The room was abuzz and nearly filled to capacity when I arrived to see Dinesh D’Souza speak. The notorious conservative author and filmmaker is an Ivy League-educated Indian American who has been a New York Times’ Best Seller and, I had heard, was promised to be controversial. The event flyer quite literally was entitled “TRIGGER WARNING: What’s So Great About America?” so I knew I was in for some juicy, potentially offensive stuff. As it turns out, it was an evening of American exceptionalism, reductive partisanship, and rhetoric.
I took a seat beside the cameraman and sized up the crowd as they waited eagerly; there were suits, ball caps, work boots and flip flops, long hairs and crew cuts, young and old. Lots of khakis. This was a particular kind of American audience albeit an eclectic bunch, more or less. I overheard two white male students casually talking about something like preferring to shoot 200 rounds quickly to 50 rounds with etc. Ah, bonding over firearms – warms the soul.
A sign hung on stage podium that read “D’Souza: Unchained,” suggesting he would pull no punches given that self-proclaimed likening to Tarantino’s Django. A young lady from Young Americans for Freedom Foundation, the hosts of the evening’s event, came up to introduce and thank Mr. D’Souza for coming before a hype video began on the screen behind the stage to lead him out – Policy Advisor to Ronald Reagan, interesting! It was time for the man of the hour.
“America is a country where we can be in the driver’s seat of our destinies,” Mr. D’Souza began. “It is not given to you; it is constructed by you.” Fair enough, I thought. The romantic notion of picking oneself up by the bootstraps and being freely and upwardly mobile, while debatable, has been a part of the modern American narrative and a point of pride for many. Quickly, however, this inclusionary tone would shift to an Us vs. Them framework, taking aim at the left and the “progressive narrative” while he sifted through brief history and hot topics of current American sociopolitical discourse.
This narrative D’Souza then attempted to falsify is the idea that the United States was ill-founded by, well, the Founders through practices of slavery and legal domination of peoples at home and abroad which culminated into necessary socioeconomic reparations we attempt (or at least mull over) today. His rival narrative he then put forth is that the Founders “weren’t the bad guys” and that these ills were “sins of necessity.” Really, the Democrats had always and will always secretly be “the upholders of the most fascist, racist…” discriminatory policies in American history. What does this socialist/fascist (totally not oxymoronic) State-led tyranny look like, you ask? It looks like the erasing and rewriting of history by progressive leftists, for one. According to Mr. D’Souza, the Big Lie perpetuated by Democrats, who he reductively generalized as the Left, is that Republicans are racist and that nationalism is fascism. After all, the Democrats were the party that was pro-slavery and on whose watch the Jim Crow South was overseen. He purported then that the Big Switch, the mid twentieth century phenomenon of small government Democrats and big business Republicans exchanging platforms via the Dixiecrats and federally enforced integration policies, was a lie made up by the “mob of left wing historians.” Apparently, the South became more Republican as it became less racist on its own accord over time! Wouldn’t you know?
Strange connections were made throughout the night. D’Souza proceeded to dive into historical accounts Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and relate them back to the Democratic Party in their methods of enforcing political correctness (“…the Sieg Heil salute [was] to show you’re politically correct,” he said], comparing the tactics of the Blackshirts and Brownshirts to those of Antifa. He made sure to emphasize the socialist part in National Socialist German Workers Party, which garnered the appropriate jeers and boos. Also in an attempt to downplay the American fringe Right such as the Charlottesville Neo-Nazis like Christopher Cantwell, he referred to them as “ragtag Nazis with no political power… they don’t operate on the inside.” D’Souza joked that “Hitler probably would’ve gassed people like [Cantwell].” All bad taste aside, there seemed no need to distinguish between the ideological differences between socialists and fascists, I gathered. It might’ve become too academic. The Left is the State is the Mob is tyranny.
I also gathered that people had not come here for academia; it, along with the Media with a capital M, is brimming with liberals who intend to rewrite history and eliminate the freedom of debate. No, people seemed primed for rhetoric, scoffing and laughing when the right moments arrived, like at Colin Kaepernick’s disrespect for the flag or at the imbecile news anchors who embody the bias of the fake liberal Media like Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews. Sure, there were academic terms floating around: “Fascism of the Institutions…” like Hollywood acting as “an incestuous small family… an oligarchy.” But this took on the feel of a congregation or a rally for a certain base – self-serving with all the tasty answers that everyone seemingly already knew. Black and white, cut and paste. Perhaps the most telling and rewarding topic that arose was the defense of the Second Amendment. This was deemed necessary if we are to protect ourselves from government tyranny, as the Founders so prophetically wrote. This was met with the biggest applause during the speech, appealing to that gut feeling and fear held by many gun owners. Would this defense look like a civil war, pitting the armed civilian or trained militiaman against the troops, who are simultaneously and adamantly held is the defenders of our freedoms? Your guess is as good as mine.
There was a strange phenomenon occurring. Having identified the real villain that is the “racist, facist leftists,” there seemed a reassurance to audience members that the Right was truly right; that they were the heroes to rescue America from tyrannical rule and “Zombie Leftism.” This alleviates anyone who identifies with this unique kind of nationalism, “Real Americans” as D’Souza called them, from any guilt or burden. They can shrug off any racist and authoritarian sympathies and subtle prejudices after being shown the true source of these ills. D’Souza’s challenge for everyone after the Q & A session (which got interesting when a Progressive Student Alliance member was mildly heckled for her combative question) was to not fall for the Big Lie perpetuated by Democrats and to live up to the promises of America’s founding.
In summation, Dinesh D’Souza’s speech at the University of Memphis’ UC Building served to dish out conservative rhetoric and further carve partisan lines in minds of fans and curious individuals alike. Some might have left the event more educated in the dark past of the Democratic Party but certainly more biased and factually guided to a particular conclusion. For all the accusations that occurred that night of academia and the Left for shutting down healthy debate in America, this certainly was not an open discussion. This had all the nuts and bolts of a populist rally, Us vs. Them.