Tobold's Blog
Monday, July 18, 2022

I am still on holiday in Germany, and I finally managed to sign up for a streaming service that works here, and should work back in Belgium: Discovery+. The trick was to use my German bank account to pay for it, because IP address and bank account are the two ways these services determine who is “local”. Used to be just IP, but everybody is using VPN these days to get around that restriction. While I didn’t sign up to Discovery+ just to watch this, it was an opportunity to watch the recent documentary about the Trump family, Unprecedented. I had an inkling that this might be good, after I saw both left and right complaining about it, which is usually a sign of quality.

So what is Unprecedented? It is a documentary showing the Trump family in the time from before the 2020 election to Trump leaving office. There are a lot of interviews at different points in time with Trump and his family, interviews with “pundits”, backstage footage of events the Trump family did, and all embedded in a timeline of the events of late 2020 / early 2021 as seen on the news. And it is really good TV, because there is no overwhelming bias from the director. Instead of attacking the people interviewed with hostile questions, he mostly lets them just talk, which ends up being a whole lot more revealing. And interestingly that is true both for the Trump family and for the pundits. Often you can see a sitaution from the campaign trail, unstaged or on the sidelines, and that contrasts with the self-serving answers the Trump family gives in the interviews, as well as with heavily biased interpretations of the pundits. Nobody points a finger and shouts “this is a lie”, but the viewer can make up his own mind and detect the lies for himself.

The real success of this method is that it makes it much clearer how everybody involved, left and right, are just human. A pundit explaining how Trump supporters are all just white suppremacists contrasts with footage showing these supporters to be a lot more diverse and often mostly interested in other daily problems than race. The right denying any responsibility for January 6 and the left trying to paint it as a coup d’etat contrasts with a much more mundane reality of a protest action that was clearly planned and to some extent staged which then ran out of control. Cleverly the interview footage often shows the minutes before the actual interview, with Trump at one point spending a lot of effort on getting a glass of water on a side table looking exactly right in the footage. Again it is “Show, don’t tell!”, and Trump very much comes over as somebody extremely vain and somewhat delusional, with a bunch of misled followers, instead of some master villain with a fascist army. There are elements of tragicomedy here that make this documentary good entertainment. But the documentary is also of high enough quality and detached from daily political discourse to be useful as a historical reference that will enable future generations to understand the “unprecedented” end of the Trump presidency much better.

Of course if you are already a political extremist, left or right, with a closed mind, there is nothing for you to see here. Unprecedented is neither the attack piece with secret evidence of Trump wrongdoing that the left had hoped for, nor is it the hagiography that the right wanted. But if you look closely, the interesting parts are those where the narrative of the left and the right are the same, e.g. painting Trump’s children as an extension of Trump and his brand, and the reality you see is very different, with these children clearly having their own ambitions and characters. Or where the “loyal supporters” / “deplorables” turn out to be regular people with real life regular problems just looking for the least bad politician to fight their cause. Unprecedented answers the question of why so many people support Trump by showing the right courting them with lies, while the left just disdains them, and they clearly prefer the former to the latter. And that is important, because it isn’t specific to Trump, but clearly would work for any successor with the same populist approach, with or without the Trump family name.

You make it sound like this documentary is somehow akin to a natural event, as though it were a shower of rain you got in while you were out walking, rather than a constructed artefact. Someone had to collate and edit all that footage and the person or persons who did it of necessity at least had a subjective opinion and quite likely an agenda. It sounds as though they've been rather clever at concealing thier motives and intentions, if you were able to come away not having noticed what they were.
Have you not considered the option that the director (who isn’t American) had an agenda of “let’s make a good documentary”, rather than a US political agenda? Would you have questioned his agenda if he had done a nature documtary?
Bhagpuss, every video made by mankind is not a natural event, as in the maker has intentions, at least the one to make a video.

That is trivial, and as such it can be assumed that everyone, including Tobold, knows this.

But thanks for the effort, anyway.
The right denying any responsibility for January 6 and the left trying to paint it as a coup d’etat contrasts with a much more mundane reality of a protest action that was clearly planned and to some extent staged which then ran out of control.

