For the next several years, we’re going to inundated with tell-all books, documentaries, speaking tours, and exposés that will try to capitalize on the open wounds inflicted on us by President Donald Trump. We’re going to see an avalanche of people who will “bravely” speak out about his abuses and crimes and how they were lone voice of reason in a White House Gone Mad, long after the damage has already been done. Much like how craven Bush alumni Scott McClellan and Colin Powell turned against our 43rd President near the tail end of his destructive tenure when it would make the least bit of difference, I have no doubt whatsoever that there will be several Trump sycophants who will play last-minute-hero as soon as he appoints his third Supreme Court Justice and no longer has any power the GOP can take advantage of.
Eve Kornblum and James Fletcher’s The Accidental President is just one of what I predict will be several unenlightening documentaries giving us the same canned lines about Donald Trump that any armchair political pundit would be able to suss out after spending a few hours on the internet. Indeed, this film opens with a number of witless pundits like Van Jones and David Pakman, partisan hacks like Frank Luntz and Piers Morgan, as well as sometimes totally irrelevant celebrities like Aaron Sorkin and Jerry Springer. All of them are repeating the same canned lines about how “Trump tapped into anger at the Establishment” and “not everyone who voted for Trump was a racist.” Sometimes they just repeat outright lies like how “Obama pushed the country too far to the left” without even mild pushback or rebuttal. All of these pedantic hot takes give us the most conventional possible narrative of the election of 2016; just surface-level recounting of Hillary’s emails and Bill’s infidelity and the Access Hollywood tape that the 24-hour news networks have already covered to death, with zero new insights to inform us moving forward.
If I could describe The Accidental President in one word, it would be “lazy.” There is nothing I saw in this film, from any of its endless talking head interviews, that you wouldn’t have already heard from a random episode of Meet the Press. I do not know if first-time documentary filmmaker James Fletcher was not able or was not willing to go deeper than cable news bullet points for his debut feature, but with results this unenlightening it hardly matters, especially when the coda is literally Molly Ball from TIME Magazine pondering whether the 2016 election was a realigning election or “merely a fluke” before the film seemingly shrugs its shoulders and cuts to credits. Golly gee, I guess we’ll never know! Thanks, The Accidental President. You’re a priceless document of this historical moment.
I don’t have the energy to write 1,000 words about this movie because, really, what else is there to say about it? I would rather instead take this opportunity to warn you, dear reader, about movies like this in the future, trying to tempt you with a dopamine rush of rage at the very enraging President Trump while promising a delicious carrot of special insight so that you, woke citizen, will finally truly understand What Happened That Night. We’re going to see a parade of dozens, maybe even hundreds, of similar grifters and lazy wannabe muckracking journalists who were more than happy to make a quick buck off of enabling Donald Trump when he was in power tearing our republic to shreds and letting a deadly disease kill nearly a quarter of a million people now turning around and wanting to be the next Bob Woodward now that there’s no professional risk in doing so. The same Republicans who focus-grouped and media-tested racist dogwhistles are now shocked – shocked, I tell you! – at President Trump saying all the quiet parts out loud. The same networks that hung on his every word and ran all of his rambling, unhinged hate rallies live, giving him an estimated two billion dollars of free advertising are going to be producing pieces looking back with patronizing solemnity at the oh-so-terrible wreckage he left in his wake. The same journalists who reprinted all of his bald-faced lies like subservient stenographers are going to be hastily typing up “bold!” articles “exposing!” his flagrant corruption with dreams of Pulitzers dancing in their heads.
But none of them – least of all the bloviating interviewees in this documentary – will talk about their own complicity. The same people who will be demanding your money and your clicks for their big documentary or book about all the juicy salacious details of a dysfunctional White House were the same ones who were shamelessly sucking up to him for the chance at a little bit of access to his circle of power. Documentaries like The Accidental President will vaguely wonder when the country will “get back to normal,” as if the country was ever normal to begin with, and will lament Trump as a bad thing that happened to America, and nothing else.
Because otherwise these same cowards and bandwagon-chasing filmmakers would have to ask some genuinely hard questions about the election of 2016. And if that happens… their little gravy train might run out. Please do your own mental health and civic priorities and favor, and don’t give them that satisfaction.