Filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza delivers a powerful speech on what has brought us to the brink of an America we no longer recognize — where our freedoms are being throttled by the cultural aggression of the Left.
Don’t miss this vital talk, given at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s 2021 Restoration Weekend on Nov. 11th-14th at the Breakers Resort in Palm Beach, Florida. A transcript follows.
Dinesh D’Souza: Thank you so much. Wow. I am just thrilled to be here. [Debbie] was reminding me that — I think I was here last in 2016, a few years ago, and wow, what a time to be addressing you. And what a country we live in now, and I actually mean that in both senses. It’s thrilling to be in America; it always is. And yet, for the first time, it’s a little chilling to be in America.
In early 1861, Abraham Lincoln, newly elected president, got on a train and began his journey from Springfield, Illinois, to Washington, DC, to assume the presidency. A very dangerous time. States were seceding. And it was expected that Lincoln would take the straight route under heavy security and immediately assume office, but he, puzzlingly enough, didn’t do that. He, instead, took a meandering route, jogging north, then pivoting south, making some 80 stops along the way, attended by crowds and historians trying to explain this enigma of Lincoln making this kind of — you could almost call it — meandering journey. Historians ask, why’d he do that? Is it that Lincoln was trying to show himself, the newly elected president of the American people? I actually don’t think so. I don’t think that Lincoln was doing this so that they, the American people, could check him out. He was actually checking them out. Why? To see if they were ready for the big storm ahead. And this is actually sort of one of my purposes these days when I’m in conservative and Republican circles, is to try to take the temperature of our own side, to try to figure out if we grasp, but more importantly, are ready for, what the other side has in store for us.
Now, I’m a product of the Reagan era. It was a kinder, gentler America then. In 1982, one year into the Reagan presidency, you might remember Reagan had pulled the reins on monetary policy with the aid of Paul Volcker. This was to kind of choke the stagflation of the ’70s. The country plummeted into a recession, deep recession, and at one point, Sam Donaldson of ABC News cornered Reagan, who had just given a speech, and he said, Mr. President, in your speech, you have blamed the Democrats and you have blamed the economists and you have blamed the media. Does any of the blame belong to you? And Reagan goes, well, yes. He goes, for many years, I was a Democrat.
Now, I kind of mention — I was a junior in college catching this on the news, and I mention this because I have this arresting image of even Sam Donaldson sort of laughing out loud and virtually dropping the mic, and it was one of those, you got me on that one. There was a camaraderie. I don’t mean to exaggerate it. But even between Reagan and Tip O’Neill, two kind of Irish guys who you had the idea could sort of do combat, political combat, and then kind of go out together for a Guinness.
But I think it is of the utmost importance for us to realize that we are not living in that America anymore. In fact, America, to me, is virtually unrecognizable from a year ago. Freedoms that we took for granted have suddenly become, in a very real, everyday sense, choked off. And we suddenly have to look at the other side and ask, what are they up to? What do they want? And what’s making them do this?
Now, it’s very easy, particularly given Biden, for us to come to the view that they’re doing it because they’re just downright dumb. That’s our prevailing theory. And in fact, it’s always been our prevailing theory, even going back to Obama. In the Obama years, people would always come up to me, conservatives, say things like, you know, Obama just doesn’t understand that raising — confiscatory tax rates are going to be a drag on the economy. Obama doesn’t understand that we shouldn’t be doing this Iran nuclear — Obama doesn’t understand this and Obama doesn’t understand that. No, Obama understood perfectly well what he was doing. The left always does. They actually understand themselves and us better than we understand ourselves or them.
This is a startling point. They are into — you know the phrase, critical race theory, that we use as a cliché? The idea — the beginning idea of critical race theory is that you sit back, almost like an outsider, and observe. Your first act is not to do anything; it is to be critical, to have some distance. And what I’m suggesting is that the left has been observing us very carefully for the past 30 years, and they have come to one overwhelming conclusion, and that is, we — and by we, I mean in general the Republicans, the conservatives, from their point of view there’s no difference — we’re the party of the namby-pambies. We’re the party of the wimps. We’re the party of the nice guys. And what I want to suggest is that this recognition is what is driving their aggression. Their aggression is motivated by the prior knowledge of our timidity, our fear and our cowardice. That’s their starting point.
