“We are all shaped by our pasts and we carry elements of the past into the future. Nothing can threaten the future quite as much as the debts of the past.” claims 2016: Obama’s America .
If you worry about America’s debt and sneaking socialism you will applaud the insight of this recently released film; if you dislike its conclusions or don’t care you will doubtless see it as political propaganda.
That being settled, what caught my interest during a preview of the film? It was the personal, psychological angle that framed the story: how the immigrants’ background affects their perspective. Note, I didn’t say “the immigrants’ experience”. There are a number of ethnocentric films that focus on how immigrants weathered discrimination in America , but this film begins further back.
2016: Obama’s America probes the pre-immigrant backgrounds of two men of recent immigrant stock - outsiders to traditional America – in an attempt to explain how we can look at a glass as half empty or half full.
The film points out that the two protagonists, Barack Obama and Dinesh D’Souza, share a lot in common: the same color skin, Third World childhood experiences, Ivy League education, and grandfathers who hated colonialism.
Both Obama and D’Souza were raised to mistrust world powers. Yet according to D’Souza he always admired America , even if it could not live up to its exalted ideals. Why, he wonders, would Obama want reforms of the sort that have failed to bring prosperity elsewhere, including their homelands?
In attempt to answer that, the film focuses on the thread of Obama’s genetic, political, and cultural heritage. D’Souza’s hypothesis is that an “anti-colonial framework” left over from Obama’s Third World background influences his domestic and international policies today.
I would be almost content to throw out the entire concept as so much balderdash, and believe that we are all islands, self-made in our concepts and dreams, but for acquaintances who bear living grievances of ancient wars, and for echoes of empires a storyteller left ringing in my ears.
Many years ago I spent stretches of time with an RAF Wing Commander. Seldom have I met someone with more tales to tell – or better told. Most of his life was spent serving Britain across the globe, which meant garnering innumerable experiences. These he processed through his “Rule Britannia” worldview and served up with good humor and laughter. It felt like Kipling had come to life.
To my surprise this Brit saw American immigrants as using elected offices primarily to exert influence in favor of their homeland. Being of long-term American stock, in my naiveté I took at face value that Americans were using their elected offices for America , just as our citizenship vows and constitution implied. It hadn’t occurred to me that, as he saw, the Kennedy family was first and foremost Irish. Thus, a storyteller opened my eyes to how the national and cultural past plays into some people’s view of current politics.
In America - the “ New World ” - we live externally encased by electronics and modern construction. Likewise, internally we tend to feel independent of our past. We feel like spinning tops rather than beads strung sequentially on the string of human history.
In the “ Old World ” this is less often the case. You can feel it when you meet people overseas, or listen to their stories. For example, the BBC’s “Story of England” series takes a single village in central England and follows the life of its common folk over millennia. As an American who has moved a lot, watching it gave me a strange sensation, surreal and a bit wistful: to think of generations never moving away… of being connected to your past through the ancient garbage in your own back yard.
Over the past year I’ve been thinking about how decisions my parents and other ancestors made affect where I live and what I do today. 2016: Obama’s America will make you think about your own America . How did the choices your ancestors made affect how you live and think today?
“The Help” is an Academy Award nominated film based on a book set in the early Civil Rights South. The story is very popular, presenting both comedy and drama, and although it is fiction it cuts like fact.
Walk around Egypt with your eyes open and you will be able to take a political poll without saying a word. Simply count the “raisin spots” on the men you see. The zabiba, or “raisin” is what Arabs call the prayer spot on the foreheads of devout Muslims.
On a trip to the Middle East last month I discovered a clue on getting through security faster. In Frankfurt, just as I was being told to remove a loose sweater, the Muslim woman directly ahead of me was let through wearing a heavy, full length, full button front coat. Apparently her hijab signaled there was less chance she was hiding something dangerous on her person than my bare head indicated.
When I pointed out this disparity to security, they admitted it, but said there was nothing they could do. (What about frisking?)
Not to be outdone by the Germans, the French have a better system. Two months ago a friend passed through Paris on his way from the Middle East. The Arab Muslim screeners found out he was Palestinian, and while the other passengers were being heavily scrutinized, he got the “hail fellow well met” treatment. Smiles and sympathy replaced not only his walking through the metal detector, but exempted his backpack from the indignity of x-ray as well. Good thing he was not in the mood to blow up a plane that day.