From the lectern, tall tales of wrongs. / Young America's Foundation
Hannah Gais,  February 23, 2017

Outcast No More

As the far right goes mainstream, what will happen to their grievances?

From the lectern, tall tales of wrongs. / Young America's Foundation
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Welcome to This American Carnage, your weekly slice of life from the country of Trump.

He may still be on probation, but Dinesh D’Souza is—after eight months in a confinement center—finally unchained.

Or so goes the name of his latest speaking tour. The fifty-five-year-old D’Souza hasn’t gotten over the rank injustice of what he sees as the war on Dinesh, or his “selective prosecution” at the hands of the Obama administration. For those who missed the trials and travails of our intrepid documentarian, D’Souza was convicted for campaign finance violations after using straw donors to illegally fund the 2012 Senate race of his friend Wendy Long.

I took a seat near the back, wondering how many times I would hear the phrase “liberal fascism” in the hour ahead.

These days, D’Souza presents himself as a persecuted truth-teller working to expose the racist heart of American liberalism—and that persona was on full display one mild night this week at Columbia University.

As D’Souza assumed his position at the lectern, I took a seat near the back, wondering how many times I would hear the phrases “liberal fascism” or “political correctness” in the hour ahead.

Sporting a casual blue button down and flanked by two security guards, D’Souza began by marveling at his own popularity. “It turns out there are a bunch of people outside who have been trying to get in, but apparently they’re not on an invitation list, so the university won’t let them,” he said, explaining why his speech to some one hundred students, faculty, and alumni had started late. In fact, I saw just a handful of stragglers, and not a single so-called “snowflake” fainting or frothing at the mouth.

D’Souza has been spouting the same talking points for almost a decade, most recently in his documentary Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party, which grossed $13.1 million at the box office.

His routine goes something like this: Democrats are the real racists, the true inheritors of the Ku Klux Klan’s legacy of fear. Meanwhile, it’s the Republicans—the valiant “Party of Lincoln”—who have struggled to free themselves from the shackles of liberal tyranny. (Inexplicably, the Democrats are also an anti-white party. “For the Democrats to win white votes, they need to get white males to play the whipping boy,” D’Souza intoned.)

Tonight, however, was about Making American Campuses Great Again. Even if D’Souza—a convicted felon, he made sure to remind us—couldn’t vote for Trump, he could delight in the coming crackup of the leftist academic world, courtesy of our “forward-thrusting” (his words) commander in chief.

For too long, the country’s finest universities have worked to ensure that “the actual story about American politics is hidden,” said D’Souza straight-facedly, standing directly in front of a banner emblazoned with the logo of Young America’s Foundation—a national outfit that brings right-wing speakers to college campuses with Koch brothers money.

“Is it really healthy in a place like Columbia to have such a unanimity of perspectives?” D’Souza wondered. (Allow me to translate: Why is Hillary’s America not shown in every poli sci class?)

If his speech managed to enrage—or, to quote him quoting campus jargon, “trigger”—a room riddled with skeptics, it didn’t show. On a day when angry constituents were confronting their congresspeople at town halls across the country, the mood in this small lecture hall in Manhattan was subdued. There were no outbursts and no interruptions. The Q&A was positively tame.

Instead, there were boxes of cookies at the door. The Columbia University College Republicans can now say they have hosted D’Souza, like former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson, and Rich Lowry of National Review before him. It would seem that D’Souza’s two favorite poses—aggrieved victim and transgressive outsider—are slipping out of his grasp.

Hannah Gais is a frequent Baffler contributor whose work has also appeared in Pacific Standard, Commonweal, Outline, Al Jazeera America, U.S. News and World Report, and First Things

You can find her on Twitter @hannahgais.

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