Dinesh D’Souza is on trial once again with his new film, Trump Card, a visual overload consistent with his record so far. As a propagandist, he’s not so much Leni Riefenstahl but Michael Moore. In the same way, Moore perhaps wishes he had the journalistic integrity and style of Alex Gibney – damning, classy and precise – D’Souza, far-right commentator, author, and filmmaker, is equally content with hashing together footage of everyone but Republicans being hypocritical or violent, then pointing at the screen and declaring victory.
The United States of Socialism
The opening credits include images of Times Square riddled with pictures of Soviet leaders, Marx, Bernie Sanders, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Sanders is shaded in red and has the words “More free stuff” tagged below his angry-looking face. The Statue of Liberty is now the Statue of Lenin, and Mount Rushmore has been defiled with the nominees for Best Facial Hair in Socialism. Later, Times Square is taken over by images of left-leaning and centrist media personalities, while D’Souza looks up at their faces with his usual puckered expression of disapproval.
Once the hysteria has settled – but only for a moment – D’Souza is filmed writing his book, The United States of Socialism, when he receives a call from the president! “Dinesh,” the president says, with a voice that is either a decent impersonator or Trump trying to act, “you’ve been a great voice for freedom in America. I’m going to give you a pardon in the morning.”
In 2018, Trump gave D’Souza a presidential pardon for breaking campaign finance laws, for which he was convicted. D’Souza has since made two films praising his leader and criticising the opposition in a similarly outlandish and incoherent fashion.
Since 2012, when he released 2016: Obama’s America, D’Souza has relied on historical re-enactments of poor quality to structure his films and their bitter arguments. But Trump Card mainly uses real footage from the last few years, the kind you find on most right-wing social media groups. He has broken up his film into titled sections, each taking on one issue from the culture war and current political mayhem: ‘fake news’, sex scandals, gun control, Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, foreign interference, etc.
Similar to the successes of contemporary conspiracy theories, and despite a glaring absence of artist merit, D’Souza undoubtedly knows how to spin misinformation to entertain his very willing audience. His first three films are rated in the top 50 all-time domestic box office figures for a documentary. 2016: Obama’s America is ranked 18th, above Sicko and An Inconvenient Truth. If you are on the right side of this argument, Trump Card is going to be a hit.
The film is exhausting and potentially lobotomising, especially if you are watching it out of curiosity rather than support for D’Souza’s cause. He doesn’t defend the Republican side against the charges of racism, corruption, sycophancy, or cruelty. Instead, he makes accusations – some factually incorrect, others just dodgy or out of context – accusing the Democrats of bigger and badder transgressions for the purposes of obscuring conversations that rely on specificity. Conversations that could be had meaningfully regarding both sides.
To give one example, the one I found to be the most outrageous: D’Souza interviews Canadian businessman, Alan Bender, who discusses Iranian and Qatari interference in US politics (and who seems to be holding in a quite substantial fart for the entirety of his screen time). The aim is to undermine or deflect from the evidence of Russian interference in America by claiming there is a more dangerous link between fundamentalist Islam and the Democrats. The main link? Congressperson Ilhan Omar, who, according to Bender, is being paid by Iran and Qatar with “money and sex.”
Have you seen any of Dinesh D’Souza’s films? If so, what did you think? Let us know in the comments!
Trump Card is currently available to rent on VOD!
Watch Trump Card
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.