I’m a big fan of the fantasy genre known as “alternative history”. The premise of this category of literature is to ask the question “What if.” For example, author Harry Turtledove, known as “The Wizard of If”, has books about what would have happened if the Confederate States of America had won the Civil War.
Thus, when Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary film “America” opened with a “what if” scenario during the American Revolution, I was thrilled. There was pageantry on celluloid at that point as well-dressed (not historical really) American soldiers went up against the Redcoats and the unthinkable happened.
Unfortunately, the beginning of “America” was its high point for me, along with an effective conclusion, as we shall see. With what comes between, D’Souza, who narrates the movie, did not fulfill his promise to answer the question “What if America never existed?”
Instead, his documentary goes on to present propaganda defending America from criticisms from the political left. D’Souza synthesizes the arguments of both sides.
He does this well, especially when he interviews prominent leftists such as academic Ward Churchill and historian Howard Zinn, who D’Souza says is the most prominent historian of the last half century. He calls the attacks from the left “indictments”.
D’Souza himself is a conservative. He presents counterarguments to the left’s view that America got to its place in the world through theft. Popular Tea Party notable Senator Ted Cruz, for example, is interviewed.
He defends the conquering of half of Mexico (now California and the American Southwest) as a just war. The war, says Cruz, was Mexico’s fault since their dictator Santa Ana was seeking to put down a revolt of Texans, who had joined the U.S.
The film’s best historical support for the traditional view of America is the historical account of Alexis de Tocqueville, the French aristocrat who came to the U.S. in 1831 and wrote of the entrepreneurial and religious spirit and behavior of Americans. The actor who portrays de Tocqueville does an excellent job of displaying the French value of “egalite'” and the American one of liberty.
After responding to the left’s charges, D’Souza notes how they have sought power in America by shaming the middle class into believing what he says are its deceptions and lies.
Activist Saul Alinsky, author of “Rules for Radicals” is portrayed as a thug who learned his trade from Al Capone associate Frank Nitti. Alinsky, says D’Souza, was the original community activist who sought to turn America into a socialist state by expanding such activism all over the country.
The political savvy viewer will know of Alinsky. What makes this segment of “America” documentary noteworthy is how Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have taken his ideas into government, turning the feds into an intimidating force.
For me, the most poignant moment of the documentary was when quoted Ronald Reagan, a man for whom he had worked as a policy analyst. Reagan once said, , “Our national anthem is the only one in the world that ends with a question: ‘Oh say does that Star Spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?’ ” D’Souza points out that the president also noted that each generation would have to answer that question for themselves.
Reagan’s remarks are presented in a part of the film in which the overbearing use of surveillance and intimidation by the American government is highlighted. As a result, it’s use was quite moving to me. I agree with Becky Gerritson, whose testimony before Congress is featured. Gerritson, a Tea Party official from Alabama, told the lawmakers that the abuses of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) against her party were the result of a government which has little respect for its citizens.
In an emotional conclusion, she went on to say,“Many of the agents and agencies of the federal government do not understand that they are servants of the people. They think they are our masters. And they are mistaken.
“I’m not interested in scoring political points. I want to protect and preserve the America that I grew up in. The America that people crossed oceans and risked their lives to become a part of. And I’m terrified it is slipping away.”
If D’Souza does nothing else, his “America” offers a view of the current political and culture wars that really does make it seem that alternate history has become reality. The current state of affairs in the U.S. do seem as if they come from a Turtedove novel.
However, I left feeling I could have learned most of what the documentary had to say by watching Fox News.