A Teachable Moment: Dinesh D’Souza Refuses to Take Back False Claim about Republicans Owning Slaves in 1860 (UPDATED)

(UPDATE – 6/11/19) – See below the post for an update.

For Dinesh D’Souza watchers, this headline is as shocking as proclaiming that water is wet. I post this incident because it is a clear and convincing demonstration that D’Souza shows zero interest in academic integrity.  Let me lay out the basics. First, D’Souza claimed in a speech that no Republican owned slaves in 1860. Here is the speech:

He said one Republican who owned a slave in 1860 would require him to take back his claim.

Historians on Twitter, led by Princeton’s Kevin Kruse, quickly rose to the occasion and found ten. Follow the thread below for the receipts.

To go directly to the thread with the breakdown of the ten found thus far, click here.

In essence, the method of finding Republican slave owners involves an examination of those who attended the Republican convention as delegates and then comparing that list with registries of slave owners.

For his part, D’Souza said the instances offered by the historians are “invalid” and he repeated his claim this morning.

I looked for counter evidence in D’Souza’s threads and nothing shows up. D’Souza said no Republican owned slaves in 1860, but in fact at least ten Republicans are on record as being slave owners during that year. It doesn’t change the fact that the Republican party generally opposed the expansion of slavery but it does prove that D’Souza’s specific claim is false. His handling of the matter also shows that he cannot be trusted in a dispute like this (as if there was any doubt).

This incident is a case study in cognitive dissonance for D’Souza followers. Will they believe their senses or go along with their loyalty to D’Souza? There is a solid research base in social psychology which suggests his followers will find some way to ease the dissonance and stick with D’Souza. Most will never know about it because they won’t read any of the historians’ posts. Some will simply assume the historians can’t be right because they are “libs.” Those who do engage with the material will have the most trouble. They will hang on D’Souza’s denials and assertions. A few may file this away as a “rare” mistake on D’Souza’s part so they can hold on to other things about him they like. A very few may actually reconsider his integrity.

Where this challenges to D’Souza eventually may have some benefit is to cause venues like Christian colleges and other organizations who might consider having him in to speak to reconsider. I use instances like this one in my classes as illustrations for concepts like ingroup bias, confirmation bias, belief perseverance, and cognitive dissonance. This one will go to the top of the class.

UPDATE – D’Souza admitted he was wrong on his claim with a sorry, not sorry tweet.

If you click the tweet and read through the thread, you will see the “sorry, not sorry” attitude of the response. He still hasn’t taken down the original tweet. D’Souza insists on promoting a false picture of historiography surrounding party realignment. He tells his followers that historians obscure the role of Democrats in the defense of slavery. They don’t obscure anything. He isn’t a great revealer of hidden truths. What D’Souza obscures is the fact that the parties realigned and that there were Republican racists all along the way. He also insists that the parties now are of the same character as they were 150 years ago.

His admission is striking and had to happen because he was caught red handed. His reputation should be in some jeopardy now for anyone who objectively evaluates his rhetoric. Prior to his admission, his claims were absolute. He said many people had already spent much time trying to debunk his claim. In fact, it took a few historians about 30 minutes to counter it. This was a devastating rebuke. D’Souza’s confident claims should never again be taken at face value by anyone. It isn’t that scholars don’t make factual mistakes, of course they do. However, true scholars aren’t as absolutistic and arrogant as D’Souza. He went out on a limb above a canyon, and it was cut off.

American Greatness Quietly Withdraws Bayonet

The name calling has gotten hot and heavy in the recent Ahmari v. French dust up but I haven’t seen any calls for anyone’s death. For that, you need to go to the inappropriately titled Center for American Greatness. In a recent column about Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on Mexico, associate editor Pedro Gonzalez took exception to Cato Institute’s David Bier’s views of Trump’s proposals. In response to Trump’s threat to impose tariffs if Mexico did not reduce the number of asylum seekers getting to the U.S. through Mexico, Bier tweeted:

In response, Gonzalez wrote:

Not only do we have troops at the border now, but on the same day Bier called on Mexico to open the floodgates from Central America, a U.S. Marine fired his weapon while on duty along the southern border. The Marine reported he had been attacked inside his vehicle by three people. Around the same time, a mob of angry Hondurans attacked the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa. Technically, this was an act of war. Bier doesn’t seem to mind.

In a perfect world, as opposed to this clownish vale of tears, Bier’s remarks would put him at the business end of a bayonet—and to say so is not more incitant than calling on a foreign power to facilitate Invasion U.S.A.

