The conservative provocateur's new movie Hillary's America, is certainly, um, something.
Dinesh D’Souza is wearing dad jeans in a confinement center in San Diego, playing a genial game of chess with a fellow inmate. “You know, gangs are all about stealing, man,” says the obliging convict, who, in a beanie and trendy plaid, looks more Bushwick hipster than hardened gangbanger. “Crime is all about stealing.”
D’Souza, the fiery conservative provocateur, asks innocently, “What’s the biggest gang?” playing up his befuddlement. (You crazy youngsters and your gangs!)
“Right in your face,” says his be-flanneled inmate spirit guide. “Politicians, man.”
Of course, it’s not actually a confinement center: It’s a scene from D’Souza’s latest documentary, and an embarrassingly overwrought dramatization of D’Souza’s eight-month stint in one last year after pleading guilty to breaking campaign finance laws. But it sets the stage for the rest of the film. Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party, the third in a series of right-wing documentaries from D’Souza, attempts both a takedown of Democrats and a quest to prove he was prosecuted because President Obama wanted political retribution (the latter of which was dismissed by the U.S. District Court judge as “all hat and no cattle,” which apparently means “bullshit”).
On the former, he makes a convincing argument—that is, until you glance at the news from this century. Democratic President Andrew Jackson did spur the Trail of Tears, and the Democratic party did support slavery while the Republican party was founded to oppose it. But the conclusion he draws from that selective history—that Democrats are inherently the party of bigoted slimeballs and Republicans are all social justice crusaders—also conveniently ignores present-day ideologies.
In a film boasting of the GOP’s moral high ground, how can D’Souza fail to mention modern Republicans, let alone Donald Trump? And how did his career spiral from respected conservative intellectual to glorified conspiracy theorist?
We’ll let him explain.
GQ: Hillary’s America revolves around this idea that Democrats’ grand plan is to “steal America.” What does that mean?
Dinesh D’Souza: Stealing America refers to establishing control over the productive wealth of the country. I’m not referring to the wealth of the government that is taken in in taxes. I'm referring to the whole wealth of the entire country, and that means all the wealth created by private industry, and all the wealth that's in the hands of private individuals and families. And what I'm saying is that the Democrats, through increasing centralization of power, and installing themselves in control of that power, are trying to direct, manipulate, and control the entire wealth of America.
Why would they want to do that?
Hillary was jeered for saying she was "dead broke" when they left the White House, but the truth of it is the Clintons were never able to accumulate any substantial wealth when they worked in the private sector. … Obama's the same. Obama doesn't know how to invent the iPhone, he can't start a successful business, he's never really worked in a business, except for the briefest of times. So these are people who are untalented in the skills required to succeed in technological capitalism. But they're not untalented across the board. They're sophisticated in using politics to mobilize popular resentment to gain the same kind of control that they're unable to gain through productive activity. In other words, Obama doesn't know, for example, how to start a successful healthcare business, but he does know how to have the government invade a successful healthcare business and then control its activity from the outside. So he's a resentment organizer, and he's really good at it.
The film boils down American history to portray Republicans as essentially the good guys and Democrats as the bad guys. Is American history really that simple?
Yes. It is. I know that in the academic world, we are accustomed to a great deal of head-scratching, hand-wringing, and on the one hand, and on the other hand, and I am completely familiar with all of the qualifications that would necessarily attend any general statement. But nevertheless, general statements are true. And the general statement is that the Democratic party has been not only implicated in, it's actually been the perpetrator of most of the violent deeds of American history.
You spend nearly half the movie on the “secret” history of the Democratic party, from the Indian Removal Act to Andrew Jackson’s support of slavery. What does that have to do with the modern-day Democratic party?
Everything. It is preposterous to suggest that history doesn’t matter, that we don't live with our past, or that the past isn't present in some way in a country even today. If somebody were to say, for example, 'What does Nazism have to do with Germany?' Germans would look appalled, because they know that history matters, and history is in some sense with us even in the present. It's the presentness of the past if I may say so.
"I agree that the donkey has changed its public spots. But what I'm saying is underneath the skin, it's the same old jackass."
I think the main difference is in the old days, the Democrats were ripping off people's labor, that's what they cared about. They didn't care about the slaves, they just cared about stealing their labor. Today, what they care about is votes. They don't care about the people who live in inner city Baltimore. They don't care whether they succeed or not. In fact, if they succeeded, it would be a problem for the Democrats, because they would dust themselves off and walk off the plantation. So the Democrats now have a vested interest in being a one-party system in those inner cities, and keeping them that way.
But to use your analogy, does the Nazism of World War II make the German people of today evil?
