Saturday, July 12, 2014
Are you patriotic? Asked another way, if you are an American, are you proud to be an American? It's a relevant question coming out of our Independence Day holiday on the 4th of July, and your answer in 2014 is not a given.
Myself, I am a 24/7 patriot. That's not to say that I blindly support all of our politicians or their sometimes foolish policy. It is to say that I am proud of the American Experiment, of the "idea of America" as an experiment in liberty as a departure from the history of human governance. As a Pew poll found last week, my view is held by some 75 percent of conservatives. Conversely, the same poll found that only 40% of "committed liberals" indicated that they were proud to be an American. I am reminded of my YouTube debate with a friend, a self-described socialist, who eschewed patriotism as a "long prayer to a false god". To each our own.
Into this relevant question steps Dinesh D'Souza, with his second feature documentary in two years. His first film, "Obama 2012", came out in a presidential re-election cycle and examined President Barack Obama against the themes of a not-proud American mentored by his own "founding fathers" in an anti-colonial mindset - with America as the colonial power to be "anti". D'Souza's new documentary "America: Imagine the World Without Her" expands his scope to examine the radicalism of the American political left as they pursue an agenda through politics, journalism, and academics. You might view the film either as an attack on the left or as a response to them, depending on your own starting political experience and framework.
"America" has a viewpoint agenda, as in my experience all documentaries do, and that agenda is to unabashedly contend for the greatness-of-America worldview, which is rare in the documentary space. The film opens with a question, ends with a question, and makes its case over two hours using standard documentary techniques such as historical re-enactments, charts and graphs, interviews with key players pro and con, and catchy songs in the background evoking appropriate emotions as the story builds. Academy Award winner Gerald Molen ("Schindler's List") produced the film with reasonably high production values that kept my interest throughout. The film's opening question "Is America great, a net contributor to the world, and can you imagine a world without her?" is answered in roughly four main acts.
Act One introduces us to the not-proud-crowd who hold a "shame" view of America's founding and history on the world stage. This set of prominent historians, journalists, academics, and politicians believe that America was uniquely founded in great sins, and has gone on to act reprehensibly on the world stage since the founding. D'Souza gives voice to this shame view through interviews with key players: a Native American activist, chicano activists, college professors, etc. He features the work of Howard Zinn, whose textbook "A People's History of the United States" holds considerable influence in high school and university curriculum's nationwide.
Act Two recounts, in a fair manner, the indictments that the not-proud-crowd level against America, again in their words. Those indictments include that America stole the land from Native Americans and from Mexico. That we stole labor uniquely in the institution of slavery. That we have acted imperialistically and oppressively in aggression against other nations. If these indictments are true, D'Souza notes somberly, they must be remedied.
Act Three is a point-by-point refutation of the left's indictments, contending for American Exceptionalism. Here D'Souza advances a theory of world history not often heard in discussion: that most of world history has been governed by the "Conquest Ethic", and that America's founding was a purposeful and beneficial deviation from that world norm. The conquest ethic governed in North America before European arrival, for example, with tribes constantly displacing other tribes through conquest. Offering treaties, as the Europeans did during westward expansion, was a deviation from the conquest ethic. The universal sin of slavery is deeply embedded in the conquest ethic throughout world history, still existing in the world today, and not a unique sin of America's founding. America's founding was, by contrast, a "promissory note" on ending the institution in western civilization, a note which was redeemed later at enormous cost. And so on, in answer to the indictments.
Act Four makes the case that the "shame" view of America has a purposeful goal: political power - through which sinful America will be re-made in different model. Whose model? If you are looking at the current administration, then you have to look to Chicago from whence it came, and the main influencer of Chicago leftist politics: Saul Alinsky. Alinsky invented the community organizer model that Barack Obama was trained in. Alinsky mentored Jerry Kellman and others, and Kellman mentored Barack Obama. Alinsky also mentored Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wrote her college senior thesis on his plan for power. If you are looking at the agenda of our current president, and our likely next president, then you have to consider the influence of the radical mentor Saul Alinksy and his "Rules for Radicals" agenda for obtaining the power to remake America.
D'Souza concludes by returning to his opening questions. Is America great? Have we been a net contributor to the world by influencing the replacement of the Conquest Ethic that has governed world history with a liberty / capitalism model that much of the world is embracing? Can you imagine the world without that contribution? Can you imagine if the not-proud-crowd remakes America back toward the Conquest Ethic?
I mentioned that D'Souza ends the movie with a question. He does that by noting that America has the only national anthem that ends with a question: Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner still wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave? Will it much longer, if the not-proud-crowd remakes us? Each must contend for the greatness of America, as if it depends on you to do so. As D'Souza contends for our greatness. I was inspired by that message. Go see it, and judge his contention for yourself.