Fact-Checking Dinesh D’Souza’s The Secret History of the Democratic Party
Or, more specifically, I respond to the movie as a whole in essay form offering the history and logic needed to show what parts of the movie are factual and which aren’t.
So not a line-by-line fact-check, but a general rebuttal that works as a check on D’Souza’s thesis.
NOTE: The main reason I didn’t do a line-by-line fact-check is this: it is easy to spin a tall tale, it is hard to fact-check a film full of inaccuracies. Maybe I should have done a line-by-line, but I didn’t. So instead, read the essay below, and if you have questions, feel free to ask me in the comments and we can have a discussion.
On Hillary’s America
Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party is mostly, in my opinion, a propaganda film.
I say propaganda, because it takes this narrative that the Democratic Party is a corrupt party all about control, and uses it to paint many different things done under the banner of the Democratic Party, be it from northern liberals, progressives, or southern social conservatives, as being part of a coordinated overarching evil plot to take control of the state and of people’s minds.
However, the reality is those factions rarely agree on anything, and one of them [southern social conservatives] even disagreed so much they effectively have left the party and vote Republican today.
And right away we have the problem.
D’Souza’s film presents a vast oversimplification not only of the intentions and history of each party, but of the reality of how different factions come together with a diverse array of interests to crate the party history of each party over time.
D’Souza treats Lincoln as exactly the same as a modern Republican, and all Republicans of any era as exactly the same… and this is arguably wrong. There were many factions of Republicans in Lincoln’s time, and they agreed on very little, just like there are different factions of Republicans in our time who agree on little as well!
D’Souza treats the leaders of the Confederacy and Obama as exactly the same, and that is confused as well. At times each of those entities supported the Democratic party, but none of those entities has much in common beyond that. Even in the 1850s there were many different types of Democrats (and never was a conservative democratic exactly the same as a progressive one).
While in the movie D’Souza gets many facts right despite this, his main problem is he relies on an incorrect central thesis paired with an overly simple and dramatic view of each party which paints cartoonish heroes and villains out of the parties.
His reliance on the idea that there was no changes in either party results in most of the film being misleading. Then, on top of that, his demonization of the Democratic party and glorification of the Republican party only further confuses the issue.
It gets so bad that almost every single thing he says needs a rebuttal… and ultimately this is what stopped me from doing a line-by-line.
If someone made a movie about the conspiracy behind the fact that the moon was made of cheese, doing a line-by-line fact-check would be nightmare, because the premise was wrong!
So it is here.
With that in mind, let me at least try to make a few points to help you see my side of this.
Let’s try this: Just think of who lives in the South today, who is socially conservative today, and who waves the Confederate Battle Flag today? It is not the northern citied liberals, right? Of course not.
However, D’Souza’s movie suggests that the modern political parties and the parties of any era are exactly the same, and thus the movie is constantly and misleadingly pushing you to make this connection.
The populist progressives, who used to have a stronger hold in the mid-west but who have always lived in coastal and citied regions, and liberals of the type we might call “establishment” Democrats today, used to ally with the Southern Conservatives in the Democratic party (where a Van Buren, Jefferson, Jackson, AND Calhoun were all in the same party; or a Thurmond, Kennedy, Humphrey, Gore, George C. Wallace, Henry A. Wallace, FDR, and LBJ if you will), but that slowly changed over the course of the 20th century and especially since the 1960’s and Southern Strategy.
So why do progressives and southern conservatives break away from each other? Well one wants progressive programs like welfare and the other wants a more traditional southern way of life. To D’Souza he takes the worst implications of each and says “an evil Democrat just wants control”…. but in reality neither faction agreed to the point the southern faction literally left the Dems and now opposes the progressives!
That is a BIG SWITCH! And that reality does not fit D’Souza’s narrative.
As the parties changed, the implications of the what the past says about the modern parties changed, especially when referring to the great southern rebellion known as the Civil War or the pushback against Civil Rights in the first part of the 20th century… because those battles were led by the Southern faction… and that faction has effectively “switched” parties.
