The Fall of My Friend Dinesh
Poor Dinesh D’Souza. He was hoisted on his own “petar,” Shakespeare’s little joke in Hamlet, substituting the old word for flatulence in place of petard, the spear. There he was on Rick Scarborough’s windy conference call pillorying President Obama for “attacking the traditional values agenda.” It was the typical stuff: Gay Marriage and Abortion are bad, Obama like them, so ergo “Obama doesn’t like traditional Christianity because he identifies it with colonialism.” This is all material that appears in his soporiferous movie, 2016: Obama’s America. It is not new. It is a cliché.
Then, from World Magazine, the Christian publication that tries to be “salt not sugar,” came a story on October 16 that D’Souza arrived at a conference in Spartanburg, South Carolina in late September, and checked into a Comfort Suites motel with his partner, Denise Odie Joseph II, a right-wing blogger. Joseph, it turns out, is not D’Souza’s wife, and nor could she be his fiancé. Not only is D’Souza married to someone else (although he says they are separated), but that Joseph herself has only recently been married. In any other planet, this would be a non-story: two consenting adults should be allowed to do what they like. But the world of conservative Christianity is not that planet.
A conference organizer, Alex McFarland, confronted D’Souza, who told him that Joseph was his fiancé, and that “nothing happened.” The World’s Warren Cole Smith called D’Souza, who told him that he had filed for divorce and was now engaged to Joseph. Smith’s sleuthing found out that D’Souza only filed those divorce papers after the Spartanburg tryst.
As Jeffrey St. Clair put it, D’Souza “was apparently just preparing himself for the coming Mormon Republic of the US” with the impending electoral sweep of what is now called Romneysia.
The World’s article set the ball rolling, and within a few days, D’Souza lost his seven-figure salary from the presidency of King’s College in New York City.
There is a rat in this tale. The World’s Smith had been on the payroll of King’s College, till D’Souza ended his contract, and The World’s publisher, Marvin Olasky had been the College’s Provost before he left, having irreconcilable differences with D’Souza. There is a tincture of suspicion that this might have been some kind of sting operation, with King’s College itself not unhappy to see the back of their celebrity hire. Their own statement, released on October 18, stank of high-handedness, with a lot of “glory of your Name” and “progress of your Kingdom” thrown in to mask a sanctimonious claim that such scandals only highlight “our own flaws and failures.”
D’Souza, it seems, had not kept the “marriage bed pure.” There are all those terrible passages from Deuteronomy and Leviticus that say that the adulterers must be “put to death.” The finger of God burned this commandment into stone. There is no sidebar on these matters, no “may I approach the bench” to get some forgiveness for betrayal. D’Souza’s brand of Christianity was stern toward gays and lesbians, stern towards abortion providers, and even sterner towards the poor.
I have before me his appallingly moralistic Letters to a Young Conservative (2005), which Jonah Goldberg of the National Review called “an intellectual Swiss Army Knife for the young conservative. It’s handy and yet lethal.” The book whips between an old-fashioned conservative tolerance and a 21st century conservative cruelty. D’Souza tells us that in “philosophy seminars, the choice is usually between good and evil.” Not this kind of black and white for him. He seems to prefer the grays, for “in the real world, the choice is often between a bad guy and a worse guy.” If that were the case, there should be room for compassion and for understanding, for forging a social system that would be able to make the “worse guy” not so bad after all. But this kind of old-fashioned whiggishness is intolerable on its own. It sits beside the new-fangled cruelty, laced with wicked and harsh humor, “There is a legitimate argument over whether the death penalty effectively deters violent crime, although my personal observation is that not one of the criminals who have been executed over the years has ever killed again.”
One can almost hear George W. Bush’s cackle when discussing in 1999 his denial of clemency to Karla Faye Tucker. One can hear as well the harsh bromides of that other sexual hypocrite Newt Gingrich, of Congressman Henry Hyde and his “youthful indiscretion” at age 41, Congressman David Vitter and his trips to the DC Madam, Governor Mark Sanford and what he called his journey down the Appalachian Trial – all right-wing politicians, many of whom made their mark by running down Bill Clinton’s shudder-worthy affronts. The luster of the Republican Bad Boys comes from their paradigmatic resemblance to the Wild and Crazy Frat Guys. Dinesh D’Souza will now forever be in their company. In another circle of Hell, where the sun is silent (i sol tace) will sit that other cohort, Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard, wizened preachers who fulminated against sex of all kinds, and then were found addicted to what they disdained.
Denise Odie Joseph II was one of D’Souza’s groupies. On April 6, she wrote on her blog, I Denise Lust After…, that D’Souza was “one of our favorite conservative activist philosophers,” and that she could not wait to see his new movie on Obama, “I hope it’s as interesting and hard-hitting as the preview suggests.” A month later, on May 15, Joseph writes, “Dinesh D’Souza all but proves how dangerously and definitively our President’s past has influenced his present policies.” By Obama’s past, Joseph and D’Souza mean the story of his father, a Kenyan government bureaucrat. The film is preposterous, but it has struck a nerve amongst those who want some kind of right-wing crud to breakthrough into the mainstream (as Joseph put it, “It looks like it’s going to be the blockbuster as many of us wanted the recent Atlas Shrugged film to be but knew it couldn’t”).
But D’Souza did deliver, as he has since his early success, Illiberal Education (1991), which ranted against diversity and affirmative action, and which set the terms for his pseudo-academic bestseller The Ends of Racism (1995). He was the dark-skinned man who stood up against anti-racism, the intellectual precursor to Governor Bobby Jindal, who channeled old segregationist language in his condemnation of the Jena 6 and sanctified David Duke’s constituency of supremacists. Even Glenn Lowry, otherwise in step with D’Souza on affirmative action and diversity, said that the 1995 book “violated the canons of civility and commonality.” [One of my early books, The Karma of Brown Folk, 2000, was a response, in many ways, to D’Souza’s work on race]. D’Souza dedicated his 1995 book to Dixie. I thought he meant the Old South. Fortunately it is the name of his now estranged wife.
In 1999, D’Souza and I met to debate the question of Affirmative Action. I found him to be a very pleasant man, quick with the right-wing jokes (“I sort of like climate change; I get chilly very often”). He defended the status quo based on the Pareto Optimal – no-one can be made better off without making one person worse off. In his case, he took the example of the sandwich. He complained that no-one, not himself at least, would like to share his sandwich or even a part of it with others. But the world, I said to him, does not consist of two people and one sandwich. It consists of one person with 99 sandwiches and 99 people with one sandwich, to which he glared at me, smiled and moved on. World Magazine and King’s College have taken away his sandwich. But men of the Right are never hungry for long. They are hastily redeemed and brought back into the fray. There is always the Gingrich Group or Swaggart’s World Evangelism Bible College. If these white guys don’t rehabilitate him, D’Souza might have to revisit his own views on the end of racism. When you rise parroting the manure of the Right, your skin color might be forgiven; when you fall, I’m not so sure.