Dinesh D’Souza’s latest documentary, Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party, suffers from the same drawback as his earlier films, 2016: Obama’s America (2012) and America: Imagine the World Without Her (2014) — namely, an attempt to do too much. Only this time it is much too much. Instead of limiting himself to the promised exposé of Hillary Clinton, he has gone way beyond what you might have supposed was work enough for any man to a kind of unified field theory of political evil in the modern world — which he identifies with the Democratic Party. Grasping at sensation, he finds within that party an ironical — given its occasional focus on Hillary as Bill’s “fixer” in the sex scandals of the 1990s — vast left-wing conspiracy which, with a remarkable singleness of purpose across the generations and the centuries since the party’s early days under Andrew Jackson, has been bent on “stealing” America.
The only explanation I can think of for this lamentable loss of focus is that, knowing his film would be reviewed as unfairly as in fact it was reviewed, where it was reviewed at all, Mr. D’Souza chose to let that free him to engage in the kind of cartoonish extravagance he engages in here. He must have known in advance that the media — and there is no more politically biased segment of the media than that dealing with entertainment — were going to call Hillary’s America “propaganda that shades off into paranoia… ahistorical” (Variety), “incoherent… distorted” (Washington Post), “familiar to anyone who’s examined a right-wing website” (New York Times) or “an amateurishly slapped-together rehash” (Los Angeles Times). What, then, did he have to lose?
The answer is a degree or two of credibility with those not already on his side whom he might otherwise have hoped to persuade. From a dramatization of Andrew Jackson ordering the flogging (and taking to bed) his female slaves to the Democratic Ku Klux Klan to Woodrow Wilson’s segregation orders and appreciation of Birth of a Nation to Margaret Sanger and the eugenics movement to the Dixiecrats who opposed the civil rights acts of the 1950s and 1960s to Saul Alinsky and machine politics all the way to Barack Obama’s imprisonment and “re-education” of one Dinesh D’Souza for (of all things!) making an illegal campaign contribution, those cunning Democrats have lurked behind most of the bad things in American history, even as the Republicans, having freed the slaves and manfully tried to set them on the road to full citizenship, have reliably striven to uphold the good.
In short, even to those (like me) who are in sympathy with a lot of this account of American history, the movie makes Mr. D’Souza and his co-writer/director Bruce Schooley look and sound like a couple of the nuttiest of the conspiracy nuts. This is a pity, because there is a lot of good stuff here on Mrs. Clinton who, as easily the most corrupt presidential candidate ever to win the nomination of a major party in America, could certainly do with a good cinematic exposé. Interested parties without much knowledge of recent history but with the patience to sit through the rest of the film may still learn a lot about Hillary from Hillary’s America, but the movie can hardly be expected to penetrate the virtual media blackout it has unjustly suffered so long as it can be portrayed as the work of such cranks as Messrs. D’Souza and Schooley inevitably appear to be.
I share their dislike, at least for what the Democratic Party has become in the last quarter-century as the party of abortion and immigration and welfarism and economic regulation and slow growth and semi-pacifism and sexual libertinism and identity politics and, under Mr. Obama, lawlessness. But I don’t think those who share my views can benefit from imitating the progressives by putting the past on trial and finding it guilty of not being the present. It’s an act of intellectual imperialism that can only serve an ideology dedicated to the destruction of the past and its legacy (which we call tradition) in its own interest. I understand that the film means to give the left a dose of its own medicine, but it won’t hurt the progressives, who hate the past anyway, nearly so much as it will our own side.
All that having been said, however, I sort of have to admire the movie for its sheer ambition in taking on not just Hillary but the whole progressive state of mind out of which she and so many others have emerged into our disastrous political culture. Hillary’s America is hardly more extravagant in its claims of good and evil in our world than Michael Moore’s documentaries are on the other side. This is, as the current presidential campaign has so regrettably shown, simply how we in America and, increasingly, elsewhere in the democratic world now do politics — which are, like the movies themselves, ever further reduced to the cartoon version of themselves.
Here, too, Republicans are throwing in the towel and concluding that if you can’t beat the Democrats with decorum and gentlemanliness, you might as well join them in Toon-land. At any rate, a lot of Republicans seem to have taken the defeat of Mitt Romney four years ago as an indication that there is nothing to be gained from trying to buck this trend, which may be why they nominated a reality TV star to go up against the Hillary and Bill soap opera. And just as it is still too early to say if this will produce any better result, so, perhaps, it is premature to condemn Hillary’s America. Mr. D’Souza could rightly point out that it is the kind of thing a heck of a lot of people on both sides seem to want now, which can only leave the rest of us shaking our heads and wishing them joy of it, since they have got what they wanted.