Historically speaking, the one-party socially conservative voter bloc called “the Solid South” or “Southern bloc,” now allies with what one may have in the past called the classical Federalist Republicans, and what we used to call Know-Nothings, and with the religious right voter. Yes, Party bosses still dominate the Democratic Party (minus the Bourbon Dixie bosses), and there is still a conservative faction of Democrats and liberal faction of Republicans, but the parties have really polarized by left and right these days in a way they never had before, and Progressives and Northern Liberals themselves never actually dominated the deep south and still don’t today (the Democratic party did, but the northern liberal and progressive factions of that party NEVER did directly).
That is what D’Souza gets wrong. He confuses parties with factions. While parties are static things, the factions that comprise a party can change… and in American history, they did notably change. This change that some call “the big switch,” did happen. However, D’Souza’s film relies on the idea that it did not happen, and thus every point he makes based off that premise ends up confused.
To a liberal, this movie is a joke due to the way it skews so many points to fit an incorrect thesis (that the switch didn’t happen), to a Southern Conservative who knows their history, I’d reckon this movie is an insult, because it constantly paints the south as the enemy of America and then justifies it by calling it Democrat. To a modern Republican, I would say the movie also does no favors, because it wastes all the time it could have used defending the modern party and the switch and instead focuses on how bad and evil the south is?!
Ultimately I would agree with the take of Steve Byas (a conservative), when he said in his article: Hillary’s America: How Accurate Is the History?:
“While a person who favors limited government and our constitutional form of government can certainly agree with D’Souza’s indictment of the modern Democratic Party, distortions of history to make that case only hurt the case in the end.”
In other words, D’Souza’s good points are lost in his instance on following a narrative that distorts history and that hurts the whole case being made.
History is a story of a factions within parties. D’Souza demonizes a party over something a faction who is no longer with the party did, and it leads to a movie filled with misleading information. I apologize for not going line-by-line, but suffice to say, every time you hear Democrats are bad because of what happened in the past due to issues important in the conservative south, it is essentially half wrong due to the what I’ve explained about faction vs. party and half wrong because he is embellishing the story to make democrats look bad (i.e., it probably isn’t 100% true about the southern faction either).
FACT: In 1860 the parties had very clear platforms, and there was four of them vying for power, not just two (the four each represent a split in the major parties). Lincoln ran the moderately conservative and socially liberal Republican Party ticket (the party of the North and Coasts), John Breckenridge was a Socially Conservative Confederate of the Southern Democratic Party (the southern faction led the secession upon Lincoln’s election), Stephen Douglas was an anti-Know-Nothing States’ Rights Democrat who ran for the Democratic Party (a Democrat for popular sovereignty who won the border state Missouri), and John Bell ran for the Constitutional Union ticket (an ally of the Republicans who won some border states). When we think of the Confederates of the Civil War, we think of a very specific faction of Americans, the Socially Conservative Southern Democratic Party (not the Northern Liberal Democrats who are today represented by Obama and Bernie, and not even the Progressive Dixies like the Gores and LBJ).
In other words, the Socially Conservative Southern Democratic Party, is the states’ rights parties, is the American Independents, who supported Goldwater, and today vote Republican in their “southernized” form.
TIP: Consider, a famous argument (made by the Great Southern Conservative John C. Calhoun), “that the wage slavery of the north was worse than the actual slavery of the south“. The social safety net and inequalities of the big cities was a northern thing in 1850, a northern thing in 1950, and a northern thing 2017. That doesn’t magically make welfare and slavery directly equatable, nor does it in fact really even relate to the story of the south (the story of the south is the story of rural interests and a sparse few businesses who would fund their campaigns; no different today, that isn’t what changed). There are a thousand more quips like this, of course it’s harder to debunk a pack of lies than it is to spin a tall tale. Let me just say, 1. Southerners are people and we shouldn’t slander them and, 2. We are talking about intergenerational changes, so really, none of us voted for or against the sins of our fathers…. although to the extent that isn’t true, this movie just slanders the modern Southern Republican like nobodies business.
