Thursday, President Donald Trump announced that he is pardoning pundit and author Dinesh D’Souza, who pled guilty in 2014 to violating campaign finance law. Unlike other presidents who used their pardon power to correct injustices, Trump has used it almost exclusively to dole out favors to the right wing.
That Trump decided to pardon D’Souza, one of the most despicable and poisonous figures in American public life, is further proof that this president spends a good deal of his time acting like a right-wing internet troll whose greatest pleasure in life comes from finding ways to Trigger the Libs.
I suspect that a lot of the coverage of this decision will be framed as “Trump Pardons Conservative Author,” which will inevitably soft-pedal the rancid bile D’Souza regularly spews into American debate. So we have to be clear about just who D’Souza is. He isn’t just a conservative or a provocateur. He’s a bigot, a liar, a criminal, and a peddler of insane and hateful conspiracy theories.
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First, let’s put this in context. Trump’s previous pardons were granted to the authoritarian racist Joe Arpaio; Kristian Saucier, a sailor convicted in a case in which he photographed classified spaces on a submarine, who became a cause celebre on the right when conservatives tried to use him as an argument for why Hillary Clinton should be punished for having a private email server; Scooter Libby, who revealed the name of a covert CIA operative in order to discredit her husband, a critic of the Bush administration; and the boxer Jack Johnson, whose case was championed by Sylvester Stallone.
In other words, with the exception of Johnson’s pardon - which Trump gave solely because a celebrity asked him to - all of his pardons were meant as favors to the right wing.
As for D’Souza, we should be clear on the crime he committed. There are some campaign finance violations that are trivial, or that might be explained away as oversights. This was not one of them. D’Souza knew very well he was breaking the law, and took steps to conceal his actions. He devised and carried out a scheme to violate election laws. Specifically, once he and his wife had given the legal limit in contributions to a friend of D’Souza’s who was running for Senate, he wanted to give more money, but he was prohibited by law from doing so. So he instructed his assistant and his mistress (yes, his mistress) to also give the legal limit, and he then reimbursed them for their contributions, concealing the true source of the money. That is not an oversight; it was a willful fraud.
D’Souza’s own story in some ways mirrors that of American conservatism in the last few decades. As a student at Dartmouth in the 1980s, he ran the conservative “Dartmouth Review,” a publication that reveled in being politically incorrect, which in their case meant publishing racist material and outing closeted gay students. Hailed as a rising conservative star, he obtained a sinecure at the Heritage Foundation, worked in the Reagan administration, and published books decrying liberalism’s effect on America. In 1991, The Post paper called him “the polemical darling of the season.”
But as time went on, D’Souza’s ideas became increasingly conspiratorial and noxious. He wrote multiple books on Barack Obama, charging that the former president, driven by a need to punish white people for the sins of colonialism, had hatched a plan to destroy America. His latest book is titled “The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left,” in which he not only argues that Hitler took his inspiration from Democrats, but takes the fact that in the 1860s the Democratic Party was the conservative, slavery-supporting party - not exactly a secret, but a fact that he presents as though it’s a shocking discovery he just made - and spins it into a decades-long conspiracy proving that Democrats are The Real Racists.
To give you a further picture of D’Souza’s ideas, here are some of the things he has written and said:
In 2015, D’Souza tweeted a photo of Barack Obama taking a selfie (horrors!) with the caption, “YOU CAN TAKE THE BOY OUT OF THE GHETTO. . .Watch this vulgar man show his stuff, while America cowers in embarrassment.”
In his 1995 book “The End of Racism,” he argued that “The American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well,” and contended that given “black cultural pathology,” discrimination against African-Americans is perfectly rational, even if it may be unfair to some people.
In his book “The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11,” he argued that al-Qaida’s critique of America as a decadent nation was essentially correct, because liberals had corrupted our society with their desire for “America to be a shining beacon of global depravity, a kind of Gomorrah on a Hill.” Even conservatives recoiled at that one.
In 2010 he wrote that Barack Obama was transforming NASA into some kind of anti-American recruiting tool. “No explanation other than anticolonialism makes sense of Obama’s curious mandate to convert a space agency into a Muslim and international outreach,” he wrote, concluding that “the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s.”
He regularly spread racist memes about Obama.
He suggested that the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville was staged by liberals.
He rather weirdly insisted that “Hitler was NOT anti-gay.”
He compared those protesting police shootings of unarmed African-Americans to ISIS.
He suggested that the media were engaged in a conspiracy to cover up the fact that the Las Vegas shooter was “an anti-Trump guy” (which he wasn’t).
He tweeted, “OVERRATED DEMOCRATS DEPT: So Rosa Parks wouldn’t sit in the back of the bus - that’s all she did, so what’s the big fuss?”
He spread the despicable and false theory that liberal billionaire George Soros, who escaped the Holocaust as a child, was actually a Nazi collaborator.
In other words, D’Souza is a conservative for the Trump era: bigoted, hateful, happy to spread lies, and consumed with bizarre theories about Democrats’ secret plans to destroy the country. In fairness, we should acknowledge that many conservatives find D’Souza an embarrassment, someone they wish would go away and not sully their ideological cause with his loathsome ideas. But the president of the United States is apparently a fan.
Paul Waldman is a contributor to The Plum Line blog at the Washington Post and a senior writer at The American Prospect. Follow him on Twitter @paulwaldman1.