Dis sho’ ain’t no jive, bro.” It announced, “Today, the ‘ministration be slashin’ dem free welfare lunches for us po’ students. How we ‘posed to be getting’ our GPAs up when we don’t be havin’ no food?” Among its other accomplishments, the paper defended Dartmouth’s Indian symbol, obsessively targeted William Cole, a black music professor for, among other things, his alleged “deficient academic standards,” and, in 1984, at the behest of then-editor Laura Ingraham, secretly taped and published a transcript of a meeting of the Gay Students Association.