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story.lead_photo.caption Arch-"liberal" Adolf Hitler (Pavel Kriz) makes an executive decision in Dinesh D' Souza's Death of a Nation.

Bad ideas come from somewhere.

Sometimes they come from ignorance. One of the things that makes us human is a longing for meaning. We want to understand, but it is part of our condition that we can never gain perfect knowledge of the world. Often bad ideas are the results of miscalculations and misperceptions. Some bad ideas are come by honestly.

Death of a Nation

67 Cast: Documentary with Dinesh D’Souza, Robert Paxton, Allen Guelzo, Edwin Black, Stefan Kuhl, Richard Spencer, James O’Keefe, Victoria Chilap, Pavel Kriz, Rafael Prazak, Don Taylor

Director: Dinesh D’Souza

Rating: PG-13, for strong thematic material including violence/disturbing images, some language and brief drug use

Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

On the other hand, there are people who see the human desire for understanding as a business opportunity, and they are not above manufacturing ideas for profit. They market them as answers, as truth, as history or journalism. But they are cheap and silly and usually made of unwholesome things, the intellectual equivalent of junk food.

And like junk food, they might bring temporary solace, they might satisfy some short-term craving. ("Find a need and fool it," a wise man named Zippy the Pinhead once said.)

A long time ago, I thought Dinesh D'Souza was just wrong about some things -- that he was in possession of a rascally mind that enjoyed reflexive contrarianism. I reviewed his book Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus in 1991 and found some of it persuasive. He seemed a bright and provocative writer, a conservative voice with an edge, perhaps more interested in political polemics than he pretended but firmly grounded in the world of facts.

But somewhere in the intervening decades he revealed himself as a partisan hack prepared to do anything to curry favor with a certain underserved segment of our society, the perpetually aggrieved and paranoid who tend to believe in wide-ranging "liberal" conspiracies, faked presidential birth certificates and the virtue of Donald J. Trump. Somewhere along the line D'Souza became a celebrity and a culture war mascot Twitter-shaming the Parkland High shooting survivors. Whatever talent he may have had he long ago betrayed.

D'Souza once seemed courageous for challenging the assumptions of a smug majority; now he produces dubious history for those who need alternate facts to help them sleep. And the saddest thing is that he's not very good at it: his latest "movie" is risible, landing dangerously close to the sort of skewed reality parodies Sacha Baron Cohen produces. Were it funnier, we might take it for a comedy.

As it is, it presents as a Drunk History version of a bitter junior college political science adjunct's screed about how the Democrats -- and the Illuminati -- have always been the source of America's problems. In D'Souza's telling, Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler were members of a mutual admiration society, the Ku Klux Klan is to the Democrats what the Brown Shirts were to Hitler and Trump is Lincoln-esque and might once again save America from the Democrats.

Were we to extract a thesis statement from Death of a Nation it would be Democrats are Nazis.

I'm not exaggerating. Early on in the film, after we've watched a telenovela quality re-enactment of lovers Adolf and Eva meeting their end in a Berlin bunker, D'Souza in his role as gee-whiz narrator invites us to "Check out the official Nazi platform!"

He lists some of the provisions: "Money lenders and profiteers punished by death ... State control of media and the press ... Seizure of land without compensation ... State control of religious expression." And he's right. The Nazis had some really bad ideas. (Though they were pretty progressive about animal welfare.)

Then D'Souza delivers the money quote: "This reads like something jointly written by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders!"

Uh, no, it doesn't.

Even when D'Souza has an interesting point to make, such as when he floats the theory (which he presents as fact) that the seeds of Hitler's Final Solution might have had its seeds in the U.S. government's campaigns against Indians, he presses the point too far -- marveling at how Democrats "were too racist for the Nazis" because the "one drop rule" (which is a uniquely American concept) for determining whether a person was black or not was more rigid than Nazi guidelines for determining Jewishness.

D'Souza even ruins a fairly astute reading of alt-right leader Richard Spencer's role in our culture -- he pegs him as co-dependent with our infotainment-driven media -- by insinuating that the Trump-endorsing racialist is in fact a Democratic stooge.

In other news, the Nazis were Socialists because Hitler called his party National Socialists (by the same reasoning North Korea is a Democratic Republic) and frequented the same bohemian pub (Cafe Central) in Vienna. Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy never happened. (Never mind we all heard Haldeman and Ehrlichman talking about it on those infamous tapes.)

D'Souza, who went to jail for a rather inelegant campaign finance violation, was a political prisoner targeted by a corrupt Obama regime. Despite his reverence for Andrew Jackson, founder of the Democratic Party and Great Satan in D'Souza's view, Trump is a "disrupter" who D'Souza "played a part" in electing.

"We knew we weren't electing a choir boy!" D'Souza whoops.

There's a shamelessness at work here that's frightening, and one can't help but wonder if D'Souza believes some of the nonsense he's retailing or if he's just discovered a lucrative revenue stream. (His 2016 film Obama's America is the second-highest grossing political documentary of all time, behind Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11; two of his other films, 2014's America: Imagine the World Without Her and 2016's Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party, are also in the Top 10.)

People are hungry for ideas. Expect to see these repeated in Facebook posts and/or Twitter feeds near you.

MovieStyle on 08/03/2018

Print Headline: Death of a Nation

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