As a polemical documentary, Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016: Obama’s America has guile, snarkiness, and a kind of sneaky, nimble ambition.
Beautifully filmed and obviously quite generously funded, produced by a mover-and-shaker of typically ultra-liberal Hollywood (though of course I shouldn’t speculate on the possible ethnicity of Mormon movie mogul Gerald Molen, listed on the poster as “one of the producers of Schindler’s List, because such musings would be HIGHLY offensive and would render me the journalistic equivalent of Josef Mengele, so of course I will refrain), 2016 wants to be pass itself off as a humanely sympathetic yet deeply critical assessment of the present president. Finally, however, it reveals its true colors as an avidly alarmist and apocalyptic vision of what will surely happen to America if the Mulatto Messiah manages to get himself re-elected in November.
Eschewing Michael Moore-style confrontation and prickly bluster for bland patter and contrivedly stale interviews, all the while unfolding at a leisurely, meandering pace, 2016 aims to lull the viewer into not noticing just what a rich slab of red meat it truly is. It is National Enquirer dressed up as National Review; luridness in the guise of sobriety. In other words, 2016 is more interesting than it first appears to be, though not, in the final analysis, terribly persuasive in its conclusions.
D’Souza, a nerdish, wonkish, bespectacled intellectual, is from the start eager to ingratiate himself with his enemy, so that we know it’s nothing personal. He and Obama, it turns out, share many things in common, which D’Souza enumerates: both men were born in 1961; both are of mixed-race heritage (though D’Souza, an India-born Catholic, doesn’t reveal the precise miscegenated ambiguity of his own apparently scrambled genes); both excelled academically and wound up at Ivy League colleges (Obama at Harvard; D’Souza at Dartmouth); finally, both lived in the Third World for much of their youth (Obama spent several years in Indonesia as a boy) and thus came to form a view of European imperialism, with a certain sympathetic regard for the colonized.
D’Souza shows absolutely no interest in the “birther” controversy, accepting that Obama was indeed born on U.S. soil. Still, while Obama may technically be an American citizen, D’Souza asserts that the man’s ideology is foreign and dangerous in ways that set him apart from any prior American president. In fact, the 44th Commander-in-Chief is at bottom a hard-left anti-American, just like the long-lost father whom he strives at all costs to emulate.
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Of course, Barack Jr. never really knew Barack Sr., as the former (or more probably, his ghost-writer) poignantly records in the autobiography Dreams from My Father. D’Souza liberally quotes Obama reading from the book, and through only minimal reading between the lines, we can easily discern that the prez has some lingering daddy issues. But then nearly anyone would, given the circumstances of his childhood.
For those who don’t already know, Obama’s very black African dad met his very white American mom Ann Dunham when both were enrolled at the University of Hawaii in 1960. Barack Sr. had been a young operative of the anti-British Mau-Mau rebellion in Kenya, apparently spending some time in confinement getting tortured and beaten by British guards; over the years, he matured into a promising scholar and leader for the cause; he’d travelled to Honolulu on an international scholarship to study economics; Dunham at the time was an 18-year old freshman. The two married after a brief courtship, and soon afterwards Barack Jr. was born.
When the future bringer of “hope” and “change” was still having his diapers changed, Hussein the Elder (and Darker) flew the coop permanently, returning to his native country, where it turned out — contrary to what he’d originally told Ann — he’d long been married to a local woman. Yet Barry’s mother apparently never held this treachery, deceit, and desertion against her dusky paramour. Instead, in true guilty white liberal fashion, she praised him to the heavens as a great man who simply needed to fulfill his grand destiny. Barack Sr. would marry several more times, in keeping with (still current) African custom, and would only visit Ann and Barack Jr. on one other occasion in his life.
Obama Sr.’s early hopes to become a leader of the African independence movement were to fizzle badly. Smart but irascible, frustrated by thwarted ambition, bested by rivals and finally consigned to bureaucratic irrelevance, he grew into a dissipated, alcoholic, embittered middle age. His death in 1982, in a likely drunk driving accident, hit the future American president hard. At age 21, Barack Jr. duly attended the family patriarch’s funeral in Kenya; the writer of Dreams from My Father describes the emotional moment when he knelt beside his father’s grave, anguish welling up in his chest.
In 2016, D’Souza visits this historic spot and nods thoughtfully; he is quite sure that here is the place where young Barack’s formation as a thinker truly solidified. Here he vowed to take up his father’s cause and carry it forward.
“We are all shaped by our pasts,” our lilting-voiced guide portentously declares, “and we all carry elements of our past into the future.” And in the case of young, grief-stricken, father-haunted Obama, D’Souza finds this aphorism particularly apt.
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2016 depicts D’Souza as an intrepid uncoverer of the psyche of the American president. To unearth his crucial discoveries, he travels the globe, making colorfully cinematic stops in Kenya, Indonesia, and Hawaii, while also paying visits to various well-heeled D.C.-based neocon thinktankers like Daniel Pipes and Shelby Steele. Of course, this entire setup is in some ways a risibly disingenuous charade, because D’Souza has already reached his conclusions, outlined in his 2010 book The Roots of Obama’s Rage, which he pretty much just repeats here.
Simply put, D’Souza contends that Obama was sorely wounded by his father’s nearly total absence from his life; to compensate for this loss and the concomitant sense of insecurity it brought, he chose to emulate his father’s politics out of a desire to win his posthumous approval.
According to 2016, Obama’s fraught father issues have numerous dire consequences for the immediate future, should he be allowed to serve a second term. After winning his second election, D’Souza explains, the president will no longer even have to pretend to be moderate or centrist. Instead, he will pursue his Third World socialist agenda — the one he shares with his once Soviet-sympathizing papa — full bore, pulling out all the stops, and then some. For Obama, it turns out, just aches to bring the country to its knees by spending it into paralyzing debt, while at the same time stripping it of its defenses and rendering it supine before a hostile world. Moreover, D’Souza tells us, the president wants to see to it that America’s enemies unite, consolidate, and grow steadily more powerful, while America grows weaker. During one luridly entertaining segment near the film’s conclusion, we are treated to an illustration of a map of the Middle East in which, thanks to Obama’s wily and treacherous anti-American machinations, we witness one regime after another falling to Muslim radicals, leaving a “United States of Islam” poised for confrontation with the West; the hostile turf of this new caliphate has turns a sickly Islamic green.
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D’Souza’s grim final assertions are strictly conjectural at best. Oddly, in a sense they give Obama too much credit. The film treats him as a true believer of some sort of sinister cause, rather than as a canny and cynical politician, with infinitely malleable, barely-existent principles, which is surely much closer to the truth. How can we really know how Obama feels about his father or how it has affected him, besides what he has chosen to tell us, likely out of self-aggrandizing motivations?
Ultimately, 2016 probably won’t do much to persuade the undecided; the “clash of civilizations” rhetoric won’t be effective unless and until another “9/11” takes place. (Remember how ardently pre-9/11 neocons pined for a “new Pearl Harbor”?) Still, the movie makes for a somewhat entertaining and only slightly hokey bit of elaborate stealth-GOP agitprop; it is worth a look, merely for curiosity’s sake.