Requiem for the American Dream
REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM, documentary, not rated, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3 chiles
Soft-voiced, sad, patient, like a disappointed parent, Noam Chomsky talks us through an analysis of where, as a country, we’ve gone wrong. And for the most part, he appears to have it right.
This gentle but damning jeremiad on income inequality comes at a time when the presidential race is heating up and the subject is front and center, at least on the Democratic side of the coin. Over on the right, it hasn’t gotten much traction, but then those are not the ranks from which this movie will draw the bulk of its audience. The only way you can imagine the Koch brothers or Ted Cruz watching this documentary is strapped to a chair with their eyelids propped open, like Malcolm McDowell in
A Clockwork Orange.
This country has seen bad times before, Chomsky allows, but even in the depths of the Great Depression, when he was growing up, there was a sense that things would get better. That hope, as he sees it, is now largely gone. The reforms of the New Deal, which kept America out of financial crisis and saw this country reach its greatest decades of prosperity, have been systematically dismantled by an increasingly savvy plutocracy and its minions in Congress and on the U.S. Supreme Court. Since the Reagan era, with the decline of unions and the rise of deregulation, financial crises have become as regular as Metamucil and are now built into our financial planning.
Chomsky contrasts the philosophies of two iconic champions of democracy, both of whom understood that true democratic rule could result in the plundering of the property of the few by the many. Aristotle dealt with this by proposing a welfare system to reduce inequality. James Madison preferred a system that concentrated power in the hands of those equipped by property and education to wield it responsibly.
As he makes his way through 10 principles that have brought us to the dangerous pass at which we find ourselves today, he reflects on the social and economic movements of the past 50 years, pointing out the things he saw coming and those that caught him off guard. “I did not,” he admits, “anticipate the strength of the backlash to the egalitarian movements of the ’60s.”
The filmmakers have put this documentary together with visuals that are essentially an afterthought, there to give us something to look at while the great leftist explains things. Much of it is focused on Chomsky’s resigned face in what is announced as his “final long-form interviews.” His thesis is for the most part logical and thorough, and while he injects a note of hope at the end, it’s not the most persuasive part of the film. You’ll find a few points to disagree with — you may not share his utopian notion that tax day ought to be a day of rejoicing — but for the most part, Chomsky provides chapter and verse for your next argument with that uncle who wants to make America great again by voting for Donald Trump. — Jonathan Richards
Farsighted: Noam Chomsky