Thursday, September 20, 2018

D'Stort D'Newsa: The Puerilizing of Political Discourse

Used this picture a couple of years ago.

Alice B. Lloyd writing for The Weekly Standard explains why former young conservative firebrand intellectual Dinesh D'Souza has turned into old conservative mendacious toad D'Vorce D'Spousa (thanks Tengrain!). Follow the money!
He doesn’t whisper when he cops to the mercenary nature of his support for Trump.  Back during the 2016 primaries, he and his second wife, Debbie, a Republican activist, favored Ted Cruz, whose father married them that year. (They met on Twitter in 2014: She DM’d him clips of Bill Ayers, and he asked her for help getting his movies screened in Texas public schools.) D’Souza prefers to avoid publicly backing any candidate and to keep his focus on antagonizing the other side. “I was making a movie on Hillary, right? And I thought, I’m not going to get into an internecine Republican debate.” But Hillary’s America did only $13.1 million at the box office where 2016: Obama’s America had managed $33.4 million in 2012. D’Souza saw the writing on the wall. “I completely jumped on the Trump bandwagon after he was the nominee,” he says. It was a solid business play: The Big Lie was a big bestseller. 
Money, and influence! He thought he'd have more of an impact if he focused on influencing people who don't have enough information to argue with him:

For D’Souza, decline was a choice. He could still be writing serious books, he insists, and enjoying the friendship and favor of the conservative elite. “I miss that, I miss that,” he says when I ask whether his mind ever wanders back to the days of D.C. dinner party debates and chess matches against conservative luminaries....
But, pleasant as it is, all that seriousness and those chess matches, it's just too much work talking to people who might disagree with you. Why, they'd even disagree with liberal Arthur Schlesinger!

“There’s no use talking to the whole country,” he’d realized. “There’s a pointlessness to expending a lot of energy to get a liberal to concede a point without conceding anything beyond it.” The catalyst was the tepid reception of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s The Disuniting of America, “a liberal restatement of Illiberal Education,” per D’Souza’s reading.
That's a quantum theory restatement, since Schlesinger restated D'Souza's argument before D'Souza had written it, evidently working backward in time.
Schlesinger presented a patriotic case against factious identity politics in 1991, the year of Illiberal Education’s publication. It was a case for American unity that liberal elites could get behind, and yet, “it barely made a ripple,” D’Souza says. “The futility of trying to do that hit me—the waste of time.”
 Or maybe it was a case "liberal elites" couldn't get behind, Schlesinger's plea against colleges instituting black studies programs and "speech codes" (which in the strict sense had already been ruled unconstitutional by a federal court in Michigan in 1989, as opposed to rules forbidding harassment, which are obviously justified and continue to exist everywhere), at least if they were under 70 (Schlesinger himself was 74, and The New York Times chose 72-year-old Brit Frank Kermode to praise it in a review). Although it's hard to imagine D'Souza "getting behind" Schlesinger's careful insistence, as Michael Lind wrote recently, on a bothsides middle path, but one that recognized the right side as by far the more comprehensive danger to society:
a liberal alternative to what he described as militant multiculturalism on the left and bigoted monoculturalism on the right: “The monoculturalists are hyperpatriots, fundamentalists, evangelicals, laissez-faire doctrinaires, homophobes, anti-abortionists, pro-assault-gun people.” Of the two groups, Schlesinger considered the monoculturalists a greater threat: “Left-wing political correctness is an irritation and a nuisance. It becomes a threat to the young only when it invades the public schools.” In contrast: “Right-wing political correctness catches kids before they are old enough to take care of themselves and in environments where they are rarely exposed to clashes of opinion. It is a weapon with which small-town bigots, conducting pogroms against Darwin, Marx, J.D. Salinger, Judy Blume and other villains, seize control of school committees and library boards.”
D'Souza, meanwhile, decided to be one of those small-town bigots who would exploit the ignorant:
Why write for that narrow cross-section of conscientious Americans? “I said to myself, I could do that, and I could keep doing it. Or I can realize that there is a large audience out there that wants to learn, but their only sources of knowledge right now are the liberals.” 
He would indeed find a zealous audience for his “reconstructed” narratives. Books of sensationalism like The Roots of Obama’s Rage (2010), 2016: Obama’s America (2012), America: Imagine a World Without Her (2014), and Hillary’s America (2016) topped bestseller lists despite near-universal disdain in serious circles. The movie versions did even better.

At least until now (the new film, Death of a Nation, has done really badly, losing about $300,000). I'm obsessed with the thought of how movies are a superior vehicle for propaganda, because you can't fact check them in real time—trolls keep telling me to "watch the video" because that's what converted them, not reading—but of course they make more money too, don't they?

Lloyd's piece is pretty interesting, as an insider attack on our Gunga Dinesh: like him, she's a Dartmouth graduate (with sources from the college that might have made the article pretty colorful if she'd allowed them to), and seems to regard him as a kind of class traitor to the urbane, patrician conservatism represented by her employer, but like her employer (Dr. William Kristol's shop), she's too timid to really tell the story. She refers to his work at the "impish and often outrageous" Dartmouth Review as
undergraduate antics—outing the officers of the Gay-Straight Alliance, printing an affirmative action op-ed in Ebonics
when the former was clearly cruel and intended to harm and the latter was minstrel-show blackface writing—he doesn't speak "Ebonics"—that would have been bad taste in the 1920s and should have been grounds for disciplining in 1980; she doesn't explain why his books receive near-universal disdain in serious circles (fraudulent stringing together of decontextualized quotations to create an picture that is pretty much the opposite of the truth, from the portrayal of Barack Obama as a kind of Mau-Mau insurgent to the portrayal of today's Democratic Party as identical both to the plantation SouthernDemocrats of the 1850s and to the Nazis of the 1920s). As with D'Souza's misreading of the Schlesinger book, she's either pulling her punches or, more likely, really doesn't get what's wrong with what he does.

Sometimes it's really insightful, though:
D’Souza, 57, sees himself as a pioneer of the puerilizing of political discourse. Responding reciprocally, he says, to the “gangsterization of the left” by “treating them like gangsters,” he helped pave the way for Trump. I’m surprised, therefore, when he tells me he doesn’t know what “trolling” is.
That phrase, "puerilizing of political discourse", is pretty grand, especially with the implication that D'Souza really knows he's doing this and might accept the word himself.

What's most interesting to me is the hint that between the Trump faction and the NeverTrump faction (which as far as I could tell as recently as a couple of months ago had mostly acquiesced to the Trumpery or retreated to the shadows or MSNBC and The Atlantic) there's now a certain less impotent hostility starting to show itself, which can start to express itself not just through disdain for the Emperor himself but for his most abject lieutenants. As the fear and flopsweat on the Trump side expand, are their enemies getting emboldened? Is the party starting to break? Is Kristol making his power play here? (That's a hilarious thought in its own right, I'm just going to stop.)

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