In case you need a reminder of how Donald Trump mounted an unorthodox campaign and became the unlikely winner of the presidential election, the documentary “Trumped” is here for you. The movie is certainly a logistical feat. It airs on Showtime on Feb. 3, less than three months after the election. That’s an incredibly quick turnaround, although those involved were used to a fast pace, since they also worked on the Showtime series “The Circus.” That show gave a real-time weekly look at the insanity that was the 2016 presidential campaign.
The footage for “Trumped,” which promises to chronicle “the greatest political upset of all time,” was culled from thousands of hours shot for “The Circus.” It premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, although there was a sneak peek Monday afternoon.
Too soon? For some, it will be.
“That was depressing,” concluded one screening attendee as the credits rolled. “I’m gonna go cry.”
The movie opens with Hillary Clinton’s arrival in New York on election night, where her haggard campaign manager, John Podesta, answers a question from political journalist John Heilemann about how he’ll feel if Trump wins.
“I don’t think that will happen,” Podesta says semi-confidently. He’s the first of many over the course of the documentary to share that incorrect sentiment.
Our guides on this journey are veteran journalists Heilemann and Mark Halperin, plus political adviser Mark McKinnon, who appear, between snippets from the campaign trail, to give their own expert analysis. The doc doesn’t necessarily reveal anything we don’t already know. Anyone who was even halfheartedly following Trump’s candidacy will remember the implosion of every other Republican nominee’s campaign, the infamous hot mic tape and the violence that erupted at Trump’s massive rallies.
But seeing all of these events in such quick succession over the course of two hours gives viewers an even greater appreciation for how crazy this election cycle was. At one point, the hosts reminisce about when they realized Trump wasn’t a typical candidate, and they trace it back to his attack of John McCain, when he said, “I like people who weren’t captured.” No candidate in history could have ever survived such a flip statement about a war hero, and yet it didn’t dent Trump’s popularity.
You know how this story ends: in tears at the Javits Center, amid cheers at the Midtown Hilton and with screaming matches out on the street between people of opposing political persuasions.
Heilemann attended the screening and answered a few questions after the movie. One viewer wanted to know what the journalist would have done differently.
“We have a tendency to focus on the candidates,” he said. A sensational campaign makes for good headlines; even Megyn Kelly mentions in the movie ahead of a debate how “electric” moments are good for ratings. But did journalists then overlook what was happening with voters around the country? Heilemann thinks so. In the future, journalists would be wise to focus not just on Trump and his bluster, but on how his policies affect citizens, Heilemann said.
Another questioner pointedly wondered what happened to dispassionate, unbiased journalists. Heilemann responded that he hears that a lot — about as often as he hears that he needs to be more biased, that it was his duty to destroy Trump.
“It’s incumbent on journalists not to be dispassionate, but to be passionate about the things that matter: truth and accountability,” he said, adding that a journalist’s job is to be oppositional, regardless of the party in power.
Inevitably, a question about “alternative facts” popped up, with one woman wondering how we can get back to truth and reality. Heilemann didn’t have an answer, but he did say that the current proliferation of falsehoods is a little like an addiction. The first step is acknowledging there’s a problem. Mission accomplished. But there’s still the point where we need to hit rock bottom, he said. Heilemann thinks we’re close.