UPDATE: D'Souza's book Hillary's America is put out by Pro-Confederate publisher Regnery!
Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party is one of the recent slew of films that preaches to the conservative choir. Unlike other such films, such as the God’s Not Dead films and Persecuted, one can’t enjoy this film with a camp appreciation or with a so-bad-it’s-good sensibility; the film’s pervasive appeal to the amygdala makes it difficult to enjoy. There’s nothing new in this film; it’s largely boilerplate material common in the right’s media bubble (Note 1). However, it is important not only to address D’Souza’s ham-handed propaganda but the sophistry D’Souza employs to support his propaganda. It is also helpful to point out D’Souza’s Rovian tactic of aggressively attacking political opponents for possessing the same character flaws that he possesses, e.g, D’Souza accuses Hillary and other progressives of being con artists and hustlers when D’Souza himself has become wealthy as a decades-long recipient of wingnut welfare.
The film starts out by portraying the self-pitying D’Souza as a victim of political persecution by President Obama (allegedly because of his 2012 anti-Obama film 2016: Obama’s America (Note 2), even though it failed in its mission to make Obama a one-term president). The reason for his indictment and conviction, D’Souza as narrator explains, was that the Obama administration was trying “to shut me up.” D’Souza and his apologists are attempting to portray the prosecution as a way to unduly punish D’Souza for a minor oversight regarding the amount of money he was allowed to contribute to a friend running for office (e.g., Rush Limbaugh recently claimed that Obama administration officials searched long and hard and discovered “an obscure law” in order to prosecute/persecute D’Souza). In fact, D’Souza deliberately and flagrantly violated the law by channeling money to a series of straw donors in order to attempt to circumvent campaign contribution limits. Instead of having moviegoers pay to see him whine, D’Souza should be thanking his lucky stars that he and his accomplices aren’t serving hard time for conspiracy, money laundering, and wire fraud. So much for the conservative tenet of taking responsibility for one’s actions.
One of the main premises of the film is that the Democratic Party’s alleged secret history of being against civil rights is reflected in its current incarnation and that the real party of civil rights is the contemporary Republican Party that Ronald Reagan helped create. Secret history of the Democratic Party? Anyone who takes a college survey course in American history will find that the college textbooks emphasize the concept of the “Solid South,” the tendency for the states of the old confederacy of voting overwhelmingly Democratic from the end of Reconstruction until the 1960’s when Republicans began pandering to white Southern racists (a fact that D’Souza attempts to obscure).
A theme that D’Souza pushes is that The Democratic Party of 1850 = The Democratic Party of 2016 and that the current Republican Party is “the party of Lincoln and Reagan” –the real party of civil rights. One image near the beginning of the film that is particularly revealing is a collage of images that allegedly represent the nature of the current Democratic Party. One of the images is a graphic of Confederate traitor and sadistic war criminal Nathan Bedford Forrest. This image is either the same image or very similar to the image of Forrest that appears on the cover of the book The Politically Incorrect Guide to The Civil War, an apologia for the Confederate succession, Forrest’s ghastly war crimes, and slavery. This revisionist history was written by Lost Cause bitter ender H.W. Crocker III and published by Regnery Publishing, the preeminent American conservative/Republican publisher (Note 3). UPDATE: When I originally wrote the review, I didn't know that the book version of Hillary's America was published by Regnery. It’s worth noting that one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite newspapers, Human Events, used Crocker’s wretched book as a free gift to subscribers (Reagan’s other beloved newspaper, the Washington Times, has a long line of editors with neo-Confederate and white supremacist views—Note 4).
In the “Big Switch” portion of the film, D’Souza attempts to whitewash how the Republican Party since the 1960’s has pandered to racists and neo-Confederates. D’Souza attempts to obscure the fact that from the 1960’s through the 1980’s, prominent and virulent anti-civil rights Democrats became Republicans. He does this with slick graphics that dilute the significance of the switch by including a list of anti-civil rights Democrats from 1860 to 2000 and pointing out that relatively few of them switched to the GOP. This is sophistry. Of course, no slavocrats or Redeemers from the Democratic Party in the nineteenth century switched to the GOP (which was then controlled by the Radical Republicans who wanted to treat the defeated states of the Confederacy as conquered provinces). It was only from the 1964 Goldwater campaign through the Reagan years that significant numbers of anti-civil rights Southern Democrats switched to the GOP. After the Reagan years, anti-civil rights Southerners began bypassing the Democratic Party entirely and began registering as Republicans when they reached adulthood (e.g., Representative Steve Scalise who now is part of the GOP House leadership).