I just did a series for PragerU on the American founders, and one question I had to think about as I was putting that together was, how come the founders didn’t sort of protect us against this? How come they didn’t create enough of an architecture that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for fundamental liberties to be abridged in this way? And then as I began to think about Franklin and Madison’s complex notion of separation of powers and checks and balances, I realized that the whole thing is all based upon a certain unspoken assumption, and that is that the majority and the minority will always have a rational fear of the other. The majority will always have the fear that if they go too far, the minority, although a minority, nevertheless, has enough to hold them accountable for it, to drive them insane. And I realized that the left has realized that we don’t have that power, and even if we did, we wouldn’t exercise it. Why? Because we’re principled. Because we’re patriots. Because we love America.
Now, in a sense, the America that we love — this is a strange thing to say — is a bit of an illusion, and we cling to this illusion and we say things like our country and our flag and our national anthem. And it’s because we think this way — sorry — because we think this way that we don’t realize, we don’t really have a flag anymore. We don’t have a national anthem anymore. There’s a whole bunch of people in this country who don’t want to sing it. They’re going to take a knee. We can’t make them. And so, in a sense, we’re hearkening to a unity that doesn’t exist. We think the other side is anti-American. We use the kind of old Reaganite rhetoric — just heard Nikki Haley give a speech. She’s like, there’s a lot of self-loathing. We’ve got to — we as Americans need to fight self-loathing. I’m thinking, I don’t loathe myself. Do any of you loathe — do we loathe ourselves? That’s not the problem. The problem is that the other side loathes us. And to put it frankly, we’re not too hot on them either. Right?
Now, what drives the cultural aggression of the left — and in a sense, you have to sort of almost admire their audacity and the sheer comprehensive promiscuity of their goals, because if I were the left, I would think, you know, I have academia. I mean, I’ve basically routed the other side totally. They’ll never get it back. What can they do to take back 400 elite colleges? Nothing. I’ve got the media. And it’s not just that I’ve got it tilted my way, I’ve got it all my way. And then I’ve got the entertainment world. Not only do I have Hollywood, but I have Broadway. I’ve largely made inroads into country music. I have virtually all the comedians.
So the point is, I’ve got all that. I’ve got all the megaphones of the culture. So I’m good. But for the left, it’s not good enough. They want the NFL. They want the Boy Scouts. They want it all. I mean, this is why they go after the Christian baker in Colorado. Not because they care about him; it’s because they want to teach the rest of us a lesson, that if you’re like that guy, we know how to ruin your life.
So another way to put it is that the goal of the left, to be really clear about it, is to combine their ownership of the culture, which they largely have, with an ownership of the political sphere and then combine that power to force us to live in their America. That’s what they are clearly, manifestly, unmistakably setting out to do. And as I say, they’re prompted to keep pushing it because they recognize that any party that is made up of live-and-let-live people, people who celebrate freedom — because see, if you celebrate freedom, by and large, you believe I have my freedom, you have your freedom, I’m — I would defend to the death your right to do this and your right to do that. We hear the rhetoric right here at this conference. And the left’s view is, that kind of an opponent is the best kind of opponent for people like us. Why? Because if we go down and knock out — knock down their statues, they would never dream of knocking down ours. And if we mobilize the deep state against them, even if they come to power and control all the wings of government, they wouldn’t dream of mobilizing the deep state against us. And if we pack the court, let’s say we fail and they come in; they’re too principled to pack the court themselves. So this is downright great. We can count on opponents to take a beating from us, all kinds of abuses of power. We’ll shut down their free speech while we can. And when they come in, they’ll celebrate the First Amendment.
Now, we see this — let’s call it inequity of approach, disproportion of style, when it comes most dramatically — to the court. Republicans have nominated the vast majority of court justices in the last three decades. We should have owned the court like in the ’80s. And yet, until right now, even now, we don’t know on critical issues how the court is going to come out. We — we’re not even sure that our 6-3 majority is a real majority. Is it 6-3? Is it really 5-4? Are we going to lose Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett on this one? Wow.
Now, you have to ask, how did we get to this very strange position where we all recognize the fundamental importance of the courts — the court is essentially the guardian of the Constitution. We claim to be conservatives who are conserving the constitution. And yet, we’re such damn fools about it that we can’t even get a court nominated by our team that will protect the Constitution. Wow. How do you get to that? Well, the reason you get to that, one reason, is this: We, in nominating our justices, produced a whole bunch of — let’s call it rhetorical flimflam. We want a judge that loves the Constitution. We want a judge that’s deeply learned in the law. We want a judge that will not only decide cases by paying attention to the language of the Constitution, but excavate the original principles, the original meaning and intention of the people who wrote it. Half the time, that is lost in the mist of time.
