August 25, 2012

Movie Review: 2016, Obama's America

Last night, for the first time since moving back to the United States from Japan, I desperately needed to sit down and have a long discussion about the post-colonial world with someone who had a true international perspective. Unfortunately, the one person locally who fits the bill was unavailable and the one person I trust most for those kind of discussions is in Helsinki. The reason I really needed someone with an international perspective was the movie "2016: Obama's America".

Dinesh D'Souza, the man who wrote the books that became the movie, is someone whose work I've only had limited exposure to. That is not going to be the case from here on out. Dinesh D'Souza is one the most brilliant conservative thinkers of the modern age. He grew up in India, worked his way to a degree from Dartmouth College, and began his professional career as a policy adviser under President Ronald Reagan. He and I are the same age (and so is Pres. Obama). Although I haven't been to India (or Indonesia), I did live in Japan for a quarter century. All of this is important because an international life outside the realm of the super-rich provides a perspective on globalism that cannot be explained. It can be shared, but not explained. At least, not very easily.

This international perspective drives Pres. Obama to spend his every waking hour looking for ways to transform America into a "better global citizen", drives Dinesh D'Souza to write his books, and drives me to maintain this blog years after the initial glow has worn off. It also makes it hard to have certain conversations with someone who does not share that perspective, which is why last night I really needed someone to talk to.

"2016: Obama's America" is one side of a conversation between international people. Whether you agree with the movie or not, whether you are a staunch Obama supporter or opponent, if you plan to vote in the 2012 presidential election (or if you just want to understand Pres. Obama better) then you need to see this movie. The movie opens with a brief journey through the childhood of both Dinesh D'Souza and Pres. Obama. It establishes the parallels between them as well as the key differences. Then it goes into a close examination of both Pres. Obama's principal influences and his book, "Dreams from my Father". The portrait of Pres. Obama that emerges from this exploration is nothing like I expected.

True globalists, those who have lived and worked in a country other than their homeland and experienced both the good and the bad of such a life, tend to fall out into several broad categories: "we are all one", "my homeland is the best", "colonialism is a scar upon the earth", "the modern world is moving closer to utopia everyday", and so on. These categories are sometimes labeled, "universalism", "ultranationalism", "anti-colonialism", and "utopianism". I have long considered Barack Obama to be a utopian. My impression is that his mentors and heroes bequeathed to him a view of the world defined by Marx and driven by righteous indignation at the injustices of capitalism. That is not the view held by Dinesh D'Souza.

Here is where things get tricky and difficult to explain. Dinesh D'Souza views Pres. Obama as a rabid anti-colonialist driven by his past to dismantle American political, military, and economic hegemony over the modern world. This movie presents Barack Obama as a man driven to create a more fair and just world by removing the tyranny of the last global colonial power, namely the United States of America. It also speculates that once this hegemony has been dismantled, Pres. Obama will work to assist the Middle East into the formation of a larger political and economic region, or perhaps two of them. Sort of a United States of Arabia and a United States of Persia, which could serve as a counterpoint to the European Union and whatever is left of the United States of America after it's transformation into a "better global citizen".

Dinesh D'Souza is an accomplished and brilliant scholar. He presents his case very well. Many people will come away from this movie believing he has labeled Barack Obama a Utopian Marxist, but that is not the message he is trying to get across. He does not see Pres. Obama as a utopian thinker at all, let alone a Utopian Marxist. In this Dinesh D'Souza is very generous. Unfortunately, I'm not certain ultranationalists and neoconservatives will understand what he is trying to get across. Staunch Obama supporters will either be relieved that he does not label their messiah a Marxist or furious that he has labeled their messiah a Marxist depending on how much genuine international experience the individual seeing the movie happens to have. Remember, this movie is one side of a conversation between people like myself, Barack Obama, and Dinesh D'Souza, people who have firsthand experience living and working in a society they were not raised in.

This is why it is vital that everyone who plans to vote in November sees this movie. It will be difficult for many Americans to understand, and there is great potential for misunderstanding it. Either way, this movie explores in a very graphic way how someone like me (or Dinesh, or Barack) perceives the world all of us live in. Globalism, genuine globalism not the vain academic kind, is going to be far more common in the future. In many ways, it is our future whether we like it or not. If humanity is going to survive the 21st Century then we must create a global political structure that allows for free movement, free markets, free-thinking, and freedom to create your own lifestyle without fear that someone, somewhere will come along and destroy everything you have built.

This is not utopianism. The world will never be perfect. There will always be injustices, unequal distribution of resources, extreme poverty, and extreme wealth. We cannot build a perfect world, but with time and consideration we can most certainly build a more livable world. The conversation that this movie tries to have with the viewer is a bold step in the direction of a more livable world.