D’Souza fails to note the number of recent and prominent anti-civil rights Republican who started out as Democrats. Many of these Democrats-turned-Republicans quickly ascended to leadership positions in the GOP and to positions of prominence within the conservative movement during and after the Reagan Revolution. These are just some who quickly ascended to leadership positions in the GOP and/or the conservative movement:
- The Reverend Jerry Falwell. His first foray into politics in the 1950’s as a Democrat was to redbait the civil rights movement and proclaim that Jim Crow was God-ordained because blacks were stricken with the “Curse of Ham” and were meant to be servile to other tribes. In response to civil rights legislation, Falwell created a segregation academy in 1967; it is airbrushed out of the contemporary histories of the Religious Right that a key issue with Southern fundamentalists who became politically active and supported the Reagan Republicans was the concern about federal intervention against their whites-only schools. Hillary Clinton’s work against the segregation academies was possibly one of the reasons that Falwell engaged in his scam of selling $40 VHS tapes to his flock claiming that the Clintons had murdered Vince Foster and others (Falwell’s tapes included interviews from Clinton enemy Democrat-turned-Republican Arkansas politician Judge Jim Johnson, a virulent racist and unrepentant Klan supporter). (Note 5)
- Falwell’s close friend, Senator Jesse Helms started his political career as a dirty tricks operative for Dixiecrat Senator Willis Smith (D-NC); Helms wrote a flyer for Smith titled, “White People—Wake Up.” Helms ran for office as a Democrat in 1958 but switched to the GOP when he ran for the U.S. Senate and his bigotry in the Senate (such as redbaiting Martin Luther King when the proposed national holiday was being debated) proved to be an embarrassment to many Republicans (Note 6).
- Strom Thurmond was an anti-civil rights Democrat who bolted from the party temporarily in 1948 in response to modest civil rights reforms by the Truman administration; Thurmond ran for president as the Dixiecrat candidate, whose party platform specifically called for segregation and opposition to anti-lynching laws. Thurmond made a permanent switch to the GOP in 1964 as a response to the national Democratic Party’s advancement of civil rights. Thurmond worked close with Richard Nixon on his Southern Strategy of appealing to the racism of the white Southern working class (Note 7).
- Trent Lott started out as a Democrat and switched to the GOP. He was a fervent supporter of federal funding for Bob Jones University (which had a policy banning interracial dating) and maintained close ties to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a latter-day incarnation of the old White Citizens’ Councils. He reached a leadership position as Senate Majority leader but was ousted in 2002 after publicly displaying fondness for Thurmond’s 1948 Dixiecrat candidacy.
- Haley Barbour, former Mississippi governor and head of the Republican National Committee, began adult life as a Democrat but switched to the Republican Party. Mississippi is one of the few states in which politicians—all Republican—publicly boast of their ties to the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens; Barbour was part of this group. Barbour’s presidential hopes were derailed in 2010 when he made statements that lauded the old White Citizens’ Councils.
Reagan The Redeemer
D’Souza attempts to portray the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan as a force for civil rights. This is laughably absurd. Reagan was initially a Democrat but, unlike the aforementioned party switchers, Reagan had been part of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. He grew up in Illinois, lived most of his adult life in Los Angeles, and served as president of the Screen Actors Guild.
However, once he became a Republican, Reagan shamelessly pandered to white Southern racists (this was in large part an extension of Nixon’s Southern Strategy). He opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In campaign stops in the South, Reagan railed against the “strapping young buck” who used his food stamps to buy T-bone steaks. As the head of the party of Lincoln, Reagan proclaimed Lincoln’s sworn enemy, slavocrat and head the Confederacy Jefferson Davis as one of his heroes. Many of his appointments and nominations were unreconstructed white supremacists (my favorite is the Reagan appointee who edited a book that bemoaned African-Americans and their “jungle freedoms”). Reagan also complained that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had been “humiliating to the South.”