Of course not. No. Absolutely not. But if on the other hand, if someone were to say, that I’m going to revive the Nazi party, it's not gonna stand for the gassing of Jews. It's actually gonna stand for a whole bunch of other things, people would be justified in saying, 'Well, look, the old Nazis did this, you're claiming to be different, but isn't it true that in some respects you're doing some of the same things that the old Nazis did.' Maybe you're not sterilizing Jews, you're only sterilizing so-called delinquents, but the Nazis did that too, in the early 1930s, before they began to focus more on the Jews. The point I'm trying to make here is there is nothing wrong in looking to history in order to see what we can learn from it in the present.
And this is especially important because the moral capital of the Democratic party today is that the Democrats are the good guys. They have always been on the right side of history. They've been fighting for women, they've been fighting for blacks, they've been fighting for Latinos, they've been fighting for the outsider. And I'm saying, 'You haven't. You're lying.’
I agree that the donkey has changed its public spots. But what I'm saying is underneath the skin, it's the same old jackass.
The film puts the blame of most of history’s ills on the Democratic party, casting the GOP as history’s saviors, and connects that to Clinton’s corruption. But you don’t talk about present day Republicans at all.
This was intended to be a film focusing on the secret history, which is the unknown history, of both the Clintons and the Democratic party. I could do a different film on the Republican party. The Republican party has its problems. But historically, the Republican party have been the good guys. I wanted to essentially make this film a debunking of the Democratic party’s claim to be progressive, to be the party of progress. And I think I've validly shown, and no one has actually contested it, that this is the case.
The last part of the film focuses on Bill and Hillary. And I think the theme of that part of the movie is that Bill and Hillary are different from Obama. … Obama is an ideological guy. I don't agree with his ideology, I think it's pathetic and in many ways destructive, but he believes it. And that's what he's after. With Hillary and Bill, I think ideology takes a backseat to their own personal feathering of the nest. These are two grifters, they're two characters out of Mark Twain as far as I'm concerned. …A better way to understand them is the Bonnie and Clyde model carried into the highest reaches of government.
How can you release a movie advocating for the Republican party in an election year and not mention Donald Trump?
I made the movie in the confidence that Hillary would be the Democratic nominee. The vast, vast majority of the movie had been done before I even knew who the Republican nominee was.
But not talking about even the Republican landscape—isn't that crucial to understanding the whole picture?
If this was a movie that was looking at the whole landscape of American politics, it would be odd. It would seem one-sided to focus on one party. But I just chose Hillary and the Democrats as my focus.
I agree, there's a lot to be said about Trump. But it just isn't the central focus of the movie.
After releasing the successful Obama’s America, in 2012, you served time for breaking campaign finance laws. Is this your comeback?
It is my attempt to take a lemon and turn it into lemonade. And by that I mean, I took my penance, which included not only eight months overnight confinement, but also required instruction of English to immigrants, and required psychiatric counseling. I took all that and I stuck it right into the new movie. I made it part of my journey.
Do you have any friends who are Democrats?
I throughout my adult life have had friends not only who are Democrats but who are on the left, and I would even say the far left. I was genuinely good friends with Christopher Hitchens before he died. On the political front, I'm friends now with Bill Ayers, who’s not only on the liberal side, but on the radical left. My wife, Debbie, and I had lunch with Bill Ayers and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, in Chicago, a few months ago. … I've always tried to maintain not just civility, but genuine association with people I don't agree with.
I'm sure you've heard it before, but a lot of people would label you a conspiracy theorist. Early on you were considered a conservative intellectual. How did you get to where you are now?
This is actually very dumb. I have never advanced a conspiracy theory in my life. A conspiracy theory refers to people who go into a huddle. There are conspiracy theories, there's a conspiracy theory about 9/11, there have been conspiracy theories around Obama. I have never gone near any of them.
I think the reason people say this is I have made a career transition from being a pointy-headed intellectual writing largely in small magazines to being a public intellectual who is very comfortable with new media. … I just decided, why confine myself to this little intellectual ghetto, when I can speak to these large issues in a conversational way that people can understand?
If you were to make another film in this series, “Trump’s America,” what would that be about?
It’s very hard to make a film on Trump right now because he’s such an outsider. There are so many question marks around him. I simply can't go along with the foolishness that 'Trump is a racist, Trump is a fascist.’ If Trump crosses his arms and looks to the left, that makes him Mussolini. But that's dumb. Fascism is a real thing. Mussolini actually was a thoughtful guy, he was an important figure, he represents a whole system of thought, and there's nothing in Trump that resembles actual Mussolini or actual fascism.
Or Trump is a racist. Really? Did he enslave anybody? Has he made anybody drink out of a separate water fountain? Has he actually lynched and burned people? I mean, this is what white supremacy meant and what it still means, and racism is a system of racial subordination. What has Trump ever done that indicates that he is doing that?
There might be a movie to be made on Trump five years from now, but a movie about Trump right now would contain too many question marks to be a good movie.