So here we are on this sort of anthropological quest in which we put forward justices who swear in advance — Amy Coney Barrett, classic example. “I’m a Catholic, but I’m going to put that on the shelf. I’m going to make sure that has nothing to do with how I rule. I may be pro-life, I may be a conservative, but once I get on the court, that’s not going matter to me. I’m simply going to look at the law.” I’m like, can you hear, like, Elena Kagan, Sotomayor: “I’m a lesbian, but that’s never going to matter to me in anything I decide.” That’s why they’re on the court. These are people who are there — they wouldn’t dream of setting aside their ideology. The court for them is the summit, it’s the realization of their ideological quest. And then when we lose Roberts in Obamacare, we’re like, how did Roberts vote against us? That’s because he’s following the philosophy that he talked about in his confirmation hearings. A judge is an umpire, not a player. In a democracy, it’s the legislature that makes the laws, not the courts. The courts should defer to the legislature. We’ve been talking like this since Reagan. And, no surprise, when it comes to critical decisions — now let’s look at the left. When they appoint a judge, they look for only one thing: They look for somebody who will vote on critical issues their way every single time with Euclidian certainty. That’s their approach. They don’t have to sit around thinking, you know, it’s a big case; how’s Sotomayor going to vote on this one? They already know. They can count on her.
So this is our predicament. Now, there’s sort of bad news and good news here in what I’m saying. I don’t know if you’ve noticed. The bad news is kind of obvious: We are just not up to the viciousness and ruthlessness of the other side, as a team. We might be in this room, but as a team, we’re not. The good news is that our fate is, to a much greater degree than we realize, in our hands. Because not only our behavior but their behavior depends critically on what we do.
Now, this turns me to the question of what is it that we should do. And this is a really important question, because by and large, on our side, lengthy documentations of the sins of the left are inevitably followed with generic calls to fight. Let’s fight. Let’s never give up. But the ordinary guy is thinking, how? What does this fighting actually mean? And I want to zoom into this question. I’m going to take — I could take a number of examples, but I’m going to, because of time, pick one critical one, which appears almost accidently. It has to do with how to deal with woke corporations. This is very important because woke corporations are a real loss for our side. Corporations used to be on our side. I mean, remember? We were fighting the unions. The Republican party has, by and large, been the party of business. It was Irving — when I was at AEI, Irving Kristol used to say, you know, that by and large, when groups become more successful — he goes, “Jews are the only people in America who earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” But when Irving Kristol said that, it was because Jews, in this respect, were exceptional. They were different than every other group. By and large, CEOs, corporations, leaned if not were outright Republican.
Now, these days, when corporations do all the horrible stuff that they’re doing, I’ll run into people, and they think they’re taking a stand. They’re like, you know, Dinesh, I’ve really been mobilized to action; I no longer shop at Target. Or, I’ve canceled my subscription to Disney Plus. And I’m like, well, when you did that, did you send an e-mail to the guys at Disney and tell them why you’re doing that? And typically the answer is, no.
And I’m thinking, well, how’s that going to make a difference? I mean, certainly the guys at Target aren’t going to sit around and say, man, you know, Ms. Goldstein hasn’t been coming up — coming around here lately. I wonder if she’s upset at our transgender bathroom policy. I wonder if we should get the VPs on a Zoom call to discuss — no. The left, with much smaller numbers than us — I mean, with much smaller numbers than the number of people in this room, they know how to do it. Five of them, five college students, will start up the Committee Against Racism. And they will send an e-mail to Target basically saying, we’re announcing on Monday a nationwide boycott of Target. And we’re going to be calling you the most racist company in America, unless you do these five things that we have enumerated in the attached document. And I’m not saying Target will do them all, but I will assure you that immediately, there’s a Zoom call among the vice presidents of, what do we do about the Committee Against Racism? And they don’t know who’s in the Committee Against Racism, but my point is, the left is able to exercise real power on them and make them jump.