Reagan’s real legacy is that whenever there is a gaffe involving sympathy or nostalgia for the Klan or the old Confederacy, it‘s almost always a Republican behind the asinine comment. A recent example: on the floor of the House, then-Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) referred to the Civil War as “the Great War of Yankee Aggression.” Also, right as Hillary’s America was released in theaters, a court of appeals struck down a Republican-sponsored North Carolina Voter ID law. The blistering ruling pointed out how Republican legislators requested data regarding how African-Americans were likely to vote (e.g., early voting) and then “with surgical precision” created a law that curtailed those types of voting (as well as the limiting identification to those that African-Americans were less likely to possess). That is Reagan’s racial legacy.
The Paranoid Style
How does D’Souza reconcile the fact that most of that the current Democratic Party has very few with white supremacist or neo-Confederate sympathies? D’Souza advances the canard popular with conservative race hustlers such as Jesse Lee Peterson that contemporary safety net and social insurance programs are ways that contemporary progressives enslave African-Americans. The film employs slick computer-generated imagery to quickly transition from an image of slaves on a plantation to inner-city residents who presumably are on the “liberal plantation.” This view presumes that the over 90 percent of African-Americans who vote Democratic are dupes who are too stupid to know their best interests.
One of the people D’Souza interviews to support this view is Jonah Goldberg, editor of the conservative National Review, one of Reagan’s favorite magazines. Goldberg is the author of the book Liberal Fascism, a book that, against all evidence, claims that Nazism and Italian fascism were left-wing and progressive movements (Note 8). In the film, Goldberg posits that modern progressive policies are methods of social control akin to fascism.
Goldberg’s attacks represent a common thread found in the film: the Rovian tactic of accusing one’s enemies of possessing one’s own weakness or flaw. In fact, it is Goldberg’s magazine National Review that has a long history of support for fascist dictators like Franco and Mussolini. Longtime National Review editor Jeffrey Hart once wrote an utterly bizarre paean to Mussolini, lauding Il Duce for his political accomplishments and sexual prowess. Hart founded the conservative campus newspaper, The Dartmouth Review in 1980; the paper hired D’Souza, a Dartmouth student, as editor in the early 80’s and it was the vehicle D’Souza first used to make his mark in conservative circles.
The Dartmouth Review under D’Souza represented Hart’s ideals and the worst of the 80’s Reagan zeitgeist. D’Souza and other operatives at The Review responded to the real obnoxiousness and sanctimony of much of the campus left by becoming ten times as snotty and insufferable as those they opposed. The Review epitomized the 80’s backlash against marginalized groups that made gains in 60’s and 70’s. These conservative “journalists” (who defended legacy admissions) published an editorial opposing admissions policies that addressed prior discrimination written in pseudo-black dialect (“Dis Sho’ Ain’t No Jive.”). D’Souza used the paper to out several closeted members of the university’s gay community to their families. The paper slurred Native Americans and other minority groups. The sense of entitlement, unprovoked meanness, and bigotry found at D’Souza’s Dartmouth Review perfectly embody Reaganism, but without the former actor’s affable aw-shucks façade (note 9).
Sexual Predation and Divine Providence
A portion of the film dredges up claims that Bill Clinton is a sexual predator and that Hillary is his “fixer.” The film shows clips of one of Bill Clinton’s alleged victims. What D’Souza fails to note is that the alleged victim had signed two sworn statements that no sexual abuse by Clinton took place. Sure, Bill Clinton has fooled around but, unlike certain prominent Republicans, he didn’t trade in Hillary for a new model once she hit 40.
