Dinesh D'Souza's lazy, ugly propaganda film

Death of a Nation is a disgusting farce, even by D’Souza standards

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Dinesh D’Souza’s new fake-documentary Death of a Nation opens with Adolf Hitler and his companion Eva Braun grimly committing suicide in the Fuhrerbunker, after which their bodies are hauled up to the streets of war-ravaged Berlin and set on fire. If you were to ask me why the movie opens with this gruesome reenactment, or why D’Souza had the actor portraying the Nazi dictator stare poignantly into the camera before shooting himself in the head, I honestly could not tell you. Nor can I offer any coherent explanation for why this film inflicts several other cinematic retellings of Hitler’s life upon the viewer. None of it is explained, and none of it makes much sense. What I can say is that Death of a Nation is a terrible and disgusting film, even by D’Souza standards.

By now D’Souza’s filmmaking shtick is tiresome and relentlessly predictable: He play-acts at being a public intellectual and haphazardly tortures the historical record in the service of “proving” an ill-considered argument. In the process, he typically ends up accidentally disproving his own thesis and veers off into bigotry. The shodiness of the scholarship is (poorly) papered over with cinematic flourishes and ego-engorging footage of “Dinesh D’Souza: Serious Historian” as he walks around historically significant sites bathing them with terribly meaningful glances. Death of a Nation ticks all these boxes and offers a couple more pathetically self-indulgent twists, like carving out a few minutes of screentime for D’Souza’s wife to warble a treacly song about America.

The thrust of Death of a Nation is that America is at a moment of existential crisis similar to the Civil War, and that the nation will, ahem, die if “the left” (George Soros, antifa, moderate Democrats, whoever) succeeds at whatever nefarious scheme it is assumed to have. The only thing standing between America and its demise is President Donald Trump, whom D’Souza casts as a glittering reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln. D’Souza presents the divide between left and right in hilariously childish terms, describing Democrats and progressives as “the bad guys” (meaning racists and fascists and totalitarians) and Republicans and conservatives as “the good guys” (the opposite of the bad guys). This dynamic has held firm throughout American history, D’Souza argues, and is a global phenomenon as well.

That brings us back to Hitler. D’Souza’s theory of history requires that every villain be of the left, so he is obligated to demonstrate that fascism is actually a left-wing ideology. D’Souza is a late arrival to this rotten exercise in partisan revisionism, and his contributions to it are characteristically lazy. “Check out the official Nazi platform,” D’Souza says. “State-controlled health care, profit-sharing for workers and large corporations, moneylenders and profiteers punished by death, state control of education, state control of media and the press, state control of banks and industries, seizure of land without compensation, state control of religious expression -- this reads like something jointly written by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders!”

This grotesque comparison required D’Souza to both water down the explicit bigotry of the Nazi platform and impute its totalitarian character to two sitting senators -- one of whom is Jewish, and neither of whom advocate for murdering bankers or call for state-run media, etc. But since D’Souza wants to ply this simple-minded exercise, I’ll point out that the Nazi platform also calls for a ban on immigration, mass deportations, a military buildup, and “legal opposition to known lies and their promulgation through the press.”

Blundering and incendiary allegations of leftist-fascist alignment abound in Death of a Nation. D’Souza argues that Auschwitz doctor and war criminal Josef Mengele was a “progressive” because he performed abortions in South America after the war. “Under Obama, we saw government control increase dramatically over banks, investment companies, energy companies, the entire health care sector, and education,” D’Souza says. “This is state-run capitalism [it isn’t], which is the clinical definition of fascism [it’s not].”

His treatment of Hitler’s relationship with Ernst Röhm, the commander of the Nazi Party paramilitary force Sturmabteilung, clearly demonstrates D’Souza’s pernicious sloppiness. “Some progressives try to portray Hitler as a right-winger by insisting he was anti-gay,” D’Souza says. “But Hitler knew that the brownshirt leader Ernst Röhm was a notorious homosexual, as were many other brownshirts. ... When Heinrich Himmler urged Hitler to purge the gay brownshirts out of the Nazi movement, Hitler refused. Hitler said he didn’t care what the brownshirts did in private, as long as they were good fighters. Hitler was no social conservative.”

