Clearly Dinesh D'Souza has a problem. Part of his problem is his conviction for illegal political campaign donations and money laundering, carrying a sentence of 10 to 16 months of prison time. Another problem was getting caught in a hotel with his girlfriend while still married to his wife... forcing his resignation from the Presidency of King's College, a Christian school in New York. Seems D'Souza has an ongoing problem meeting the "moral standards of the universe" for which he has been such a loud spokesperson.
Although perhaps not as troubling as his criminal and familial problems, D'Souza has a more general problem with the truth. Nothing could better illustrate his problems with facts than his current film America.
D'Souza begins, ends and suffuses his film with political costume drama -- re-enactments of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and a spate of political speeches by American heroes, particularly Abraham Lincoln. But he gets in trouble the moment he leaves the battlefield re-enactments. To his credit, D'Souza only pretends to be objective part of the time. He tells us from the beginning that he loves America (by which he means the United States), believing it truly unique and unable to imagine a world without it.
Unfortunately, he strays far off the costumed path to try to prove his points. In a self-congratulatory moment early in the film, he tells us that the three predictions he made in his previous movie Obama 2016 have all come true. Those who actually stayed awake through that movie realize that's not true. Contrary to his predictions, the U.S. is doing better than it was when he made Obama 2016, our allies are generally more firmly in our camp than when George Bush was president and our enemies are arguably weaker. Of course, since D'Souza offers no proof (e.g. lower unemployment rates, higher stock markets, more job creation, improved international treaties, improved living standards) these arguments are moot.
D'Souza instead warns us of dangers from within the U.S. posed by his villains -- Elizabeth Warren, Saul Alinsky, Howard Zinn, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. These people, he avers, want to destroy America. But D'Souza sets out to save America by disproving criticisms that he attributes to them -- that America stole land and subjugated Native Americans, Blacks and Mexicans.
Although he can't successfully dispute these claims, D'Souza mitigates their harshness, explaining them away using selective example, a sampling of outliers and partial truths. This method is illustrated in his treatment of Historian Howard Zinn. D'Souza introduces Zinn as the most influential historian of the last 50 years. Although popular, s survey of the profession and a consideration of awards and publications does not support D'Souza's contention. D'Souza claims that Zinn's A People's History of the United States is required reading in most colleges. This too is a total fabrication based on no demonstrable evidence. In fact, a survey of the largest universities in the country found this to be false.
Finally, D'Souza misrepresents and conflates Zinn's critique of capital and imperialism. He says Zinn's critique is not of the 1% richest, but is a critique of all Americans including immigrants and settlers. Finally, turning his very own premise on its head, D'Souza introduces right-wing Historian Ronald Radosh who insists that Zinn is not a real Historian. Despite Howard Zinn's voluminous use of indisputable data, Radosh claims that Zinn lies, though he cites not a single example of such lies. Radosh insists that Zinn says that America is intrinsically bad, when what Zinn actually said was that capitalism was intrinsically bad.
Similarly D'Souza focuses on single instances of outliers to discuss usurpation of Mexican lands, Black labor and Native American abuse. Despite some admitted injustices, Native Americans must be doing well because now they have casinos. A Mexican American student tells us that he does not want to go back to Mexico. A Black entrepreneur shows how easy it is to become successful in America. But meretricious window dressing aside, D'Souza's Potemkin Villages are so shallow as to only call attention to the weaknesses of his arguments.
D'Souza never deals with history or context in any meaningful way. Instead he repeatedly offers scattered factoids and cherry picked quotes. He actually shows no understanding of history. This lack of insight, analysis and grounding betray him. Notable is his attempt to deflect arguments of racism by pointing to the case of the notorious Black plantation owner William Ellison who, though himself African American, owned 60 slaves and 1,000 acres. But the system which allowed the growth of Ellison's rapacious enterprises is exactly the system which Historian Howard Zinn and the other critics took pains to describe.
We are shown an American pilot shot down in the Vietnam War. The U.S. role in Vietnam is praised. But the film pointedly ignores the corrupt, repressive regime which the United States was supporting. D'Souza tells us that the United States in ALL its wars wanted to extend freedom and NEVER took land. Somehow he ignores the governments which the U.S. has toppled and the resources we have extracted from these lands. The same pattern of one-sided treatment persists throughout the entire film.
D'Souza's deceptions seem more willful than ignorant. His suggestion that his own criminal conviction and his cheating on his wife are the result of political targeting are embarrassing and without support. It is a rather tawdry, but appropriate conclusion to a sad cinematic attempt to trash one's enemies without benefit of fact, yet explain away actual fact by suggesting political martyrdom. One can only hope there will be no sequel to this film!