The Fourth of July weekend is coming up, and this year you can do something other than fireworks and a barbecue to celebrate our nation’s freedom.
Dinesh D’Souza, the controversial social commentator who shook up Hollywood with the $33 million earned by the theatrical release of his Obama 2016, is back with a more polished and more powerful message.
But most people will leave the theater with a more optimistic conclusion: Much of the criticism of America taught in the nation’s schools is easily refuted, America is worth saving, and we have the tools to do so in our DNA, just waiting to be harnessed.
In an interview at a preview of America, D’Souza acknowledged that critics will try to discredit his message by attacking the messenger. A few months ago, he pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations that could conceivably land him in prison when he is sentenced in September. D’Souza includes in the film a brief section on his legal troubles; in this, he clearly conveys his view that he was selectively prosecuted. But viewers should take the film on its own merits, he says, regardless of what they think of him.
The current bitter partisanship we now see is a result of America’s division into two groups, D’Souza says: one that is a product of the 1960s cultural revolution, and another that never quite embraced the values of the 1960s. He notes that economist Joseph Schumpeter warned that capitalism produces “creative destruction” that topples traditional institutions and traditional mores. The material abundance created by capitalism erodes the qualities of hard work, self-discipline, and deferred gratification that produced that abundance in the first place.
Just how much those old values have been undermined is at the heart of the most controversial part of America. D’Souza points out that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were acolytes of the great left-wing “community organizer” Saul Alinsky. D’Souza is the first filmmaker to mine the rich material showing the radicalism of Alinksy, who was personally tutored by Al Capone’s deputies in the tactics of the mob and who even dedicated his most famous book, Rules for Radicals, to a master Machiavellian: the Devil himself.
In America, an actress portrays a young Hillary Rodham as she’s led from her roots as a “Goldwater Girl” into campus radicalism through meetings with Alinsky. Later, she would use her senior thesis at Wellesley to paint an admiring portrait of Alinsky. “If Hillary Clinton is elected in 2016, the baton will have passed from one America to another,” D’Souza warns.
For young people, and young adults who were taught spongy “social studies” rather than true American history, the most valuable parts of the movie might be those in which D’Souza tackles America’s greatest sins: its treatment of Native Americans, slavery, the transfer of half of Mexico to the U.S. after the Mexican War of 1848, and its supposed colonialist behavior. Consider his treatment of those subjects as his direct rebuttal to the works of radical historian Howard Zinn, whose textbooks treating America’s history as one of ceaseless oppression dominate many American high schools and colleges.
“The Indians have gotten a bad deal,” he notes in his book. “At the same time, we should be clear about what the alternatives are. . . . You say, ‘Give us back the Black Hills,’ You point out that there is uranium and other minerals in those hills, and now that land is worth a fortune. Once again, no Indian tribe knew how to mine uranium and no Indian tribe knew what to do with uranium if they had it. Other Americans have added value to the Black Hills by figuring out how to tap its resources, and now the Indians want the land back so they can take advantage of what others have figured out how to do.”
He takes a similarly hard line with the demands of some Latinos to return land that once belonged to Mexico: “After the war, the United States immediately recognized as valid the property rights of Mexicans who were now part of U.S. territory. The change was not in any individual’s land ownership but in the fact that people who were once Mexicans now became Americans. . . . While progressives deplore American aggression . . . what we do know is that the vast majority of Mexicans who ended up on the American side of the border, following the Mexican War, never attempted to return to Mexico. And neither have their descendants.”
“Did America owe something to the slaves whose labor had been stolen?” he asks in the book. Yes, he says, but “that debt . . . is best discharged through memory, because the slaves are dead and their descendants are better off as a consequence of their ancestors being hauled from Africa to America.” He notes that when the great boxer Muhammad Ali won one of his most famous fights (the “rumble in the jungle” against George Foreman in Zaire in the 1970s), he was asked by a reporter, “Champ, what did you think of Africa?” Ali replied, “Thank God my grandaddy got on that boat!” Ali recognized, D’Souza boldly claims, “that for all the horror of slavery, it was the transmission belt that brought Africans into the orbit of Western freedom.” He quotes the black writer Zora Neale Hurston: “I have no personal memory of those times, and no responsibility for them. Neither has the grandson of the man who held my folks. . . . I have no intention of wasting my time beating on old graves. . . . Slavery is the price I paid for civilization, and that is worth all that I have paid through my ancestors for it.” D’Souza also notes that slavery has been a worldwide phenomenon throughout most of human history, and that whites were often enslaved — it’s hardly a sin unique to America, which fought a civil war to free its slaves.
As you can divine, D’Souza’s film and his accompanying book are a no-holds-barred assault on the contemporary doctrine of political correctness. While he has an advantage on some of the topics he tackles — he is a dark-skinned immigrant from India — one must give him credit for wielding his sword at so many PC dragons in one sitting.
At its heart, America is a celebration of its title subject, and nothing so exemplifies this than the closing credits over which a band moored on a barge near the Statue of Liberty belts out the most unusual and yet stirring rendition of our national anthem you are likely ever to have heard. Like its subject, America isn’t perfect and its arguments sometimes aren’t sophisticated. But it’s the perfect film to take the family to on a Fourth of July. I wager that when it opens on 1,000 screens on July 2, it will double or triple the box-office take of D’Souza’s first film. Here’s hoping it begins a long-overdue national conversation about the true meaning of America.
— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for NRO.