This argument is a disgusting whitewash of Nazi terror and is an accidental indictment of social conservatism. To suggest that Hitler was somehow tolerant of (or indifferent to) homosexuality because he declined to persecute the stormtroopers who committed political violence on his behalf deliberately ignores Third Reich’s legal attacks on Germany’s LGBTQ population and the countless LGBTQ people who died in Hitler’s concentration camps. Röhm’s purge was followed by a viciously homophobic propaganda campaign used to justify the action.

And it’s absurd for D’Souza, himself a social conservative, to define “social conservatism” against Hitler’s politically expedient hesitancy to expel/murder gay men from his political movement. If Hitler’s (temporary) unwillingness to do that disqualifies him from the ranks of social conservatives, then what does that say about true social conservatives?

The flipside to D’Souza’s artless smearing of leftists as the “real” fascists is his equally incompetent effort to absolve the right generally (and Donald Trump specifically) of the taint of white supremacy.

D’Souza tries to argue that 2017’s violent white supremacist outburst in Charlottesville, VA, which left one counter-protester dead, had nothing to do with right-wing politics or Donald Trump. “There they are, white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Trump hats,” D’Souza sneers over footage of the Charlottesville rallies. “Doesn’t that prove that racism today is on the right?”

Not at all, D’Souza counters, saying that Charlottesville organizer and white supremacist Jason Kessler was once an Obama supporter. He doesn’t explain why that fact precludes Kessler being a white nationalist Trump supporter now, nor does he explain how it debunks the footage D’Souza himself aired of white supremacists in Charlottesville wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, nor does he address the fact that Trump defended the white nationalist protesters. He just makes a largely meaningless observation that leaves the ongoing issue of white nationalists’ affinity for Trump glaringly unresolved.

D’Souza also interviews white supremacist figurehead Richard Spencer in an attempt to demonstrate that Spencer’s and Trump’s worldviews are wholly divergent, and his gambit backfires. D’Souza asks him: “Would you be happy with an immigration strategy that basically said, ‘We want people from New Zealand, Australia, white guys from Europe, Iceland, and South Africa; we don’t want that many people from -- if any -- Barbados or Bombay?’” After Spencer says yes, D’Souza responds: “Now this seems very different than Trump.”

It’s not really that different, though, given that Trump reportedly told lawmakers that he wanted more immigrants from Norway and fewer people from “shithole countries” -- Haiti and African nations, specifically. That comment was a big hit among white supremacists, including Spencer. D’Souza insists to Spencer that “the line that Trump is drawing is not a racial line but a line between the legal and the illegal immigrant.” The Trump White House, meanwhile, is reportedly planning harsh restrictions on legal immigrants seeking citizenship.

Ridiculous, self-defeating arguments like this permeate Death of a Nation primarily because D’Souza doesn’t give a shit and has precisely zero respect for his intended audience. D’Souza does not want to change minds or start a discussion about political history -- this movie exists to wring as much cash as can be wrung from people who already believe that Democrats are Nazis and, as D’Souza puts it, “the real racists.” He doesn’t care about the soundness of his arguments. He just wants money and to go on TV.

At this point, D’Souza barely bothers to conceal his avarice and mendacity because he doesn’t have to. He exists within a putrefying conservative political and media ecosystem that either celebrates his fraudulent money-grubbing or determinedly ignores it. He’s doing the rounds on Fox News and talk radio, and he has the support of the president and the president’s family. None of them care that D’Souza has been discredited more times than can be counted, or that he’s erasing Hitler’s murderous persecution of LGBTQ people, or that he accidentally demonstrated parallels between Trump and white supremacists. D’Souza is calling Democrats “fascists” and Donald Trump the next Abe Lincoln, and that’s good enough.