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April 10, 2021
Ithaca, NY | 59°F

ColumnsPopped Culture

Political films help viewers to reflect on presidency

For too many Americans, the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden invited a quasi-return to normalcy. But the core problems that led to the election of Donald Trump are overwhelmingly worse now than they were in November 2016. So with the Trump train derailed for at least a few years, there is time for America to ask itself some important questions. How did we get here? What happened? And, most importantly, where do we go from here? 

For me, the best way to answer these questions is by revisiting some films about Trump’s presidency that came out during his term.

The first, and most obvious film worth revisiting is Michael Moore’s 2018 documentary “Fahrenheit 11/9.” While “Fahrenheit 11/9” does feature a character study of Trump, Moore’s renewed anger is directed at the gutless Democratic elites who opened the door to Trump. In a showman-esque fashion similar to Trump himself, Moore aims his crosshairs at the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary and Bill Clinton, other corporate Democrats and The New York Times-led mainstream liberal media.

Although a stylistically unexceptional film for Moore, “Fahrenheit 11/9” pokes Democratic viewers in the ribs and tells them: “Hey! We’re supposed to be the good guys.” The true character of the corporate Democrats is revealed when Moore displays how Obama came to the rescue of Michigan’s nowcriminal Republican Governor Rick Snyder after he poisoned the people of Flint, a city with a majority Black population and over 40% of residents living below the poverty line.

Moore also gave an introduction to progressives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, who became the leaders of a new faction of U.S. Representatives after the 2018 midterm election. Finally, Moore makes an accurate prediction of what Trump’s autocratic tendencies culminated in — lies of a rigged election that led to an attempted coup. 

Adam McKay’s 2018 film “Vice,” which unfortunately generated just as much buzz as former Vice President Dick Cheney himself, is worth revisiting. In acerbic scenes dripping with irony, “Vice” explains how Cheney used dangerously corrupt methods — favoring the unitary executive theory, dodging the Federal Advisory Committee Act and redefining the vice presidency — to expand the powers of the executive branch. 

By wielding these powers, Cheney formed policies that led to the rise of Trump. In 2003, during Cheney’s tenure, the highly controversial law enforcement agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement was founded, whose union endorsed Trump in 2016. Bush and Cheney continued the multi-decade tear of deregulating big banks resulting in the Great Recession, which many have cited as part of Trump’s anti-establishment populism. And of course, the endless wars in the Middle East that Cheney got the U.S. into were ripe for Trump’s isolationist promises. “Vice” among other things, successfully depicts Cheney as the Sith lord we remember him to be.

Finally, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” the wiser big brother of the first “Borat” film, makes fun of it all — conspiracy theories, right-wing terrorism, social media influencers, the COVID-19 pandemic and the White House itself.

It is the ultimate film of the Trump era, showing the uncomfortable truth of the strangely dystopian, dysfunctional version of America we feared. “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” does what all political art should do — capture the time in history it finds itself in, leaving the audience with a portrait of America exactly how it was in October 2020.

Whichever film we watch, reflecting on the Trump era will be necessary to dig ourselves out of this mess. In many ways, the Trump era made our problems clearer than ever before — tremendous economic inequality, a broken government, the manipulative powers of Big Tech, rampant racial injustice, an unprecedented health crisis and a planet facing climate destruction. Now we just have to solve them.