The conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza is in the news today after President Trump announced he is granting him a pardon for his illegal campaign fundraising activities. Though hard to believe now, a quarter century ago D’Souza was a Very Serious Person, a public intellectual who had his work reviewed by the New York Review of Books and the like. D’Souza makes a brief appearance in my article on the colorblind consensus in the 1990s. Here’s how I described his influence:
This optimism [about racial progress] was best reflected in the most ambitious popular conservative treatment of racism during the 1990s, Dinesh D’Souza’s The End of Racism. The book celebrated the nation’s progress in eradicating racism and asserted that the primary remaining impediment was black culture. D’Souza concluded his book with a call for repealing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In colorblind America, it was no longer needed. In this narrative, the battles over civil rights became another marker of American exceptionalism, a monument to the inevitable culmination of American democratic ideals. As colorblindness took hold as the normative framework for understanding race in the United States, it became difficult to conceive of white resistance to the civil rights movement as a serious force that meaningfully contributed to the construction of the colorblind consensus.
I read D’Souza’s book a decade ago. At the time, despite his radicalism (repeal the civil rights act!!) it was possible to disagree with him while assuming he operated in good faith. But in retrospect, the way he discussed black culture in the book was a foretaste of what he would become in his mature years. Now he’s a racist troll serving no useful purpose for conservatism, much less any other principle.
It’s all very strange. D’Souza had mainstream respectability as a smart conservative who wrote ambitious books challenging liberal orthodoxy. Now he’s reduced to hurling twitter insults at, of all people, Rosa Parks! I find that example particularly delicious, because he unwittingly revealed that he doesn’t know anything about who she was or what she actually did.
Does anyone really know what happened to this man?