Credit: Mubi
Before We Vanish by Paul Attard Featured Film

Trump Card | Dinesh D’Souza

October 7, 2020

Trump Card was always going to be pathetic, but it surprises in demonstrating new lows of argumentation and cohesion from its soft-minded director. 

Dinesh D’Souza has, somehow, once again, outdone himself. Not in terms of his technical prowess or his ability to skillfully assemble a complete “artistic” product — he has a few compositions in Trump Card that show he’s mastered the art of basic green-screen, though he has a tougher time filling empty space; he still relies, quite heavily, on stock footage set to indie-covers of the National Anthem to do most of his heavy lifting — or even conveying the slightest hint of charisma in front of the camera, but in terms of being… well, Dinesh. Over the past decade, D’Souza has produced, directed, and even starred in four vaguely different — and at the same time, all equally ludicrous — documentaries decrying the rise of socialism under the sinister eye of one Barack Hussein (major emphasis on the Hussein) Obama and the evil Democratic Party, an entity contradictorily presented as comprised of both rubes dumb enough to fall for radical Islam and “the oppression Olympics” of Black Lives Matter and who are also somehow clever enough to be playing 4-D chess with the future of this country. What elevates these masterclasses in shitty argumentation from mere YouTube-level conspiracy theorizing — or really, any other conservative agitprop one can find on Fox News or InfoWars — is the fact that Dinesh has repeatedly chosen to center his works around himself, reenacting supposed scenes from his real-life trials and tribulations in an act of audacious hubris so grand that it often distracts from how sinister most of the man’s views really are. He demonstrates this brazen cockiness best within the first 20 minutes or so of Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party with a few staged reenactments of his time served in a federal penitentiary for breaking campaign finance laws. As he interacts with an assortment of gangbangers, they each openly admit the crimes they’ve committed in the past are modeled off of the thug tactics of the Democratic Party — confessions which probably, totally, 100% happened exactly the way Dinesh depicts it. 

Another thing that definitely happened in the way Dinesh wants you to think it did was his glowing exchange with President Donald Trump, which took place in 2018 when the director was pardoned of entirely stupid crimes for which he admitted guilt. The phone call presented here — where Trump is voiced by known impersonator John Di Domenico, who also portrayed the current Commander-In-Chief in Meet the Spartans — is somehow both completely kiss-ass in nature, as D’Souza claims this pardon re-affirmed his belief in American exceptionalism as he broods inside his oddly-lit home, and irrelevant to the rest of this torrid affair, bearing no weight on any of the several theses he attempts to prove. It’s also only the beginning of D’Souza’s slobbering portrayal of one Don J. Trump, who we’re told is a business genius because he put a lot of windows on one of his buildings (none of his failed casinos or his sham college are ever mentioned) and one who “runs into fights” for the sake of others; the proof being that Trump once asked his limo driver to pull over when he witnessed someone getting mugged in New York City. According to Dinesh, those are both strong enough reasons for this man to be re-elected into the highest office the U.S. has to offer, never mind his actual presidential record. Oddly enough, for a guy who uploads videos of his speaking engagements with titles such as “LOGIC 101: D’Souza gives Stanford student [a] lesson in history & reasoning,” Dinesh loves to engage in feels-based arguments with the cavalcade of talking heads he accosts. Dinesh feels that free college would make students unappreciative of the thing they’re constantly told they need in order to get a job in this country; he feels that, since people wish pregnant women good wishes for safe deliveries, that everyone secretly knows life begins at conception; he feels that, since there are forms of basic charity in the world, it outright rebukes the notion of needed government assistance. 

