Saturday, August 15, 2020


In the past few days, Dinesh D'Souza has been binge-tweeting dishonest attacks on Kamala Harris, focusing specifically on her racial identity.

Does this hectoring persuade anyone apart from committed Trump-loving right-wingers? No, Harris is not descended from slaves who lived in the United States. But she has black Jamaican ancestors. Black people came to Jamaica the same way they came to America: on slave ships. Yes, Harris is descended from a slave owner, but she's undoubtedly descended from slaves as well. That's also true of many blacks who trace their lineage to Southern plantations.

Apart from rage-junkie Republicans, does anyone seriously want to have this debate? Do even moderates want to challenge Harris's identification with other black Americans? And do moderates even pay attention to Dinesh D'Souza? His audience seems to consist exclusively of right-wingers (and liberals who hate-follow his career).

Theres no evidence that D'Souza ever changes anyone's mind. So why do right-wingers like him?

The short answer, obviously, is because they think he "owns the libs." For Republicans, the drive to see libs being owned appears as primal as normal people's desire for food or sex.

But the right also likes D'Souza because he postures as an intellectual. Now, I'm not saying that right-wingers like intellectuals. They despise intellectuals -- or, to be more precise, they despise legitimate intellectuals, who generally disagree with them.

But they love anyone on the right who acts as a ... what's the right term? A "counter-intellectual"? They want someone who seems to talk like an intellectual while disputing everything recognized as true by actual intellectuals and other well-informed people.

That's why they like Newt Gingrich, who was once an actual professor (of sorts), and especially liked him early in the 2012 presidential campaign, when he kept demanding Lincoln-Douglas debates, first with Mitt Romney and then with President Obama. The way the latter challenge was received on the right was: Everyone thinks that Kenyan socialist is so smart, but he can't even speak without a teleprompter! And no one's ever seen his college records! Newt is much smarter than Obama is! Obama is afraid to debate him!

Ted Cruz, an Ivy-educated lawyer who clerked at the Supreme Court, has a similar reputation: He's seen as a counter-intellectual who can bring the libs down a few pegs. Hell, even Donald Trump, who brags that he's "really smart" and a "genius," is seen as able to defeat the evil libs in a battle of thinkology.

I see the popularity of D'Souza as of a piece with the rise of Jordan Peterson and QAnon. It's not that intellectualism is bad exactly, it's that the sign of true genius is that you disagree with whatever is said by people who are generally regarded as credentialed or well informed. So D'Souza fights with historians who know their stuff, or Trump fights with Anthony Fauci, and they must be brilliant because, in the modern world, disagreeing with established facts, and with people who have expert knowledge, doesn't make you a crank -- it makes you a person who's "taken the red pill."

The notion that believing experts and established facts makes you a naive sheep and believing crackpottery makes you a true thinker isn't confined to the right, of course, but the right is its natural home, because right-wingers regard thinkers, intellectuals, and people who actually know what they're talking about as a genuine threat to their movement. They want all those people to lose at their own game -- and they genuinely believe defeat can come at the hands of clowns like D'Souza.

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