TIP: Generally all reviews agree that this movie isn’t fully accurate. Some of it is just awkward language (like using liberal to imply progressive social liberal), but most of this is just arising from the fact that D’Souza doesn’t seem to understand our history very well. He correctly criticizes some aspects of our history, but he attributes all the criticism to the left-wing and then drags past right-wingers through the mud (claiming they are somehow connected to modern Democrats).
What was the Southern Strategy? This part of the story is only one part, but it is vital to get. This is from Keith Hughes who explains much of our American history accurately. All videos on this page are secondary resources not created by us.
The Story of Racism in America Isn’t Exactly the Same as the Story of the Democratic Party
The story of the Democratic and Republican parties isn’t just a story “about racism” (especially not ONLY southern racism in the Deep South) and things aren’t as simple as there being one type of racism and one only type of racist policy or action in American history.
To the point, the racism found in the south in the time of the Civil War, the same kind that extended into the 20th century, is notably different than say the anti-immigrant policies of know-nothings or the one-might-argue racism imbedded in social policy meant to help the poorest on paper but which acts as a welfare trap in practice.
Still, each type is different and the root of each is different, and the factions guilty in each case are different.
The main story of America isn’t “just race,” it is the story of many things including “progressivism and big government” fighting against “free-enterprise and small government” via different factions.
Sometimes this is a rural vs. urban issue (that is another issue at the heart of things), sometimes a north south issue, sometimes an issue for factions in one party, sometimes an issue between parties, that is one of the parts that changes (as factions change parties and new factions form).
It is way too simple an inaccurate to paint one party as the champion of all the bad things and the other as the champion of all the good things, instead it is way more complex than that.
Also, it is overly simple to think that history is villains being villains for the sake of villainy.
Instead, even the leaders of the Confederates of the civil war were in their minds fighting a good fight. And so to it is for the barons organizing against labor or the factions fighting for welfare policies that perhaps didn’t work out well in practice.
When the great migrations happen and black Americans flee to northern cities, and then we end up with progressive poverty programs and concentrations of poverty by race, there is a complex story there… this is not a story of the sons southern Confederates moving to the north to open plantations in cities, it is a story of the complexities of urban politics in terms of progressive policy, racism and classism and cities, and a million different complex American things that had impacted other immigrants in other eras and still impact cities today.
Tying the urban experience in terms of American history to slavery and the Civil War is very shallow.
And so it goes for every issue brought up in D’Souza’s film.
You can look at each party and tell many stories, but those stories don’t all fit together to tell us how the Democrats have always sought to control while the Republicans have always fought for freedom. Instead, they tell us about many different factions in both parties, good intentions, bad intentions, rich, poor, and combating ideologies.
It tells a complex story, one that would take too many pages to fill, it doesn’t sum up into D’Souza’s points about Lincoln and Hillary.
How the South Went Republican: Can Democrats Ever Win There Again? (1992).
How the South Went Republican: Can Democrats Ever Win There Again? (1992).
The Brainwashing of My Dad Trailer. If you can stomach the liberal bias (sort of built into the title on this one), and can keep in your mind that social conservatism is real and natural just like social liberalism, I strongly suggest watching this documentary as it explains the non-southern part of the strategy that caused the switch and resulted in our modern situation.
From white supremacy to Barack Obama: The history of the Democratic Party. In a sentence: The KKK used to be Democrats, and now they aren’t, not after the effects of the Solid South switch and Southern Strategy (part of the overarching Sixth Party Strategy). The post-War 1960’s really changed the Democratic Party, their liberal wing essentially took over (much to the dismay of the “free enterprise” Republicans).
How the Republican Party went from Lincoln to Trump. In a sentence: The Republican party used to be the party of Lincoln, but Teddy’s exit, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, and the conservative coalition and Sixth Party Republican strategy changed that. The pre-Teddy republican Party and post-Teddy party are very different things.
- How Bad Is Dinesh D’Souza’s Hillary’s America? A Conversation.
- Hillary’s America: How Accurate Is the History?
- Hillary’s America — A Two-by-Four Bashing Democrat