The interviewees he brings on for these moral scoldings — ranging from an unfunny black comedian who used to be a Democrat, a Mexican business owner who wears a cowboy hat indoors, a self-described “bleeding-heart conservative who happens to be gay,” and Andy Ngô, of all people — are all here as props for the same sort of disingenuous virtue-signaling D’Souza accuses the left of doing. He frames each of these complex issues (abortion, mass poverty, general welfare, etc.) along racial or gendered lines, bringing on one random counter-example of the said issue’s ideology to prove how conservatives are actually the “woke” ones. He even goes as far as to bring on far-right figurehead Mohammad Tawhidi to claim U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar is “ISIS with lipstick,” further asserting that “everyone” in the Middle East is shocked by how radical she is and that they all love the Democrats because they are idiots who will allow Sharia Law to sweep across the United States. One might be inclined to ask themselves a few simple questions after hearing any one of these pronouncements: Who in Iran actually says this about Omar and the Dems? What are the actual policies Omar has proposed to earn this title? Just exactly how have the Democrats embraced radical Islam? None of these basic queries are postulated, as Dinesh sincerely believes that just because he has a Muslim man saying some horribly vile shit, nobody will challenge such wild allegations. None of these interviews — including one with known homophobic actor Isaiah Washington, who giddily reveals he’s read “The Deal” twice, like some sort of sick MAGA-inspired inside baseball — even begin to touch the bizarre tone set when Dinesh sits down with Larry Sinclair (inside of a strip club, for some reason), as he details a supposed night abusing crack-cocaine (and eventually sucking off) then-Senator Barack Obama. Ignoring that Sinclair’s accusations are baseless, and that he has a long history with flat-out lying, Dinesh then makes a rather inane parallel between how the press has treated Sinclair versus their fawning for Stormy Daniels, asserting a wild case that liberal media bias has shaped these two stories in antipodal directions purely out of their own self-interest. One doesn’t even get the basic sense that D’Souza fully buys his subject’s wild story; he frames his claim with the limp opener “Whether you believe them or not…” and ends just as apathetically. 

If this all sounds like an absolute cluster-fuck of conservative fear-mongering, one that’s barely strung along according to dumbass conspiratorial logic, then… well, what were you expecting? Unlike 2014’s America: Imagine the World Without Her, which at least had the decency to feature a consistent-enough throughline, there’s no structuring principle to the arguments Dinesh is attempting to articulate this time out, leaving Trump Card as little more than a loosely associated series of moralistic tirades. A segment about how Joe Biden is a hypocritical champagne socialist, whose pursuit of diplomatic international relations is a smokescreen for him lining the pockets of his closest family members (which, all things considered, is about the closest Dinesh gets to some semblance of the “truth,” though the fact that he ignores Trump’s own egregious nepotism proves D’Souza really doesn’t care about these issues) is followed by how Christians are being persecuted in this country because Marxist atheists wanted the Bladensburg Cross to be taken down — only for it to then be revealed that the Supreme Court in fact ruled in favor of the monument staying. Moments like this readily stack up, exposing Trump Card as D’Souza’s most wildly incoherent work yet, one that’s surprisingly convoluted when it comes to an endgame considering its ideology is about as basic as it gets — Trump rules, Dems drool. When talking about other countries, Dinesh loves to simplify and gish gallop there as well: India and China are great because they’re “capitalist” now (though Biden is obviously evil for wanting to work with the Chinese); Venezuela, by the same token, is horrible because of “socialism.” Never mind the long, complicated histories of colonialist rule and subjugation that these countries have endured, or even how these international issues exist within a wildly different context than the U.S.; we can just have Dinesh’s second, much younger wife, Debbie (who’s a co-producer), tell us everything we need to know in a few minutes flat. (It should also be noted here that Debbie, like in her husband’s previous features, sings “America the Beautiful” half-way through; one could see this as an ode to Citizen Kane if they were to feel remarkably generous).

But no one turns to a D’Souza work for such trivialities as facts, but instead, obviously, only for re-affirmation of already-held toxic beliefs. And so, to call this a “documentary” would be playing fast and loose with any contemporary understanding of the medium; on the other hand, if one were to regard Trump Card in comparison to an early work like Nanook of the North, then a documentary indeed this is. As Robert J. Flaherty — a man who conceived a child with one of his subjects but never acknowledged the act publicly or privately — put it, in an effort to more or less justify the blatant myth-making he was constructing: “One often has to distort a thing in order to catch its true spirit.” If anything, by completely obscuring anything resembling a “point,” Dinesh has captured his own truest spirit as one of our most derisory propagandists working today — though that probably could have been deduced without needing to spend an hour and a half with him telling you how the deep state loathes Daddy Don. What viewers’ primary experience with Trump Card will be is a crapshoot emblematic of Dinesh’s entire oeuvre: equal parts amusing, laughable, frustrating, idiotic, and exasperating, a true reflection of the ridiculous man himself.