This allegation is part of the campaign by Republican operative Roger Stone to take down the Clintons. Stone’s recent book The Clintons’ War on Women not only is the basis for D’Souza’s claims about Bill Clinton being a predator and Hillary being his enabler but Stone also uses the book to revive the conspiracy theory that the Clintons bumped off Vince Foster and others. If you aren’t familiar with Stone’s book, it’s because the only national television outlet that has given credence to Stone’s claims is Fox News; Stone has appeared on several Fox News shows in which his weak claims and conspiracy theories were given credence by the network’s conservative hosts/operatives.
As luck would have it, right at the time that Hillary’s America was released, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was forced to step down after it came out that he’s a serial sexual abuser who had sexually harassed employees and other women for the past half century! One article that was published right at the time of the release of D’Souza’s film was about a longtime Fox News employee who, in order to keep her job, not only had to service Ailes but she had to procure other Fox News female employees for him. “It was psychological torture,” the woman told writer Gabriel Sherman.
Let’s look at what just happened here. Fox’s Roger Ailes used his network to attempt to legitimize the work of a notorious dirty tricks operative accusing a former president of rape and murder. Immediately thereafter, Ailes is exposed as a habitual sexual predator right as his network’s claims are being recycled in D’Souza’s cinematic hatchet job. The timing has to be divine providence. God’s not dead!
This review is almost 3000 words and I haven’t even gotten to D’Souza’s distortions about Planned Parenthood or misinformation by interviewee Peter Schweizer (author of Clinton Cash). That job is for someone else. This film isn’t a documentary. It’s crude propaganda.
Note 1: Postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard’s concept of the simulacrum is a useful model to describe the right’s ontological support structures, e.g., talk radio, fair and balanced pseudo-journalistic entities, and alleged think tanks that don’t do any impartial research but that fund operatives like D’Souza who pose as intellectuals.
Note 2: The premise of 2016: Obama’s America is that Obama inherited his Kenyan father’s anti-colonial rage and that he would use a second term to exact revenge against the United States.
Note 3: It’s also worth noting that Regnery Publishing publishes other Lost Cause revisionist histories that celebrate and whitewash the treasonous Confederate slavocracy such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to the South by (and Why It Will Rise Again) by Clint Johnson. Also, in an attempt to buoy the candidacy of George W. Bush (who supported the Vietnam War but who joined a champagne unit), in 2004, Regnery published a book by the head of the Swift Boaters that denigrated the war record of John Kerry who actually risked his life in Vietnam. The book was coauthored by Jerome Corsi who later became a leader birther whose book Where’s the Birth Certificate? hit bookstores days after the state of Hawaii released Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
D'Souza's first book, Falwell: Before the Millennium, was published by Regnery (then Regnery Gateway).
D'Souza's first book, Falwell: Before the Millennium, was published by Regnery (then Regnery Gateway).
Note 4: For more on the Washington Times’ love affair with racists and neo-Confederates, Read Max Blumenthal’s article about the paper:
Note 5: D’Souza’s first book, Falwell: Before the Millennium, was a hagiography of the bigoted preacher/con artist. Also, CultJam Productions is working on a comic book about Falwell titled “Falwell in Hell.”
Note 6: Helms was also notorious for his taunting of the first African-American female U.S. Senator Carol Moseley-Braun by singing “Dixie” in an elevator he shared with her.
Note 7: Both Helms and Thurmond make cameo appearances in CultJam Productions’ comic book “Ivy League Exorcist.”
Note 8: The History Channel had a panel of historians who wrote exhaustive studies how Goldberg’s book was a fatally flawed piece of hackwork.
Note 9: The 80’s Dartmouth Review set were not only nasty, entitled bigots but they were incorrigibly pompous young fogies. Former conservative Michael Lind writes in Up from Conservatism: “Tory affectations were taken a step further in the 1980s, when young conservatives like the group around the Dartmouth Review made a cult of the Masterpiece Theater dramatization of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. They were triply pathetic, emulating not only a nation but a class and generation not their own.” Also, Lloyd Grove of the Washington Post wrote about a counterdemonstration to an anti-nuclear session consisting of Review operatives "draping an American flag from a third floor wind, drinking brandy, and listening to John Philip Sousa records. 'Put out more flags!' yells one of them, a student with a weakness for Evelyn Waugh who totes around a foam-rubber shark named Chesterton."