Here are some of the triumphant moments of recent history that make it into the climactic montage in America, the latest “America's perfect!”/”America's doomed!” pant load from felonious troll Dinesh D'Souza: Jackie Robinson rounding home. Elvis Presley swinging his hips. Ronald Reagan and the Berlin Wall. Boxed copies of Windows 95 bouncing down an assembly line. How did D'Souza resist including the first time Clippy the Office Assistant helped a patriot format a résumé?
It's easy to pick on the ill-considered details of D'Souza's latest, the follow-up to the quietly crazy docu-screed 2016: Obama's America. The what-if cosplay that opens the film shows us General George Washington being gunned down by a cowardly Brit on — seriously — Sept. 11, 1777. The uncertain way D'Souza's shirt is tucked into his pants as he slumps thoughtfully in front of national monuments. The way D'Souza posits that it's a left-wing conspiracy that has kept the story of hair-product entrepreneur Sarah Breedlove out of history books — as if it's representation-minded liberals who have long fought the recognition of pioneering African-American women. The way D'Souza's name appears six times in the opening credits, including “based on the book by” and “created and narrated by,” which I bet he was awarded only after arbitration with the Creator and Narrator Guild.
All that's easy. The sad thing is that America's central thesis is risible, too. The argument is simple: Radical-minded professors such as Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky have, through the techniques Saul Alinsky learned from Al Capone, succeeded in making millions of black Americans, Native Americans, poor Americans and liberal Americans ashamed of the darkest parts of American history. D'Souza marvels that Zinn's A People's History of the United States is “required reading” in hundreds of colleges, and he tsks at a Good Will Hunting clip in which Matt Damon endorses the book. Zinn and company posit that slavery, the deaths of millions of Native Americans, income inequality and the secret bombing of Cambodia are all bad things that should shade our understanding of American history. D'Souza, of course, considers that reactionary madness, and he gets ex-professor Ward Churchill to say on camera that, yeah, it might be morally justified to nuke this country today.
For D'Souza, Churchill stands in for all liberals, in the same way that one old dude with a racist sign stood in for all Sarah Palin fans to Keith Olbermann. The implication, of course, is that Churchill is saying what the president secretly believes, a point D'Souza makes by putting together one of those who's-connected-to-whom photo collages that helps movie cops bust up crime rings. Trace it out, and Capone begets Obama — and Hillary Clinton, too.
D'Souza insists that anyone who still worries over these injustices fails to recognize that America is at heart a force of good in this world — that it's impossible to believe that Andrew Jackson killed too many Indians and that the ideals set down in the Declaration of Independence are worth striving toward.
Being a dope, D'Souza even attempts to prove that those injustices — “the indictments of America,” in his words — really aren't any big deal at all. Here's the evidence he marshals in the film:
Slavery? D'Souza points out — in a vile filmed re-enactment — that some black folks owned slaves, too, which means there's no reason for anyone today to feel raw about it. Twice he argues that the United States is the only country that ever fought a war to abolish slavery, so if anything, we should all be proud of that and our slave-free years afterward. That's kind of like arguing that nobody gives Jeffrey Dahmer credit for all the people he didn't eat after he was arrested.
American imperialism abroad? Chomsky tells D'Souza that there are a million dead Vietnamese who don't consider the United States a force for good. D'Souza counters with footage of American soldiers giving candy to Vietnamese kids. That's followed by a re-enactment of a fighter pilot's torture in a Viet Cong prison camp.
Economic inequality? This one I didn't quite follow. Rather than address any specific complaint of the Occupy movement or the Obama administration, D'Souza mounts a defense of entrepreneurial capitalism itself. He insists that the hot dog vendors in Times Square are under target from anti-capitalists every bit as much as are the CEOs of NASDAQ companies. Then, in a baffling skit, D'Souza plays the proprietor of fast food joint Delish Dinesh, chirping “Can I help you?” at customers in an Indian accent and then explaining to us that to make a hamburger at home would cost a consumer more than it would to buy a hamburger in a restaurant. Q.E.D., mic drop, #neverforget, honk your horn and shout “U.S.A.!”
That nonsense takes up most of the film. But after demonstrating that war, racism, poverty and the Trail of Tears have failed even to dim America's greatness, D'Souza exposes the one historical crime this nation's founders could never live down: radical, Alinsky-ite Barack Obama's passing of the health care plan cooked up by Mitt Romney and the conservative Heritage Foundation. Hilariously, just minutes after reducing Occupy Wall Street to an assault on small hamburger shops, D'Souza attacks insurance companies and Wall Street executives as fellow travelers in Obamacare, this country's one unpardonable sin.
There is other funny stuff in America, such as D'Souza bragging in narration that his previous film is the second-highest-grossing documentary ever. Or the transition sentence “I asked Texas senator Ted Cruz what started the Mexican-American War.” Or how D'Souza admits to being guilty of campaign-finance fraud — “I made a mistake. No man is above the law” — and then immediately argues that the real crime is that the government paid attention to and prosecuted his lawbreaking.
But nothing beats the out-of-nowhere assault against Matt Damon. D'Souza aspires to be the intellectual, conservative water chummer, the contextualizing smarty-pants who arrives at Limbaugh's and Hannity's conclusions only through learned reasoning. (If you sit through this, you'll hear lots about de Tocqueville.) But Matt Damon pisses him off. D'Souza gets huffy talking about the actor's praise of Zinn and comments about income inequality. D'Souza attempts to prove the actor's hypocrisy. He asks why Damon makes so much more money than the rest of us. What skill does he have?
D'Souza wonders this over clips of Damon, that magnificently physical performer, running and fighting in the Bourne movies. The questions are pretty rich, coming from a vainglorious huckster we've just watched waddle about D.C. like a shell-less turtle.