"Mundane reality" sort of glosses over the precipice we were, in fact, hanging over that day. You don't have to necessarily believe the deeper conspiracy of whether Mike Pence's Secret Service detail was coordinating with Trump's (and the Oath Keepers/Proud Boys) in trying to get him removed from the Capitol. What you cannot dispute is that had Mike Pence left the area (i.e. gotten into the Secret Service car), Chuck Grassley would have presided over the certification of votes. And he could have sent the election back to the House delegations, of which there were more Republicans. End of democracy.
“Could have” is extremely weak. Aliens could have landed. Other checks and balances could have worked. But what is very, very obvious is that in as far as there was a plan at all, Trump had counted on Pence to do what he wanted. As he had previously counted on the Supreme Court that he had stacked for this purpose. None of these plans worked, which shows that American democracy is somewhat more robust than you think. I think the worst case scenario here would have been prolonged legal battles, with ultimately the same outcome. Trump might wish he was Kim Jong-un, but he doesn’t have the same support system for a personality cult in place, not even in his own party.
Tobold, you sound like the apologists who said that Roe v. Wade is settled law, and nobody would overturn it.

Until the prospective supreme court justices lied during their confirmation hearings and went ahead and overturned it anyway.
@Redbeard: As a centrist, I always sound like a member of the opposite party to any extremist. Bad things happened on January 6th, and Trump is responsible: He assembled and provoked an angry mob and sent them to the Capitol. But his plan was very much in the open: Put pressure on Mike Pence, because Trump was delusional in thinking that Pence could actually do anything about the election. The plan was delusional, reckless, and stupid. But as far as “coup d’etat” go, this one must rank even below the bay of pigs invasion in cleverness and chance to succeed.

It is to the political advantage of the Democrats to make these events sound a lot more dangerous than they were, “the end of democracy”. And it is to the political advantage of the Democrats to paint all Republicans with the same brush and pretend they were in with it. But the facts are that Trump wanted to overturn the election, and all the Republicans with any power he asked to do it said no: Kemp said no, Pence said no, the Republican Supreme Court said no. The people who supported Trump in his efforts were a sad bunch of clowns like Guiliani and Lindell. American Democracy, in all instances that were tried, was very much able to withstand this attack. Trump basically got laughed out of court. Recounts confirmed he had lost. He went way past the point where pretending to have won was of political advantage to himself. If the Democrats can’t win the 2024 election against Trump, that would say a lot more about the state of the Democratic party than about the politicial “genius” of Trump.
I live in Trump country. Unlike previous years, such as the Reagan years, people are openly flying flags and wearing clothing with slogans about killing their opposition, so reading characterizations that "they're inept" doesn't change the reality that there's enough people out there who want it to happen to make it a reality.

@Redbeard: Agreed. And if you look at previous posts of mine, I’ve been predicting political violence for some time.

However, the polarization of America, and in how far Trump is responsible for it is a different question. It has nothing to do with the documentary I was blogging about. And even if we agree that Trump is bad, I don’t think that would be justification to make documentaries about him that are just a bunch of lies. Truth has an inherent value, even if it doesn’t fit your preferred political narrative.

And the ineptness of Trump is important, because it is pretty easy to see how a successor could do better.

The documentary showed the Trump team using “make liberals cry again” as a campaign slogan. I think the Democrats are doing themselves a disservice by not considering why this would be a slogan that works on an average American. You know, the guy without a college degree (regardless of the color of his skin), who sees “student debt relief” as a transfer of money from the poor to people already doing better than him. It is really too bad that the only people in the Democratic party who still remember “it’s the economy, stupid!” are old foggies like Bernie Sanders and Robert Reich. The Democrats could have a runaway success by concentrating on fighting for higher wages in this cost of living crisis. Instead they are looking like an well-educated elite shoveling more money into their own pockets at the expense of the working class. Populism exploits anger, but that anger is based on something real, and that is more often than not the economic conditions of the working people.
Trump is a symptom of a cancer that's been embedded in the American Political system for decades.

In a way we got lucky Trump and his inner circle were so inept that they couldn't do as much damage to the country as they could have.

The truly scary part of the Trump presidency is the lesson politicians learned.

The next Republican that can successfully gather Trumps base yet actually put together a competent inner circle can truly send America back 80 years of social and economic progress.
@ Bigeye I could not agree more, Trump is a narcissistic moron, but he paved the way for a future populist's that is more capable (on either left or right)

Just as Sulla and Maruis showed the next generation (Caesar, Pompei, Crassus ) History doesn't repeat, but it can rhyme.

Post a Comment

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool