A copy of Dinesh D’Souza’s new documentary Trump Card arrived in the mail this week. I haven’t been anticipating watching it of late but I was prepared to give it a shot given that I gave the last four of his documentaries a shot. If nothing else, I was hoping there might be something more insightful than the half baked polemics and boot-licking derangement that’s rapidly become D’Souza’s brand.
Trump Card isn’t a very surprising film if you’ve seen his other film documentaries. The film mixes a collage of Shutterstock footage, war reenactments and classic American songs like God Bless America in a depressing minor key with chopped up interviews of conservative activists. In some ways, I’d say it airs on the better side of his filmography. It’s an egotistical documentary that doubles as a chance for the director to brag about his influence and importance as well as serving as a tongue bath for the perspective Republican incumbent for the upcoming election.
It’s only on the better side because, unlike a handful of his other films, it’s primarily trying to discuss ideas rather than drudging the lives of it’s subjects like Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama for nuggets of obscure knowledge to use as polemical pop-psychoanalysis. It’s actually trying to delineate political issues instead of reading malice into the Democrats.
Sadly, it does so at the lowest form of rhetorical discussion. Instead of calmly discussing the nature of extremism and the consequences of radical leftism, the film turns into a diatribe about how the Democratic Party wants to reenact 1984 through a socialist takeover of the United States by means of the “Deep State” and Antifa riots.
It should say something that his better films are MERELY propagandistic.
For those who don’t know Dinesh D’Souza, the man’s record is extensive. He worked in the Reagan administration as an intern before moving on to become a public intellectual in conservative and Christian circles. He wrote numerous books, debating prominent atheists and progressives and was briefly the president of King’s College in New York (prior to an ethics scandal where in he slept in the hotel of a woman who wasn’t his wife which is a big No-No for a Christian College).
In 2012, he broke out into filmmaking with Steven Spielberg’s former producer Jerry Molen with his film 2016: Obama’s America which rapidly grew into the second highest grossing political documentary of the last three decades. Since then he’s directed four more documentaries and produced an independent Christian film: America: Imagine a World Without Her, Hillary’s America, Death of a Nation, Trump Card and Infidel.
The film’s haven’t engendered much love among the Hollywood establishment. Most of the films have been panned by critics who consider the films propagandistic and acts of character assassination. His movies pin every sin of American history on the Democratic Party while claiming the Republican Party was a blameless entity and a liberating force that must stop the party of the KKK, Nazism and Communism.
“In concluding my review of “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” (2016), the previous film from conservative pundit-turned-conspiracy theorist/hack filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, I offered the mild critique that “it may well be the single dumbest documentary that I have ever seen in my life.” Good thing that I added that qualifier “may well be” because with his latest effort, “Death of a Nation,” he has managed to outdo his earlier works to such an extent that this could be considered the “Mission: Impossible—Fallout” of crackpot cinematic screeds.
…in addition to his usual schtick of pinning the blame for all the ills of the world on Democrats, would be putting forth the argument that Donald Trump was the modern-day equivalent of Abraham Lincoln himself…
The ensuing film is D’Souza’s usual stew of cherry-picked facts, overt omissions, inept historical reenactments, slanders, innuendos, stuff taken from his earlier movies, shots of him walking pensively through empty areas and clips from other and better movies.”RogerEbert.com’s 0/4 Star Review for Death of a Nation (2018)
I can’t help but agree in part with this review. Even as a conservative myself, his documentaries have always skated too close to flimsy at the best of times. Whatever you can say positively about Trump, I’ll eat a MAGA hat raw before I ever have to listen to anyone comparing him to one of our greatest presidents again…
I appreciate that his second documentary America: Imagine A World Without Her is mostly an idea based film that takes progressive criticisms of the right and addresses them but it’s excuses for modern problems aren’t among the stronger arguments I’ve heard.
The rest of his filmography is mostly comprised of polemical works attacking Obama, Hillary Clinton and the Antifa movement. I have my own laundry list of complaints about all of those people but the documentaries do a poor job doing anything but preaching to the choir.
I realize that conservatives often flout negative reviews as a victory in the culture war because so many of them hate Hollywood but that’s not a great tactic. Even leftist critics largely shrugged with An Inconvenient Sequel and Michael Moore’s most recent bought of tedium were released. Good filmmaking transcends party lines and D’Souza isn’t crafting convincing arguments.
I don’t mean to sound TOO cynical here. I used to have immense respect for Mr. D’Souza. His books like Letters to a Young Conservative, Illiberal Education and Godforsaken are excellent and I’ve been slowly paging through his massive tome The End of Racism for years now a few pages at a time.
Sadly in the past decade, his work has seen a notable decline in quality and intellectual earnesty. The man who once sat formidably in debates against intellectual titans like Christopher Hitchens and Michael Shermer has seemingly been reduced to a talking head spewing right-wing propaganda onto the American public. The man who once could spend books backing up his claims with evidence and principal had descended to a low resolution parody of his former self.
I say all of this with sadness. I respect Dinesh D’Souza and I earnestly don’t care who he supports in this or any other election. I understand why he’s such a big fan of Trump and such a damning critic of Obama. I just don’t think his reasoning has been straight for years.
It’s obvious to me that this decline has been caused by a form of desperation in fear of the ascent of the progressive left since 2012. Dinesh has extra reason to fear it. In 2014, he was indicted by the government for campaign finance fraud in a charge that should’ve been relatively easy to resolve. Instead the government threw the book at him (supposedly at President Obama’s directive given how polemical his film 2016: Obama’s America was). He spent the better part of a year spending his nights in a half-way house around some of LA’s toughest criminals.
More than anything, I think that experience quietly broke him. He seems to have come to the conclusion that time is short and that the only way possible to change the direction of America’s progressive move is to spew out as much low-resolution easily digestible documentaries as possible to try and sway the elections at the level of normal voters. Thus why his arguments are so shallow. He’s adopted the mindset that believes THIS election is the most important one in the history of the country (just like the last 8 of them).
His films are little more than classical propaganda and they use every trick in the book from creepy music, to anecdotal stories, to conspiracy theories and broad slanderous accusations based loosely on historical facts to convince his audience just how EVIL the Democrats are. Somehow, every evil in these movies ties back to the same group of masterminds controlling the country in a mad scramble for power: George Soros, Hillary Clinton, Saul Alinsky, etc.
American politics is just a huge game in this vision of leftist politics and the brave souls in the Republican Party are the only people who can stop them from destroying America!
I hate this self aggrandizing line of thought for a handful of reasons:
- It denies the existence of the Populist Left: The idea that the left’s opinions are inorganic is a deeply cynical one. One of the most shallow arguments in all of modern politics is to claim that the other side “doesn’t really believe” what they say. The left says this all the time about the right. They think we’re all bribed by the gun lobby, Russia or that most Republican populist support is either comprised of Bots or Bigots. It’s unbecoming of us to assume the same of the left and impedes our ability to address the issues that draw young people to the far-left.
- It Creates a False Moral Binary Along Party Lines: By portraying the Right as entirely good and the left as entirely malevolent, it fundamentally denies the humanity of the situation and lies about the nature of history. The sins of America’s past belong to NO one person or group. That’s the mistake the left constantly makes by cynically blaming all “white men” for the sins of history and trying to change it. By claiming that all of the sins the left pins on the right are actually the left’s fault, it commits the same sin. The Republican Party has committed plenty of bad things since our time. Such analysis also misunderstands the evolving nature of political parties. While I think the claim that “the parties changed sides” has always been inane propaganda, both parties looked and talked completely differently one hundred years ago. “Progressive”, “Fascist” and “Nationalist” all meant very different things a century ago than they do now.
- It Makes the Right Look Dumb: The thing about being a member of the choir is that it’s not hard to say things that energize and excite them because you’re all on the same page. Creating content designed to affect an opposing side of a debate is difficult and requires tact. Try showing God’s NOT Dead to an atheist sometime. He’ll either laugh at it, get offended by the portrayal of the professor or get bored watching it. I can’t think of a single one of his documentaries I’d show to a leftist in earnest if I wanted to try and convince them to change their mind on a topic because of how rushed and accusatory his argument style is.
These are just a few of the problems with the way these movies approach rhetoric and debate. The films are manipulative, one sided and only seem to get worse with each release. It doesn’t help that their polemical nature makes them age like milk. Who wants to watch an anti-Obama or anti-Hillary Documentary in 2020?
Still, the problems persist. His older films were more focused and honest than his newer ones which seem to get more emotionally fragile and existentially terrified with every rendition. Trump Card was a minor improvement but it’s easily among his more hilariously unhinged films even while it’s arguing against ideas I personally agree are bad. Editing Mt. Rushmore with the faces of Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin does little to making me think the left is taking over.
D’Souza is a leaf on the wind being blown from one far-right intellectual fad to another. He’ll rant about how the “Deep State” is trying to destroy Trump and how all of the Democrats actions are naked attempts at a totalitarian takeover.
The film even goes out of it’s way at one point to interview the man who claimed he had an illicit homosexual affair with Barrack Obama in the 1990s. The “Obama is secretly Gay” theory online is one of the unserious theories in online political discussion. Even if the claim is true, it’s hardly pertinent beyond just using as a tool to point out the left’s hypocrisy on which sexual ethics scandals the media wants to cover. The fact that D’Souza drudges this claim up would seem to suggest he’s ether scraping the bottle of the barrel for people to interview or he just wanted one more chance to punch at Obama’s legacy.
It’s at the point where I’m almost too embarrassed to watch the films neutrally. I remember buying a copy of Death of a Nation at a local Family Video as a gift for a family member who liked the movie and getting bad looks from the clerk when she looked at the photo of Trump and Lincoln morphed into the same person. I couldn’t help being embarrassed and joked “my uncle will sure love it!” to break the silence.
That wasn’t even the most extreme reaction I’d seen in person to the film. When I took my grandfather to see the movie, a black usher walked into the movie in it’s final minutes where in D’Souza was discussing how Donald Trump needs to do what Abraham Lincoln did before him and save America from the Democrats.
The usher walked out. I heard indiscriminate swearing in the hallway outside of the door.
I’ve joked for a while that you can always tell a right-wing documentary sucks if it turns into an autobiography of the person hosting it. These movies take that sentiment to it’s extreme. The movies don’t just contrast D’Souza’s life experience and personal profile with everyone from President Obama to Donald Trump. From a psycho-analytical angle, these movies are ABOUT Dinesh D’Souza.
They reveal far more about his fears and anxieties than anything we don’t already know about the leaders of the Democratic Party. They show he’s perfectly willing to abdicate facts and reasonable argument to win a political battle. They show that there’s no Democrat he’s willing to tolerate and no Republican he isn’t willing to support (say what you about Joe Biden but he’s not the kind of Democrat that we need to go full Flight 93 Election on out of desperation).
If Trump Card confirms anything it’s that he doesn’t have the backbone he had long before Obama came into office. The old D’Souza stood up for his comrades at the Dartmouth Review when they were falsely accused of antisemitism. The old D’Souza wrote academic books breaking down complex issues like racism and postmodernism that were better than the normal fray of politics. The old D’Souza was an intellectual.
Currently, Dinesh D’Souza exists just to regurgitate other people’s non-sense talking points and write tedious junk books like Stealing America and United States of Socialism.
I genuinely hope he cools down in the next few years. The world feels like it’s on fire and more than ever do we need cool headed and intelligent academics who are capable of calmly explaining the facts to Americans like we’re adults. I have nothing against Mr. D’Souza as a person but the work he’s producing is bad and doesn’t serve the conservative cause. Anyone who isn’t already familiar with our ideas are going to look at these movies and books and think we’re insane.
We don’t need another bozo running around calling everybody a Nazi and a racist…