It takes 90 minutes for Dinesh DSouzas rambling, mistitled America: Imagine the World Without Her to get to its real point. Theres DSouza, arch-conservative Ivy League immigrant, creator of the popular anti-Obama screed 2016: Obamas America, in handcuffs.
I made a mistake, he says to the conservative choir hes preaching to. Were supposed to know he pleaded guilty to felony federal campaign finance law violations back in May, and that he faces prison time when hes sentenced later this year.
Snippets of assorted Fox TV commentators link that conviction to his earlier film criticizing Barack Obama. The implication is that hes a martyr to the cause. And for those in his choir a little slower to catch on, he cuts to an actor playing Abe Lincoln, giving his farewell address, a speech freighted with symbolism.
I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return.
Cut to John Wilkes Booth, an assassination, and a great Republican lost to history.
What doesnt matter is that Lincoln actually gave that address as he left Illinois for Washington in 1861, four years before his assassination.
What does is DSouzas almost comical gall at daring to make the comparison.
America sets itself up as a piece of documentary counter-history, opening with George Washington not surviving the 1777 defeat at the Battle of Brandywine, which causes Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty to dissolve. Where would the world be if America wasnt here?
But DSouza abandons that as he posits his main thesis that a conspiracy by academics and activists has created a culture of shame about American history. He lists five indictments that Native American activists, Mexican-American academics, African-American leaders, leftist historians and the Occupy Movement have sold the American public that we stole Indian land, Mexican land, African slaves, global colonies (and oil) and that capitalists are stealing from each and every one of us, even today. Then he sets out to dismiss each of those indictments.
Hes on his safest ground going after historian Howard Zinn, whose Peoples History of the United States is a de-mythologized look at assorted American wrongs, dating from European settlement of the New World, to slavery, Indian genocide and through Vietnam and todays Oil Wars.
Zinn is darling of the left Hollywood liberals embraced him which makes him a good conservative whipping boy. Yes, his book is taught in a lot of Americas colleges and universities. No, DSouza doesnt mention that its typically taught as an added text to counter the standard narrative of American history. Using the shrill Zinn along with more conventional texts teaches students critical thinking.
DSouza takes issue with the notion that keeping conquered lands was something we invented, punctures the use of genocide to describe the impact of disease on Native American populations in the early years after European settlement, and counters the idea that the Sioux Nation, for instance, should refuse compensation for lands taken from them in violation of treaty because they expect the lands to be given back to them. The Sioux themselves seized those lands from other tribes, so maybe they should cash Uncle Sams check and shut up.
DSouza whines that capitalists are under fire and flings the usual hero entrepreneurs up on screen (Steve Jobs, et al) while avoiding mentioning rapacious corporate compensation culture, Wall Street chicanery or high-finance gambling.
He dismisses the notion of any lingering impact of slavery on African Americans, 150 years after the fact, with a couple of up-by-their-bootstraps anecdotes, and sidesteps the fiasco of Vietnam by interviewing a pilot who was shot down, held prisoner and tortured by the Vietnamese.
His reenactments include that one Frenchman conservatives love, Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote so admiringly about our character 180 years ago. DSouza could probably have found better credentialed historians to weigh in on his side of these topics, making for a serious and civil debate, but is generally content to aim lower in that regard.
What hes doing, it turns out, is lowering the viewers standards of proof for a vigorous return to 2016 territory, a hatchet job on Obama and Obamacare that tries to tie everything to a 1960s radical organizer who might have influenced the president and, of course, Hillary Clinton.
DSouza cannot help himself. Hes discovered a way to get rich hurling Obama-baiting red meat to an audience that cannot get enough of that, so he abandons any pretense of making a movie about how this country should have a more vigorous debate about its image, its principles and just what the truth is about its history. Well, dont begrudge him that. He will need a nest egg if he goes to prison.