In the current issue of National Review, I have a piece called “Take Two: D’Souza films again.” As you can gather, it’s about Dinesh D’Souza’s second film, now playing in theaters. It’s called “America: Imagine the World without Her.” There is a companion book to it: America: Imagine a World without Her.
There is a slight difference in those two titles. Did you notice? The film says “the World” and the book says “a World.” Curious.
Dinesh’s first movie was 2016: Obama’s America, which appeared right in the middle of the 2012 presidential election campaign. Michael Moore’s movie Fahrenheit 9/11 appeared right in the middle of the 2004 campaign.
Neither filmmaker could defeat the president he despised — in Moore’s case George W. Bush, in D’Souza’s case Obama.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is the highest-grossing documentary of all time. No. 2 is March of the Penguins. (Can’t go wrong with penguins, or Morgan Freeman.) No. 3 is a Justin Bieber flick. And then comes Dinesh’s 2016, at No. 4.
Dinesh is the anti-Moore: taking to the big screen to press conservative points.
Here in Impromptus, I’d like to expand on my piece in the current NR. Dinesh D’Souza is an interesting man — and a lavishly talented one — with interesting things to say.
I began my piece by talking about Dinesh’s bus — I rode on it with him and his posse from New York to Philadelphia. He was touring the country, rolling out his movie.
It would be hard to imagine a nicer, swankier bus than Dinesh D’Souza’s. “It’s a lot better than Tom Cruise’s,” says Jerry Molen. He would know. Molen has been in Hollywood for many years, and knows everybody. He was the producer of several Spielberg movies, and he is D’Souza’s producer as well.
Dinesh travels like a rock star — or did in this case — and is sometimes greeted like one. This is extraordinary, for an intellectual and book author. Of course, he is a filmmaker now — and the (onscreen) star of those films.
In the past, he says, he was recognized now and then, from scattered TV appearances. You don’t get recognized from articles and books — not on the street. You do get recognized from television.
But after his first movie, he found a whole new level of fame. He was recognized, not just by a few political nerds, but by the public at large: store clerks, TSA agents, and so on.
How does it feel? Darn good, of course.
I must tell you, it was a blast being on that bus — my taste of stardom, or at least of groupiedom. Happy groupiedom.
The night before, there was a screening of America in Union Square — New York’s Union Square. This is not a conservative stronghold, let me tell you: It is hard by Greenwich Village, and New York University.
Dinesh’s audience included many young people, and young people of various hues (for those keeping racial score — as many people do). Dinesh tells me, “It’s not that young people have rejected conservatism. It’s that they have not been exposed to it.”
There is at least one distinguished conservative who lives in Union Square: Richard Brookhiser, the NR senior editor and historian. (I should probably have put those two in the opposite order — historian first — but I’m being partisan, in a magazine sense.)
Dinesh’s movie begins arrestingly: with the words “September 11th.” That’ll certainly get your attention. The first words are “September 11th.”
An American soldier in the Revolution is writing home to his wife on September 11, 1777. He is telling her about the wonderful commander, George Washington.
And the movie proposes a what-if: What if Washington had been felled by a sniper’s bullet, before completing the Revolution? What if America had never gotten off the ground?
It is unnerving, watching the movie, seeing Washington fall from his horse. Dead.
Also, what if the Nazis had gotten the Bomb before we did? Dinesh ponders that too, and, again, it is unnerving. History is not inevitable (unless you’re a super-deterministic type).
Early in the movie, Dinesh says, “I love America.” He sure does. He loves it as only an immigrant can. (Dinesh came from Bombay.) He loves America without embarrassment, without apology.
When I was growing up — and where I was growing up — you could not really talk this way. You had to remember America’s sins. Indeed, you had to stress them. You were loath to be a jingo, an Archie Bunker. We were raised on Norman Lear shows (I exaggerate, of course). There was hardly anyone dumber or less respectable than a flag-waver.
Dinesh knows all about America’s sins, I assure you. But he knows about the rest of the world’s, too. And he does not slight America’s virtues. (On the contrary.)
In his movie, he quotes Lincoln — that is, he has an actor playing Lincoln, saying these words (or some version of):
Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer: If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.
Guy could talk, couldn’t he? And think.
Dinesh, narrating, says, “How do you convince a great nation to author its own destruction? You start by telling a new story.”
He then explores what he calls the “shame narrative” of American history — that’s a wonderful coinage, by the way: “shame narrative.” I think I will remember it and use it for a long time.
The shame narrative goes something like this: We stole the land from the Indians, or the Native Americans, as we call them now. Then, to add insult to injury, we committed genocide against them. We proceeded to build our nation on the backs of African slaves. We stole the Southwest from Mexico. We unleashed imperialism on the world, including poor Vietnam. And we degraded our own people with capitalism — which benefits the privileged and rich at the expense of the unprivileged and poor.
And if our possessions are the result of plunder, what do we need to do, morally? Give them “back.” Make restitution (through socialism, for example).
I used to joke, “My education in American history consisted of slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese internment, and McCarthyism.” That was an exaggeration — and unfair — but it contained a point.
I once heard Bernard Lewis (the great historian) say, “There is an old slogan: ‘My country, right or wrong.’ America’s current attitude is, ‘My country, wrong.’”
You will find the “shame narrative” in Howard Zinn’s textbook, which has sold more than 2 million copies, and is a principal teacher of Americans. You will find it in many other places, too.
What Dinesh does is talk back to it. He restores the “hidden history,” as he says. The shame narrators (let’s call them) focus on maybe 20 percent of the American story. Dinesh simply puts the other 80 percent back in.
David Horowitz once said to me, “No one knows how much influence Howard Zinn has had. That influence has been enormous. No one realizes how much damage he has done.”
In his movie, Dinesh interviews some famous leftists, including Noam Chomsky and Ward Churchill. (I would love to see Dinesh in debate with Michael Moore, by the way. Dinesh tells me that Moore will have nothing to do with him — which is no doubt smart, on Moore’s part.) Does Dinesh give Chomsky, Churchill, et al. a fair hearing? No. He treats them rather like 60 Minutes has long treated conservatives (!). They say a few words, unpersuasively.
But I should not weep for Chomsky & Co., because they have their outlets — in spades.
Isn’t it interesting that Ward Churchill should share a name with the man who, in the 20th century, stood for the all-out defense of Western civilization?
Listening to Dinesh defend and extol America, I think, “Even our ‘progressives’ must know this is true. Somewhere, deep within them, they must know it is true — that America is on balance a good and honorable and just place, which has blessed untold millions of people the world over.”
In 1964, there was a slogan: “In your heart, you know he’s right.” Of course, there was a retort to this: “In your guts, you know he’s nuts.”
I think that’ll be enough for one day. Will be back tomorrow, for Part II.