Nevertheless, Bier’s reaction is what we have come to expect from the libertarian-right.

According to Gonzalez, David Bier should die for expressing his views on Trump’s immigration policy. Sohrab Ahmari wrote that civility and decency are secondary values. In practice, this means civility and decency don’t matter. Winning is primary. Re-ordering for that Highest Good is primary. In Gonzalez’s perfect world (re-ordered?), Bier’s First Amendment expression would put him at great risk. Apparently dissent and disagreement isn’t a characteristic of American greatness at American Greatness.

But that glorious day is not now. Apparently, someone got to Gonzalez and let him know that the re-ordering is not complete. He removed the suggestion that Bier’s immigration views made him worthy of death. The link above is the Google cache (preserved here). There was no explanation for the removal. Was it because a funding source complained? Or did some secondary value bubble up somewhere but without courage to say so?

AACC Sponsor Promotes Bible Soaking for Mental Illness

The American Association of Christian Counselors bills itself as a professional association, but it is more like an online infomercial for various educational, health, and mental health products. The creators of the products pay a premium to get before the AACC audience as sponsors and endorsers of the organization. Owner Tim Clinton reaps the benefits.

A new participant in this marketplace is Christian Healthcare Ministries. As I have pointed out previously, CHM is an odd partner for AACC since CHM as a rival to health insurance doesn’t reimburse participants for costs of counseling or psychotherapy. AACC owner Tim Clinton advocates his members buy healthcare coverage which doesn’t cover the services they provide professionally. Why would a licensed counselor who values professional mental health treatment purchase health coverage which doesn’t cover professional mental health treatment?

The mission of CHM and mental health advocacy is actually more at odds than I have previously reported. Not only does CHM not cover mental health treatment, the group significantly minimizes the need for treatment and the reality of psychological disorder.

In an article on the CHM website, CHM board member and OB/GYN Carol Peters-Tanksley encourages CHM members to avoid negative people and soak in the Bible to prevent mental health challenges. After noting that the prevalence of mental health problems is significance, she offers her answers:

When facing challenges like fear, bitterness, poor self-image, lust, money troubles, grief, worry, marriage conflict or any other issue, delving into what the Bible has to say about a specific struggle will change you. Soak in God’s word. Spend time reading and contemplating it. Let the power of Scripture penetrate your soul, wash out the junk and fill you to overflowing with God’s truth and grace.

If your mind needs transformation, pay attention to the media, the people and the Scripture you take in. You’ll experience a different kind of GI-GO: God in, God out.

That’s it. CHM is getting access to 50,000 (at least that’s what Tim Clinton says) Christian counselors to sell programs without mental health treatment as a benefit. Couldn’t CHM at least suggest members go see a counselor?

However, a search of the website for counselor turns up no such recommendation. A search for depression yields a couple of articles on stopping SSRIs. The fact is that CHM isn’t friendly to Christians in mental health or mental health treatment generally speaking. Thanks to AACC, as CHM’s subscriber/members increase, the potential clients of AACC licensed mental health professionals decrease. Why is AACC recommending this to members? Whose interests are being considered first via the promotion of CHM?

Against Sohrab Ahmari-ism

Subtitle: As Rick Wilson says, “Everything Trump touches dies.”

As I read Sohrab Ahmari’s betrayal of conservative principles in First Things (!), I thought of those who predicted Trump would kill the GOP and conservatism (even this one). If Sohrab Ahmari speaks for Trump supporting religious conservatives, the never-Trump religious conservatives have been vindicated. Here is Ahmari relegating civility and decency to one’s own tribe:

But conservative Christians can’t afford these luxuries. Progressives understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism. Civility and decency are secondary values. They regulate compliance with an established order and orthodoxy. We should seek to use these values to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral. To recognize that enmity is real is its own kind of moral duty.

Ahmari wants to win the culture war and he doesn’t want to be nice about it. For Ahmari, nice in this essay is embodied by National Review writer and religious conservative David French. Curiously, what really set Ahmari off was a drag queen reading a book during a library story time.

I recently quipped on Twitter that there is no “polite, David French-ian third way around the cultural civil war.” (What prompted my ire was a Facebook ad for a children’s drag queen reading hour at a public library in Sacramento.)

I added, “The only way is through”—that is to say, to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.

Ahmari complains that French is too nice and too wedded to pluralism to be of much help in winning the day for Christian morality.