Now, my question is, how do we make them jump even higher? Now, in 2014, I published a book, America. America: Imagine the World Without Her. A movie coming out two weeks later. And this is like a little case study. I think you’ll see when you hear it, this is like a very good — this could be, like, in the Harvard Business School case studies. I get a call from Jerry Corsi, a guy I know who writes for a website called World Net Daily. And Jerry goes, hey, Dinesh, I’ve just discovered that your book has been pulled out of every Costco in the United States. And I go, Jerry, I go, that’s probably not it. I go, if you went into Costco, you couldn’t find my book. It’s probably because some weirdo assistant manager, some man-bun guy, sees my book, you know, starts palpitating, and then, like, puts it under the table so you can’t find it. That happens to me all the time. Don’t worry about it. He goes, no, no, Dinesh, that’s not it. He goes, you will not be able to find your book in any Costco in the U.S.A. And I go, Jerry, that doesn’t make any sense. First of all, Costco is not a bookstore. They don’t order a lot of books. They just chose to feature my book. They didn’t have to. So having ordered the book, and my books have always sold well in Costco, why would they put them in and then pull them all out? It makes no sense.
Anyway, Jerry Corsi says, it’s true. And I verify; it is true. And he writes this article on World Net Daily, and then it gets me thinking: What happened here? And I figured it out. The CEO of Costco, a guy named Jelinek, big Obama supporter. So what happened here is that some big Obama guy — let’s just call him Rahm Emanuel. It could be any of them, you know? He essentially pirouettes his way into Costco in Chicago, and he goes, what? Dinesh D’Souza’s book! The big man’s not going to be happy about this. So he calls Craig Jelinek and he goes, Mr. Jelinek, wait till Obama finds out that you’re featuring Dinesh D’Souza’s book prominently in your store. He’s not going to be happy. I think you know that. Jelinek then panics, and he goes, I’ve got to keep Obama happy, and so the order comes down from the very top: Pull the book. This is how power works behind the scenes. This is — something like this is exactly what happened.
Now, the question is, where’s the counterstrike, right? So Jerry Corsi writes this, and he’s a beautiful writer — he writes this long, powerful article. He goes, it’s the Fourth of July; Costco has pulled a book by an American patriot, an argument for rational patriotism, and people go berserk. They start shouting and screaming and cutting up their Costco card. But it’s all on World Net Daily. Costco doesn’t care. Costco’s a multibillion-dollar corporation. What do they care what’s happening on World Net Daily?
But then, and this is the point I’m getting at, a very interesting moment in the history of social media: Someone in that group basically puts out the word, why are we raging on World Net Daily? Let’s all mosey over to the Costco site. Now, this is very interesting, because Costco does some one third to one half of their business worldwide on their website. And so what happens is, a snowball begins to roll to Costco, but it started out with 1,000 people. By the time it gets to Costco, it’s like 15,000 people. And these 15,000 people proceed, in 24 hours, to completely and utterly destroy the entire Costco site, by which I don’t mean, please restore Dinesh D’Souza’s book. No, they go through every single product at Costco — the food sucks, the grills don’t work, the pants don’t fit, these people are terrible, and you have executive members posting videos of themselves cutting up their own executive membership card. Costco makes thousands of dollars over each of these people.
And so this is happening on the Costco site. If anyone comes on Costco, they see a revolt of Costco’s own customers on their own site. And so, I get a phone call from my publisher that says, this is very strange, but Mr. Jelinek has provided us with two first-class tickets for you to fly to Seattle for an emergency meeting. So I’m going up there with my publisher, and my publisher says to me, listen: We’re going to play nice. We’re going to basically ask them to try to restore this — to reverse their policy, and we have to appeal to their good will. Remember, we publish other books. My publisher is understandably concerned. To which I simply said to my publisher, your job at this meeting is not to speak. Do not say a word. Do not say a word.
And so, I walk into Mr. Jelinek’s office and the first words out of his mouth are, “Mr. D’Souza, you are destroying Costco.” And I’m thinking, I’m destroying a multibillion corporation all by myself? This is fantastic. I mean, who’s next? So what I said to him was, I said — and I think this is important. I said to him, I said, no. I said, I’m not destroying Costco. I said, you are the worst CEO in America. You know why? Because you have pissed off your own best customers. You’ve got executive members of your company cutting up your card. I go, your board should meet tomorrow and fire you. And you could see his face. You know, he was like, uh. And — but I said, look, I said, I don’t have a quarrel with you. I’m simply, in a sense, pointing out that this is a controversy that I didn’t generate but that you deserve.
