A still shot from one of the many pointless reenactment scenes in this soporific film.
Earlier today, since the World Cup is on a two-day break, I went to see Dinesh D’Souza’s new movie that has been relentlessly raved about by so many in the mainstream conservative media. This film by D’Souza is unmistakably one of the worst documentaries I have seen in many years—and I watch a lot of documentaries. It was dreadful.
D’Souza’s movie starts out by making you believe that he is about to deliver a monumental counterfactual history movie. From the onset, one would think that D’Souza was going to deliver a Niall Ferguson-esque look at the history of the world without America. The thesis of the documentary is supposed to be “What if America didn’t exist?” The movie did not answer this question. The movie essentially tries to answer “leftist” (read: historically accurate) claims such as: the enslavement of Africans existed and their stolen labor built the American empire, the extermination of Native Americans actually occurred, and California and Texas once belonged to Mexico. These are not controversial or disputed historical facts. Perhaps D’Souza’s documentary would be more appropriately titled Trying to Dispute Historical Facts.
D’Souza fulminates against Howard Zinn’s infamous historical work A People’s History of the United States. He points out there are many inaccuracies in the book (without ever telling us what any of those inaccuracies are). However, regardless of whatever anyone thinks about Zinn’s left-wing politics or his books, his work is inestimably better than the “scholarship” that led to this shambolic movie. America: Imagine the World Without Her packs the intellectual heft of an average troll video on YouTube. Unlike D’Souza who just tells you to hate books while using ad hominem attacks against their authors, I will tell you why D’Souza’s movie is nonsense.
D’Souza starts by pointing out the arguments that leftists make about America. He then says he is going to refute them. The problem is that he never does. His idea of refuting historical facts is by providing alternative facts that have little to no bearing on the facts that he is trying to refute. For example, to “refute” the claim that Native Americans were systematically destroyed by Christopher Columbus, he points out that Christopher Columbus predates America and was not American, ergo there is no way any of his actions can be an indictment against America. What D’Souza craftily omits to deceive his credulous audience is that Christopher Columbus is a national hero in America today. We are indoctrinated into believing the risible and fictitious history of Columbus being a great explorer who “discovered” the “New World” (despite the “New World” already having inhabitants). We still have a day devoted to Christopher Columbus. Trying to distance Christopher Columbus from America should also mean the jettisoning of Columbus Day. I doubt D’Souza would think that is a good idea, but he blithely dismisses Columbus as someone who predates America, while ignoring the unmerited god-like worship he receives in American society today. This nonsense from D’Souza is not scholarship or logical argumentation that can appeal to anybody with a triple-digit IQ. This is casuistic jingoism that appeals to unlettered rubes.
In a similarly obtuse “rebuttal,” D’Souza’s answer to the historical fact that California and Texas were once a part of Mexico is an interview with a young Hispanic law student who said he would move to Minneapolis if Texas ever becomes a part of Mexico again. If that’s not convincing enough, D’Souza also speaks to a border patrol agent and asks him if he has ever seen a Mexican-American trying to cross the border to go back to Mexico. The border patrol agent answers, “No.” This is the intellectual depth of D’Souza’s counterargument.
Another startlingly silly argument from D’Souza is regarding the enslavement and stolen labor of African Americans. D’Souza tries to mollify this historical truth by pointing out that there were black slave owners and also white indentured servants from England who worked alongside blacks. D’Souza correctly notes that white indentured servants were not treated as horribly as black slaves were, but he does not see how this utterly discredits any point he is trying to make. So what is the point D’Souza is trying to make, except to posit the fallacious, “Everybody went through slavery!” line that is popular with black oppression deniers? Yes, slavery existed in different forms all over the world, but the American enslavement of blacks was uniquely brutal.
Pointing out that there were black slave owners who supported the Confederacy means nothing, too. Essentially, this is this historical equivalent of black oppression deniers’ favorite question today: “What about black-on-black crime?” There are black people today who obsequiously lick the boots of white supremacists. Does that make white supremacy any less morally opprobrious and harmful? Certainly not. D’Souza also accuses leftist historians of excluding self-made black millionaire Madam C. J. Walker (Sarah Breedlove) from history books in order to make America look bad. He argues that Madam C. J. Walker’s success is a symbol of American greatness and opportunity. Categorically, Walker’s success is not emblematic of how rich a land of opportunity America was for blacks during the 19th century. It was a testament to black resilience and perseverance through terroristic white American oppression. The notion that her success can be used to portray America as a land of opportunity for blacks during the 19th century is so nonsensical and insulting.
As if the movie was not bad enough, after D’Souza finished “refuting” (read: glossing over and ultimately ignoring) historical facts, the documentary turned into weird political commentary regarding Saul Alinsky, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. Towards the end of the movie, there was actually a reenactment of Hillary Clinton meeting Saul Alinsky and him giving her a copy of his book, Reveille for Radicals. For a few minutes, the movie incongruently turns into a Hillary Clinton biopic. That portion was clearly just slapped on at the end to make the documentary long enough to justify it being in movie houses and not on YouTube for free (where it truly belongs).
After this, D’Souza is pictured wearing handcuffs in a cell, dramatically taking off and putting on his spectacles, and he lachrymosely presents himself as a martyr of Obama’s political witch hunt. I was surprised that the next scene didn’t show D’Souza hanging on a cross and with his dying breaths saying, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” That’s certainly the direction the movie was taking.
That is basically the movie in a nutshell. Nowhere did we see the answer to the movie’s alleged thesis: “What if America didn’t exist?”
The fact that nobody informed Dinesh D’Souza about how horrid this film is before its release says a lot. Nobody bothered to tell him how ridiculous and unconvincing his arguments were, and that the movie doesn’t answer its thesis. I was the only non-white, non-geriatric person in the theatre hall when I saw the movie. This is not a film that has the potential to influence the broader culture. The arguments are moronic. It’s the cinematic equivalent of the bad college term paper you slap together the night before it is due.
Surely, one can be patriotic without having to be a casuist for one’s country. No country is perfect. Every country has its problems that it works to overcome; however, mainstream conservatives seem to think it is an entirely acceptable practice to lie about American history, or to try to distort the historical record using casuistic reasoning. This is as morally reprehensible as supporting slavery, segregation, and the annihilation of indigenous peoples. An ideology that cannot stand without the aggressive falsification of history is a pitiable ideology.
With its casuistry masquerading as sober scholarship, D’Souza’s movie is a perfect reflection of modern mainstream conservatism. Mainstream conservatives keep themselves busy trying to rewrite history and disprove the historical fact of black and brown oppression. They would be formidable if they used that time thinking of innovative ways to expand their movement by making it more appealing to black and brown people.
To enjoy this movie and learn from it, you need to know precisely nothing about American history, care nothing about honesty, and be about as conversant with Aristotelian logic as a New York City rodent. (In other words, an ardent Sean Hannity listener and viewer!) If you understand logic, respect honesty, and know something about American history, this movie is not for you.
My advice: Skip this trash. Enjoy your Fourth of July BBQ parties and watch the quarterfinals of the World Cup instead.