Such talk—of politics as war and enmity—is thoroughly alien to French, I think, because he believes that the institutions of a technocratic market society are neutral zones that should, in theory, accommodate both traditional Christianity and the libertine ways and paganized ideology of the other side. Even if the latter—that is, the libertine and the pagan—predominate in elite institutions, French figures, then at least the former, traditional Christians, should be granted spaces in which to practice and preach what they sincerely believe.

Well, it doesn’t work out that way, and it hasn’t been working out that way for a long time…

Here is what I get out of Ahmari’s criticism of David French-ism:

  • Fellow citizens of different faiths and beliefs and moral views are enemies of Ahmari’s brand of morality.
  • To the degree that those citizens disagree with his morality and want to act in accord with that disagreement, they must be opposed without civility and decency.
  • The salvation of individuals is insufficient to achieve the common good.
  • The battle is a zero-sum situation. Ahmari’s team wins or the other side wins. Divergent views of what is morally good cannot coexist.
  • Once the enemy is defeated, the righteous victors (Ahamri’s team) will enjoy “the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.”

What else does Ahmari suggest as a conservative answer to moral decay? He leaves a lot to the imagination of his readers. He implies at one point that government might intervene in social media platforms where he believes conservatives have been censored. What about the drag queens? Does he want to violate freedom of expression, speech, and association? If so, how?

What would this re-ordered public square look like? Would businesses close on Sunday? Would store clerks have to say Merry Christmas? Surely, there would be no drag queens in libraries. Would they be allowed anywhere? Who gets to define the Highest Good? Ahmari tells us that culture will never favor Christianity so he must have something more top down in mind. I think he gives us a clue in his piece when he writes:

Conservative liberalism of the kind French embodies has a great horror of the state, of traditional authority and the use of the public power to advance the common good, including in the realm of public morality. That horror is a corollary to its autonomy-maximizing impulse.

This goes back, I think, to its roots in English non-conformism. In Culture and Anarchy, his great Victorian critique of this mode of thought, Matthew Arnold says of the nonconformist that, because he has encountered the Word of God by his own lights, he sees no need for the authority and grand liturgies of a national church (still less the Catholic Church).

But as Arnold notes, while the nonconformist vision of an austere, no-frills, solitary encounter with God might be suitable in one context, it doesn’t satisfy other necessities, such as collective public worship befitting public needs.

Ahmari adds:

Calls for religious revival are often little more than an idle wish that all men become moral, so that we might dispense with moral regulation.

Ahmari doesn’t like French-ism because he claims that French hopes individual salvation will make people moral and lead to a moral culture. Ahmari disagrees. He argues that “public power” and “moral regulation” will “advance the common good.”

So many questions come up. What is this “public power” and what are these “moral regulations?” Is it a state church? A oath to Dear Leader? Would Ahmari regulate drag queens? Libraries? The press? Free speech?

If this is Sohrab Ahmari-ism, I am against it.

David French?

Since attorney French has been a major player in religious liberty court cases, I would never have gone to him as a figure head for Ahmari’s opposition. Apparently, Ahmari doesn’t like French’s refusal to bow the knee to Trump and the fantasy of a Trump crafted “social cohesion.” However, reading French over the past two years, I think he is as fine as anyone to cast as a foil to Ahmari’s grand re-ordering plan. French knows who he is morally and spiritually, but he also writes convincingly about respect for freedom of conscience.

A serious problem with Ahmari’s plan to re-order the public square in his fuzzy image of the Highest Good (note the caps) is that such a re-ordering would have to rely on coercion. Someone’s conscience is going suffer. Ahmari doesn’t want it to be his so to hell with civility and decency. I mean that literally. If it takes hellish strategies to get the job done, then we must be realistic. The other side isn’t squeamish. And remember, the other side is made up of libertine pagans (Ahmari’s words), so they will surely use every demonic method available.

For Ahmari, these pagans aren’t just fellow homo sapiens who happen to see the world differently. On the other hand, French and his fellow French-ists respect the Constitutional freedoms available to all citizens. In his rebuttal to Ahmari, French made a point that is foundational to our ability to be one nation.

My political opponents are my fellow citizens. When I wore the uniform of my country, I was willing to die for them. Why would I think I’m at war with them now?

I agree. I get that Ahmari doesn’t like it when other people see the world differently and act on that difference. Most of us try to make the world more comfortable for us. Our founding documents ensure equal treatment before the law to pursue our aims. Ahmari also wants very much to do that for himself and those he likes. However, his ode to group serving bias isn’t a way forward for me, even though we may share some similar doctrinal beliefs. I can’t reconcile it with basic Constitutional freedoms which conservatives claim they want to conserve.