And then I leave. I fly back to San Diego. And as I land, my publisher calls. “Dinesh, what did you say to him?” I go, what? And they go, “Well, essentially, Costco has reversed their policy. They have agreed to restore your books. They have put in an order for 25,000 more copies and they’ve agreed to build a special standee when your movie comes out.” So everybody else — you know, their DVDs are, like, on the big table.
Now, one tiny — before I finish with this, and I’m going to wrap it up because I’m running over a little bit here. The main thing was, my goal from the beginning was not just to go after Costco. In fact, my film team was like, “Dinesh, go to the San Diego Costco, cut up your card.” And I’m like, you know, I’m actually not doing that. My goal is actually to put pressure on them so that they change, but once they change, work with them. And I’ve had excellent relationships with Costco to this day. They carry all my books ever since. But the point I’m trying to make is that this is a good example, and we need to think about this in every case. How do we apply real pressure so that it makes a difference? Not fictitious pressure. Not denouncing them in places where it doesn’t matter. But really hitting them where it hurts.
This was kind of our principle when I was a student at Dartmouth at the Dartmouth Review. We had a really simple principle. Because we were inspired by William F. Buckley’s idea that if you are a conservative in a liberal society, which is increasingly true of our culture generally, you can’t just conserve. You’d end up conserving liberalism. You have to become a kind of guerilla. Not gorilla, but guerilla, which means you are philosophically conservative but temperamentally radical. You’ve got to consider things you had never considered before. And our principle was really simple. Let’s think about what it is that doesn’t just annoy, but absolutely discombobulates the other side, and do that repeatedly. Do that repeatedly.
When I speak on the campus, one sign that I’m really doing well is when, in the middle of my talk, a student begins to shake, is unable to articulate the rage that they feel, and they run shrieking out of the room. When that happens, I know I’m in the groove, and I must be doing it. Not because I’m shouting or making epithets. None of that. It’s just that I am gnawing at the root premise of their whole worldview, and I’m taking that down. So it seems to me, this is a battle whose future depends on us. And you know, are we up to it? No, but we can be. We can be. We actually have resources in ourselves that we have not even begun to tap.
One more Lincoln as I close. Early in the war, Abraham Lincoln learned, as the Union army began to deploy, for the first time, black troops, the Confederates immediately passed an edict. They were so indignant over the idea of having to fight black guys that they issued an edict that any black Union solider captured by the Confederacy would be executed. This would not be true of white soldiers, who would be normal prisoners of war, but any black Union solider captured would be shot. This comes to the attention of Abraham Lincoln, who signs a — well, we show this in the movie Trump Card. You see Lincoln on a train. He’s signing the Order of Retaliation 1863. For every black Union soldier captured and executed by the Confederacy, one Confederate captive will be summarily executed. Wow.
Now, why would Lincoln, a moderate man, issue an order of such apparent barbarity? I think the answer is really simple. He realized that he had to do to them what they were doing to him, or they would never stop. And when he did it, they did stop, and the executive order was, in fact, withdrawn. As long as we have people — and this is — I’m just using Bill Barr here as an example. He goes before the Democratic Senate, testimony, and he goes, “Name one Democrat that I, as attorney general, have gone after.” It was a point of pride to him that his entire tenure, he had not gone after one solitary Democrat. And he thought that this was a marvelous demonstration of how Republicans are principled and Democrats are not, but the lesson for the Democrats was, this is great. We have Holder; he’ll do it. Then Barr will come in; he won’t do it. I’m leaving a — Jeff Sessions was basically sleeping through the whole time, Rip Van Winkle — Barr comes in; he won’t do it. And then we will have Merrick Garland, and he’ll do it again. As long as we act like this, they will act like that. We’re making them do it. That’s the problem.
So we don’t need to go pull their statues down. But what we do need to learn is that there are resources of creativity, of toughness, financial resources, imaginative resources, entrepreneurial resources — we can do things that we haven’t done before, and once we start doing them, we become a formidable force. Then the other side, even when they win, are going to fear us, and in their fear is our security. We can’t hope to win every single time, but in their fear is our security, and that’s how we know that even when they’re in charge, America is at least relatively in safe hands.
Thank you very much. Thank you.