Where would the world be without America? Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary film cuts straight to that question, interviewing people who are frustrated with the United States: Native Americans who are still upset that we own the Black Hills; Hispanics who would prefer for Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California to be part of Mexico; college professors who tell the camera that the United States is an imperialist colonial power.
D’Souza tells us many people do not want the United States to exist, and addresses the narrative of shame: the idea that America is not actually a great nation because it massacred Native Americans, enslaved blacks, bombed Vietnam, and invaded Mexico. America tells us that these charges need to be answered, because the people who bring them want justice.
D’Souza’s basic argument is that while the mindset that led to America’s injustices is universal, America’s particular ethos is unique, and good. Every nation, D’Souza says, conquered their neighbors and stole their possessions; when the United States took large swaths of land from the Sioux, for instance, what it was doing was no different than what the Sioux had done, taking those same lands from other tribes. What makes us different, says America, is that Americans also ended slavery, made reparations to the Sioux, and in general championed industry and trade rather than conquest and theft.
It’s too bad the film presents these arguments unevenly. Sometimes it tackles the hard questions head-on, but other times it skirts the real issues, preferring to shadowbox America’s critics rather than explore their criticisms. Undermining progressives’ reputations may be a good thing, but it will not undo the skeletons in America’s closet.
There is much to like in America. Much of the movie is told through engaging historical recreations, and it features several forgotten stories from America’s history that deserve to be remembered. While the film is too short to engage thoroughly criticisms of the United States, it is long enough to remember some of her best moments.