Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Part Exposition, Part Canonization

     I’ve just seen Dinesh D’Souza’s “docudrama” Death Of A Nation, and I thought it important to set down my thoughts about it before they have a chance to fade.

     The primary thrust of the movie is to make plain the parallels, and the outright identities, between “progressivism,” ostensibly the philosophy of the Democrat Party, and the fascism of Mussolini and Hitler. D’Souza does a good job at this, in part by delineating the historical connections that united Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt to Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Let there be no mistaking it. Wilson, the first U.S. president to decree the federal enforcement of racial segregation, was entirely in line with Hitler’s racialism. Moreover, Wilson used World War I as a lever with which to impose a fascistic system of control on the American economy. FDR, an open admirer of Mussolini who sent several members of his “brain trust” to study Mussolini’s Italy, instituted a fascist economic program much like Wilson’s as the core of his “New Deal.” Hitler saw in FDR a kindred spirit whose program greatly resembled his own. D’Souza draws this out through historical documents and interviews with prominent historians of those eras. He ably establishes the ideological continuity between those “progressives” and those of today.

     However, the movie has a secondary thrust of almost equal importance: to establish Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, as the ideological progenitor of contemporary free-market conservatism, and Donald Trump as his ideological progeny. This is false to fact. Despite many stirring things Lincoln said about freedom in the abstract, the policies he pursued while in Congress and as president were at best cool toward freedom. He was a supporter of high protective tariffs, a central bank that would have de facto control over the American dollar, and an extensive system of “internal improvements” to be undertaken by the federal government. He suspended the writ of habeas corpus, acted to suppress internal dissent, and instituted the Republic’s first income tax and its original system of conscription. Moreover, while he was a sincere enemy of slavery, Lincoln did not believe in the equality of the races; this can be documented with his own public statements.

     The movie, thus, is split between historical-ideological analysis and exhortation of a completely different kind. In some ways it’s quite valuable; in others it’s somewhat misleading. In particular, it attempts a partisan whitewashing of the Republican Party, by passing silently over the gulf between what Republican officeholders claim to stand for and what many actually do when in power.

     It’s commonplace for a partisan to represent his party as the crown of wisdom and virtue, while depicting its adversaries as deluded at best, evil at worst. The tendency to do so is stronger today than it’s been since Lincoln’s time; in that regard Death Of A Nation provides an important – and sobering – historical perspective. However, uncritical partisanry, in which the other party is made to look like the embodiment of evil, is easily exploited by party kingmakers to create opportunities for its elected ones to get away with all sorts of mischief.

     In short: see the movie and benefit from its depiction of “progressivism” as a soft-focus version of Twentieth Century fascism, but don’t buy all the way into its canonization of Lincoln nor of the Republican Party in our time. While today’s Republicans are preferable to today’s Democrats, Republican officeholders have underperformed on their supposed commitment to free markets, limited government, and the defense of the rights of the individual. To cheer for the GOP uncritically is to condone that underperformance. That guarantees that we’ll receive more of the same.

     Never forget that the one and only goal of any political party is to get its candidates elected. Once they’re in office, the party’s task becomes keeping them there, not enforcing the party’s nominal ideological commitments upon them. The job of enforcement belongs solely to us.

1 comment:

Linda Fox said...

And, yet, D'Souza will always be Da Man for this one short takedown of an overprivileged, punk-ass little twit.