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PostGodwin as Gospel: Dinesh D'Souza's "The Death of a Nation" (John Eipper, USA, 08/09/18 10:27 am)
At a loss for an afternoon's amusement, yesterday I took advantage of the waning days of Movie Pass to see Dinesh D'Souza's new documentary The Death of a Nation. (I'll set aside my "Death of a Business Model" review for that not-so-far-off day when Movie Pass expires for good.)
I was drawn to Death of a Nation by the promotional image that mashes together Lincoln and Trump's portraits (see below), as well as its 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This has at least to tie a record for critical reception. And I could go for free--see the above paragraph on Movie Pass. Moreover, I sort of know the Conservative icon D'Souza: he and I overlapped for a year (my freshman, his senior) at Dartmouth, and his ideological bona fides go back to his rabble-rousing days at the Dartmouth Review.
D'Souza's thesis is based on two metaphors: just as Lincoln alone could save the nation in 1860, Trump is the Chosen One to do the same today. The second metaphor likens the Democratic Party to the fascist and racist policies of Mussolini and Hitler. If Godwin's Law dictates that all discussions will eventually degrade into a Hitler comparison, D'Souza does this from the outset: the opening scene depicts the Fuhrer and Eva Braun committing suicide in their dank Berlin bunker. Next we cut to Dinesh as a scholarly boy in India, leafing through a book on world history and contemplating, like a pre-adolescent Gibbon, on why empires decline and fall.
America will follow the fate of Rome and the USSR, D'Souza's patient voice-over assures us, if we allow the Democrats to "end the America we love." What follows is a compendium on the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany, in order to prove the novel thesis that both regimes were fundamentally leftist, and moreover found their inspiration in the racist and eugenic policies of America's Democrats. D'Souza even triumphantly reminds us that the Nazis coined their name from National Socialist, with emphasis on the latter. One vignette highlights the Nazi manifesto in threatening Gothic script: universal health care, state control of industry, income redistribution, and total separation of church and state. Ideas straight from the playbook of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, we learn. My superannuated and universally white companions in the theater (a dozen perhaps) laughed in approval.
Trump is no choir boy, D'Souza concedes, but he is the direct descendant of Lincoln's legacy. No metaphor is needed now: both are Republicans, the party of inclusiveness with no one like the genocidal demon Andrew Jackson, who exterminated Native Americans, or the Jim Crow segregationist Woodrow Wilson. Wilson approvingly screened Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation in the White House. But what, D'Souza asks, of those who argue that the two parties switched positions in the 1960s? Nonsense, we learn, as Richard Nixon didn't carry the South and also introduced Affirmative Action.
D'Souza's film is profoundly silly and a perfect example of cherry-picked history. What about LBJ's Civil Rights Act of 1965? Or the Republican abandonment of Reconstruction under Rutherford B. Hayes, who agreed to remove federal troops from the South in exchange for the election of 1876? How the KKK's biggest heyday of the 1920s, under Republicans Harding and Coolidge? But these are details. The film's confident claim to "truth" strikes me as convincing to those who want to believe: to paraphrase Lincoln (who probably never said as much, but bear with me): people who like this sort of film will find it to be the sort of film they like. As I overheard from two middle-class ladies with Chanel handbags leaving the theater: "what an eye-opener."
Death of a Nation has two endings. About 90% of the way through the film, we hear a painfully long patriotic ditty sung by Dinesh's wife Debbie. At this point anyone but the Truest Believer will find God and pray that the end is here, but then we get a ten-minute coda on the anti-Nazi resistance movement led by the martyred Sophie Scholl. The relevance? These brave voices will inspire Real Americans to fight against Democratic tyranny. Then the film mercifully wraps up with another tune: an African American choir singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Duly inspired by Death of a Nation, I'll permit myself a postscript: One of the film's interviews features D'Souza with gadfly author Edwin Black, whose claim to fame was a 2001 book linking IBM to the Holocaust. When WAIS discussed this topic in the mid-2000s, our own Randy Black (no relation) posted a forceful refutation of the Black thesis. As a result, I received several telephone calls from Edwin demanding I retract the piece or face litigation. Not a warm and open-minded guy, that Edwin Black. Watching the interview gave me an epiphany: I know both of these fellows. I don't like either of them. This should tell me something about myself, but I'm not sure what...
Ultimately, Death of a Nation raises two questions: why it was made, and why anyone would see it. A clue to the former is Trump's pardon of D'Souza for campaign finance improprieties, a felony to which he pleaded guilty. (He had funneled over-the-limit campaign contributions through a series of "straw donors." In a personal phone call to D'Souza, Trump said DD got a "raw deal.")
And why see it? I have Movie Pass. If you don't, don't. Any modest-budget historical re-enactment on the History Channel has higher production levels, and certainly better history.
Does Trump`s "base" take this image seriously? It might
For contrast, try "Time" Magazine`s Putrump