The movie of choice this week for people who hold the beliefs that A) America is the strongest, best-est country that God ever virgin-birthed and B) that that nation somehow just isn’t strong enough to survive eight years of centrist Democratic leadership, Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016: Obama’s America actually does not touch on 2016 much at all.
Instead, it distills the anti-anticolonialist jeremiads of D’Souza’s books—which already were to academic argument what fruit snacks are to fruit—into an eminently fast-forwardable travelogue through Nairobi, Kenya, Indonesia, and a magic-hour D.C., where D’Souza slumps about Droopy Dog–style in contemplation of the monuments and where flags are forever dancing on winds that we must presume are the world’s most exceptional.
For what it’s worth, his thesis concerns the reasons Obama returned a bust of Winston Churchill to the British Embassy early in his presidency. The only answer D’Souza entertains: that Obama is a Mau Mau anticolonial revolutionary driven to impress his dead, absentee father, a Kenyan who dared to write in 1965—two years after his homeland achieved its independence—that government regulation might sometimes be needed to rein in private industry. You might object, “But Obama has spent almost zero percent of his life with that father, and something like 75 percent of his life in the same private schools and Ivy League universities and institutions of power occupied by every other president of either party in recent American history.” D’Souza’s counter is to brandish Obama’s memoir and proclaim, “Notice it says Dreams From My Father, not Dreams of My Father.” Also: Bill Ayers! Jeremiah Wright! Edward Said, who once taught a class Obama took! NYU psychology professor Paul Vitz shows up to explain that the father who abandons a boy has a profound influence on the shaping of that boy, an argument that lays bare D’Souza’s debased rules of evidence: the fact that Obama senior was never around to radicalize Obama junior only proves that he did radicalize Obama junior. That explains why junior later went on to fulfill the dream of all Kenyan revolutionaries of the 1960s: passing the health care plan Republicans came up with in the ’90s.
Now might be a prudent time to ask if, of all recent presidents, Obama is the one whose daddy issues have most endangered Americans.
Still, the film is a sleepy dud, a polemic that, like D’Souza himself, is at once both outrageous and deeply boring. Mostly well shot, it makes Michael Moore’s films look cheap by comparison, but Moore at least dares some adversarial interviews, and he bothers to chart a connection between government policy, corporate decision making, and the lives of actual people.
The best D’Souza comes up with is to try to make Obama look like an asshole for not taking care of that half brother who lived for a while in a Nairobi hut. At first, this seems contradictory—if Obama were an anticolonial Marxist with Africa on the brain, certainly he would funnel some aid to his far-flung family, right? But D’Souza can fit any fact into his conspiracy. Turns out, George Obama—who appears in an interview—thinks Kenya would have been better off if it had let the white colonists run the place a few more years. The only possible conclusion, according to Mr. Dinesh D’Souza: Barack let George languish because George isn’t down with the revolution.
The only true surprise here is D’Souza’s haplessness in constructing both film and argument. Here are the five funniest things that somehow wound up on-screen:
5. After several baffling minutes of watching of D’Souza squint at poor people from his seat at a Jakarta coffeehouse, we’re rewarded with a lingering shot of his khakied ass as he clambers onto a motorcycle.
4. Some actor actually got roped into playing a handsome young Dinesh D’Souza in re-created footage of an international-student mixer at Dartmouth. Other priceless re-creations: black hands digging the grave and crafting a cairn for Obama’s father; an Obama figure, seen from behind and in pristine high-tops, approaching that grave, weeping, and drizzling dirt along the marker; young Dinesh, slinging on a pack and saying farewell to his family and homeland and the grandfather he calls “slightly anti-white.”
3. The filmmakers’ decision to have interviewees speak into cell phones when D’Souza was not himself present, and then to cut on occasion to D’Souza, on a grassy lawn, asking his questions, as if the production had money for two different film crews in two different places at the same time but not the money for Skype.
2. One killer jump cut that boils D’Souza’s argument to its essentials: stock footage of skinny, loinclothed Third World laborers pickaxing a ditch followed immediately by Obama looking angry in the Oval Office.
1. D’Souza has made a career out of convincing white American conservatives that his personal history qualifies him to be the arbiter of which brown folks can and can’t be trusted. Remember, he’s the chap who declared American racism to be dead in 1995—something he was uniquely equipped to argue, considering his first experience of life here was those Dartmouth mixers. That claim is echoed in the only sequence here that achieves the inspired lunacy of a Glenn Beck.
As D’Souza, in voiceover, describes debating Jesse Jackson on the topic of whether this is a racist country, we’re treated to the sight of a hunky young black man sauntering up to a stool in the kind of neighborhood bar you might see in a Keith Urban video. He sits and smiles; the two twentysomething white guys on either side of him eye him, then each other, and then march off without a word.
The black man slumps, sadly.
D’Souza, meanwhile, is now talking about how his own hands are the same color as Jesse Jackson’s, and just as you’re wondering what the hell that is supposed to mean, those two white guys are back, and guess what? They weren’t storming away out of hatred for the black guy—they were storming away to surprise him with a goddamn birthday cake. Suddenly every person in the bar, all white, is clapping and cheering, and the black guy—a little sheepish at first—soon is beaming with them, having learned the lesson that D’Souza wants to share with everyone who has ever made the mistake of thinking he or she has been on the receiving end of racial prejudice: White people love Dinesh D’Souza, and they would love you, too, if you would just sit there quietly and let them.