With The King’s College president Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary 2016: Obama’s America a runaway success after its first weekend in nationwide release, UrbanFaith sent yours truly to the theater to see why people are flocking to this film. I went with considerable trepidation, expecting a poorly produced Michael Moore style piece of political propaganda. Instead, I got a visually compelling film produced by Gerald Molen, the Academy Award-winning producer of Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List.
I was surprised when the film opened, not with President Obama, but with D’Souza’s own story of emigrating from India to the United States for college. He highlights cultural influences he has in common with the president to demonstrate an intimate understanding of the anti-colonial forces that he says shaped Obama’s father and explain the president’s policies.
It’s an idea worth exploring, but beginning with the allegation that President Obama returned a bust of “lifelong colonialist” Winston Churchill to Great Britain soon after taking office and ending with a barbed-wire bound Middle Eastern map of what he calls “The United States of Islam,” he oversells his vision.
For example, as ABC’s Jake Tapper deftly explains, there were two Churchill busts in the White House, one that was on loan for the duration of the George W. Bush presidency and another that is on display in the president’s private residency. (For more fact-checking of the documentary, here’s the Associated Press and Slate’s Dave Weigel.)
D’Souza asserts that President Obama’s 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention would have played well in a room full of Republicans. He says the president was voted in on hope and because Americans wanted to vote for the nation’s first Black president and against our own racist past. “The reason he’s in the White House is because of his race, his blackness,” D’Souza says.
He asks what Obama’s dream is. Is it the American dream, Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, or someone else’s dream? Shored up by the armchair diagnosis of a psychologist and conversations with relatives and friends of Obama’s parents, D’Souza concludes that Obama’s dream is the radical collectivist dream of his absentee father, who, in D’Souza’s mind, influenced him more than the Midwestern grandparents who raised him from the time he was 10 years old. Other than a description of Obama’s maternal grandfather, Stanley Dunham, as a lefty who hooked his fatherless grandson up with Commie writer Frank Marshall Davis as a mentor, neither his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, nor his grandfather count for anything in D’Souza’s narrative.
While D’Souza quotes liberally from Obama’s memoir, Dreams from my Father, to sell Barack Obama Sr.’s significance in shaping the president’s worldview, he pulls a motive out of thin air to explain why Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, sent her son back to Hawaii from Indonesia to live with her parents. In D’Souza’s account, she wanted to “separate” him from his step-father’s “pro-Western influence.” But President Obama said in his memoir, which I read, that his mother sent him back to the U.S. for a better education than he could get in Indonesia. Even this is no good. The Hawaiian private school education was rich in “oppression studies” in the 1970s, D’Souza asserts without evidence.
Perhaps the most compelling and honest moment in the film is when D’Souza interviews the president’s half-brother George Obama in Kenya. He asks George if the president of the United States has been his “keeper,” implying that Barack Jr. is a hypocrite when it comes to caring for his own impoverished family members. George answers that the president has his own family to take care of and says he is a beneficiary of the president’s foreign policy. But then he says Kenyans were better off under colonialism and South Africans prospered because of Apartheid. This, D’Souza asserts in an August 16 column at Fox News, is why the president doesn’t intervene in his allegedly alcoholic half-brother’s life.
George apparently asked D’Souza to send him $1000 to pay for his sick child’s medical bills. The New York Times best-selling author obliged and then wrote the following: “George’s brother is a multimillionaire and the most powerful man in the world. Moreover, George’s brother has framed his re-election campaign around the ‘fair share’ theme that we owe obligations to those who are less fortunate. One of Obama’s favorite phrases comes right out of the Bible: ‘We are our brother’s keeper.’ Yet he has not contributed a penny to help his own brother. And evidently George does not believe, even in times of emergency, that he can turn to his brother in the White House for help. So much for spreading the wealth around.” I wondered as I watched the film and read this column if D’Souza was equally concerned when President Clinton’s half-brother Roger was getting himself into trouble? I found no evidence that he was.
In what to me is the essence of this film’s failure, D’Souza concludes that after visiting his father’s grave in 1988, President Obama resolved to not be like him in his failures. “In doing so, perhaps he can become worthy of his father’s love, love he never got,” D’Souza says. In his rendering, the president is entirely a product of this one pain. No other influence ultimately matters, except those that magnify it. No independent development or grappling with ideas counts. Everything is as Freud would have diagnosed it. That’s a stunning perspective for a Christian apologist to advance.
As the film draws to a close, dark clouds, of course, emerge and the music grows ominous. A nightmare scenario of national “debt as a method of mass destruction” and the Mideast transforming itself into an Islamic super-power emerge. D’Souza says, “We did not know what change would look like. Now we do. Which dream will we carry into 2016: the American dream or Obama’s dream?”
This week, William Murchison reviewed D’Souza’s new book on the same theme for The Washington Times. He said, “I want to be as kind as possible, inasmuch as I admire Mr. D’Souza and his reliably intelligent witness over the past two decades to harsh truths about the corruption of liberal thought and praxis. All the same, I see various bones in need of picking. ‘Obama’s America,’ it seems to a pronounced non-fan of Mr. Obama — the non-fan writing these lines — is overequipped with extrapolation and inference, underprovisioned with restraint and delicate judgment.” The same things can be said of the beautifully produced documentary, which, by the way, relies heavily on scenes of abject poverty in India, Indonesia, and Kenya. Why is that? Is it meant to highlight the impoverished worldview to which the president supposedly adheres?
I have a question for Dinesh D’Souza: Which dream does he, as the president of The King’s College, carry into the future? Is it the dream of educating students “to lead with principle as they aspire to make America better” or is his a partisan dream in which it is acceptable for a Christian educator to stretch the truth in order to accuse the U.S. president of fomenting an anti-American nightmare?