2016 and RNC: increasingly visible, minority conservatives buck liberalism

This past weekend, I saw Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016: Obama’s America.  It was playing on some 1,000 movie screens.  And this upcoming weekend, it will open up on a thousand more.  There’s been considerable coverage now that it’s broken into the weekly box office top ten.  Not only that, it’s at least the fifth highest grossing political documentary of all time.  Watch out, Michael Moore!

I have offered some critical words about D’Souza’s past work.  Just the cover of his 2011 tome, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, comes off as a psychoanalytical potshot.  But given the election year excitement and buzz, I thought I’d give 2016 a try.

Dinesh D’Souza travels the world to learn about Obama’s roots. 2016themovie.com

The film is well-produced, and acclaimed Hollywood veteran Gerald Molen can be thanked for that.  The music, not overbearing or manipulative as we might expect for a political documentary, lends an air of excitement and intrigue befitting the cosmopolitan journey.  After all, this is D’Souza’s “reading” (as my wife put it) of Obama’s globetrotting, cross-cultural upbringing.

D’Souza lays out a comprehensive case in the course of 90 minutes; undoubtedly, he has done his homework.  Polished graphics and dramatic cuts of D’Souza retracing Obama’s footsteps through Indonesia, Hawaii, and Kenya add grit and a kinetic potency to his “anticolonial” thesis.

A recent AP Fact Check–which Breitbart’s Big Journalism has answered–takes exception to some of D’Souza’s claims.  But the finer points of what Obama was exposed to at prep school or what his father’s old associates believe about Israel pale in comparison to the the core fact that the AP fact checker perhaps willfully overlooked.  This is the odd trajectory his white, American, maternal side of the family put him on.

Looking beyond the film for a moment, we can see the root of that strange trajectory.  President Obama’s maternal grandfather, Stanley Dunham, named his daughter after himself.  Of course, people mostly know her by her middle name Ann.

Back in the film, we see Ann’s radical values–adopted early in life–play out.  She rejects her Indonesian husband Lo Lo Soetoro because he cozies up to an American oil company and comes to oppose communists.  This telling is hardly the kind of “logical stretch” that AP’s fact check would have you believe the film is built on.

D’Souza’s most important revelation may be Obama’s “founding fathers.”  How he comes to know one of these guiding lights is particularly telling.  Young Barack’s grandfather Stanley Dunham  introduces a peculiar personal friend to be his mentor: card-carrying Communist (no. 47544) Frank Marshall Davis.

At one point in the film, D’Souza refers to Obama’s ideas as “alien.”  As cringe-inducing as this may sound, it is not a prelude to a radical right rant.  Neither is it a racist code or dog whistle.  After all, D’Souza is a mixed race immigrant from the global South.  That Barack Obama is black is merely an asterisk to the long-raging ideological struggle that lent his mother and grandfather strange ideas most Americans reject.

As important as D’Souza’s revelations are, we’ll find in 2016 a deeper significance.  It’s a film where a South Asian immigrant stars in a winsome, provocative telling of his own life as it contrasts with Obama’s.  During one prominent segment, D’Souza invokes the expert testimony of a fellow biracial academic, Shelby Steele.  Liberal Hollywood doesn’t hand us such a substantive, diversely-cast film everyday.  Sure, there’s Harold and Kumar, if Asian-Americans being depicted as stoners is somehow a good thing.

What 2016 accomplishes by featuring such thought-provoking minority conservatives is something neither the media, academia, nor the rest of our liberal cultural elites can stand.  This film is a very “brown” critique of the liberal worldview, and something I deeply appreciate as the son of a Southeast Asian immigrant myself.  Just as D’Souza relates his own college experience to spotlight the strange thinking of some Americans, I can recall absurd liberal expectations that I encountered as a college student of color.

Minority conservatives are to be found not just on screen, but on stage, at the Republican National Convention.  Speakers like Nikki Haley, Artur Davis, Condoleezza Rice and Susana Martinez have this year voiced their rejection of liberalism while affirming all that makes America powerful, decent, and good.

Nothing threatens the liberal worldview more than when its objects of sympathy and concern stand up, call it for what it is, and reject it.  As important as it will be in getting out the 2012 conservative vote, 2016 is,  perhaps more significantly, another nail in the coffin of liberal ideas whose time has passed.

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D’Souza strikes (out again) on problem of evil

Dinesh D’Souza was on Michael Medved’s radio show a couple of weeks ago, promoting his new book God Forsaken.  From the unabridged (and unwieldy) title of the work, you’ll see it’s intended as something of an apologetic on the problem of evil.  Normally, I’d be positively inclined toward such a volume. But in the course of the interview, I found myself taking exception on a couple of counts.

The first foul stems from the author’s missed opportunity to affirm one of the most basic tenets of the Christian worldview.  Medved, the host, asked D’Souza and the call-in audience, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” A serious Christian theist can’t dance for long around that question before issuing the clarifying rejoinder: “Who is good?”

Indeed, Paul’s letter to the Romans makes it clear “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  It baffles me that D’Souza, a prominent defender of Christianity, could talk of how “bad things happen” without saying that God does not owe sparing us the consequence of our rebellion.

So then how does D’Souza sell his book in the course of a commercial radio hour?  On the oversubscribed basis of pop science and pop psychology.

Uninterested in traditional theodicy, that is the defense of God’s existence in light of evil, he tries to get people on board with God’s existence by a cursory dismissal of the New Atheists.  He explains away their fervor with a back-of-the-napkin psychoanalysis of the late Christopher Hitchens’ unpleasant childhood.  For all we know, psychology may play a major role in the New Atheist community, but the interviewee seems to lack the tact to avoid a borderline ad hominem attack.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Medved had previously been skeptical of D’Souza’s earlier work, The Roots of Obama’s Rage.  In one sense, that whole book was a pop psychology ad hominem writ large.

Back to the interview.  Once D’Souza establishes that God exists but people are just angry at him, he moves to science, suggesting that certain findings justify the necessity of natural evil, as distinguished from man-made evil.  That means chance calamities like earthquakes and disease, rather than suffering that results from human volition.  So as chilling as they are, mountain lion attacks must be racked up as natural evil.

With this focus on science, the author makes some nifty declarations: life on Earth couldn’t develop without plate tectonics.  If we couldn’t face the consequences of defying gravity, we wouldn’t have true free will.  But these kind of arguments don’t persuade materialistic determinists or skeptics inured to the anthropic principle.  Especially not after you’ve insulted them.

In an hour of radio, the author manages to insult atheists, avoids affirming the fallenness of man, indulges popular appeals to science and psychology, and fails to offer substance for the weighty question of evil.

Yes, he is a former fellow of the Hoover Institution, and the current president of The King’s College in New York City.  And the respectable Evangelical biographer Eric Metaxas gives glowing praise for God Forsaken, so the book may not be a wash.  But considering his previous sketch on Obama, his radio interview, and his second-place finish in last year’s Intelligence Squared debate, I have some doubts as to whether Mr. D’Souza is an effective apologist for Christians or the American Conservative movement.

Good public discourse is not built on sensational psychology or svelt scientific findings.  Whether it’s Dinesh D’Souza or Richard Dawkins answering life’s big questions, we deserve from them solid epistemology and a coherent metaphysics.  We shouldn’t expect less from our top-shelf minds.

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