AMERICAN CHAOS (2018)
Featuring James D. Stern.
Directed by James D. Stern.
Distributed by Sony Classics Pictures. 90 minutes. Not Rated.
Significantly more than half of the United States looked on in incomprehension and horror on November 8, 2016, when a reality show personality named Donald Trump was named President of the United States.
We won’t get into the very real questions about the validity of his Presidency – the Russian meddling, the bots, the Comey statement, the voter suppression, the stolen emails, the corrupt members of the campaign. Nor will we debate about the job that Trump has done since; which has mostly comprised of doing campaign rallies when he no longer has to campaign, angering our allies and kissing up to our enemies, watching TV, getting into Twitter wars, insisting that he is not guilty of the multiple crimes swirling around him, and trying to undo everything that Barack Obama had done.
However, many political analysts have decided that they need to find out what it was about Trump and what he was offering that was so seductive to so many people. Filmmaker James D. Stern was on this aspect early, spending much of the election season going from Trump rally to Trump rally, talking to fans and trying to find out what they saw in a businessman who couldn’t care less about them.
Experiencing these rallies made him both disturbed and downhearted, but he realized long before most of his liberal friends that Trump had a real chance of winning. Not necessarily because of Trump’s potential skills for the job, but because he had created a pure cult of personality in which fear, bigotry and blatant dishonesty spurred the passion and insecurity of people who were not sure what their place was in modern America.
So, in the spirit of reaching across the aisle, Stern decided to just listen to them. He wasn’t going to debate. He wasn’t going to educate. He was just going to hear what they thought.
And that is what American Chaos is, mostly, Trump nation spouting talking points. Which can be fascinating, but mostly it’s frustrating and scary.
Not surprisingly, except for a couple of Cuban Americans in Florida, pretty much all the people he interviews are middle-aged to elderly whites.
One of the problems with American Chaos is, I hate to say it because it’s really not his fault, but Stern is pretty much everything Trump fans deride in progressives. He’s smart, soft-spoken, polite, politically correct, understanding, bending over backwards trying to see all points of view, unwilling to fight back. Just once in the movie does he call one of the people he is interviewing out on the blatantly false talking points she is parroting from their leader. This lack of pushback makes the film somewhat exasperating for people who are not brainwashed by FOX “News” and InfoWars.
Maybe if he stopped letting them spew lies and instead corrected the misinformation, it would make the film a little easier to watch. Sure, they probably wouldn’t have believed him, but at least they won’t be just be emitting their propaganda unchecked.
But, no, instead we get to hear about Hillary’s emails. And about the kiddie porn ring run out of a Washington pizza parlor. And the return of the coal jobs. And how Mexicans are rapists. And how the Clintons have murdered people and gotten away with it. And how Trump is a successful businessman. And how undocumented immigrants can vote. And how Obama is a Muslim. And how Trump is a big enough star that he can just grab women by the pussy. And Benghazi! Oh yeah, can’t forget Benghazi. Yada yada, you have heard all of those before and the many others that are trotted out here.
And don’t even get me started on the fucking wall.
Making America Intolerant Again.
Yes, there is some value in allowing Trump’s staunchest supporters to explain themselves. Stern is right – if you don’t try to comprehend the other side there will never be any kind of understanding.
And I get it’s not really Stern’s job as a documentary filmmaker to pick a side. In theory, documentaries are supposed to be completely neutral, though that guideline has taken something of a beating in the last couple of decades. In most situations, I’d applaud the even-handedness, but this is not just another state of affairs. This is the fate of the United States.
I recognize that in this review I am completely failing at Stern’s most basic point in American Chaos – trying to find some kind of common ground with people whose ideals don’t match up with mine.
None of this makes American Chaos any easier to sit through. I’m not saying that because American Chaos is a bad film. In fact, it is very good, smart and thoughtful.
I’m just saying that because chances are after you walk out of the film, you may well want to punch a brick wall. And thanks to Trump, your medical expenses will be much higher.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2018 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 14, 2018.