Dueling Documentaries

It is the eve of the US election and I assume most people who are voting have already decided for whom they are casting their votes. And right up until the eleventh hour, we’re still seeing stories of people using dirty tricks. In the battleground state of Texas, a convoy of Trump supporters surrounded a Biden campaign bus and tried to force it off the road. The FBI is now investigating. Also in Texas (obviously, Trump’s campaign believes Texas is crucial), the administration just lost an attempt to throw out drive-thru voting as “unconstitutional.” They are appealing at the Federal level, so I guess we’ll see pretty quickly how the new Supreme Court appointments affect the country.

In the middle of all the electioneering, the pandemic goes on. As of November 1, despite Donald Trump’s contention that the US has “turned the corner,” the country is still reporting over 800 deaths from COVID-19 per day according to Oxford’s Our World in Data. This week, the BBC showed Totally Under Control, a documentary about the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic since the start. It shows a man and a political team who have been, since the start, more concerned with appearance than with people’s lives. And it shows what has happened to experts who could not keep agreeing with the President’s assessment. People like Dr. Nancy Messonier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After warning the public about community transmission on February 25, Messonier no longer appeared at White House press briefings.

I strongly recommend watching this documentary. While I knew most of what was going on, it puts the time line and the administration’s championing of political and business voices over scientific voices in sharp perspective. But I’ve also asked myself about my biases. This two-hour piece has a point of view and almost completely interviews people who share that point of view. Why am I OK with a slanted documentary that agrees with my point of view but negative about The Plot Against the President, a documentary slanted in Donald Trump’s favor? Part of it, admittedly, is my own bias. I am appalled by the anti-science rhetoric coming out of the White House and I have a hard time understanding how people can explain away the continuing death toll due to COVID mishandling. (I’ve heard all the justifications and they don’t make sense.) I am inclined to approve of a documentary that relies so heavily on experts, many of whom were horrified at what they saw as the mishandling and denial of the crisis.

But that’s not all. First, The Plot Against the President is an account of a supposed conspiracy (red flag) against the President that manifested itself in made-up charges of Russian interference. Is the presence or absence of Russian interference important to our democracy? Of course it is. The whole situation, and the ridiculously long Mueller investigation and everything that surrounded it is worrying. But this has become an entirely political argument. There are serious accusations that are made and never substantiated, and there’s a dismissal of anything that the other side said. It also isn’t particularly an ongoing crisis. Yes, we need to stop outsiders meddling in our elections, but it’s not quite the same as being in the middle of a pandemic that is still killing thousands of people a week. Second, in The Plot Against the President, a number of clearly partisan politicians hurl accusations at another group of politicians. Totally Under Control focuses on scientists who worked for the administration and became alarmed at how much a serious health crisis was being mishandled. A crisis that is still going on. And still being mishandled. Finally, the creators of Totally Under Control sought interviews with all the administration players, including Mike Pence and Jared Kushner, and no one would speak to them. The makers of The Plot Against the President did not say they tried to interview any of the people they were accusing of wrong-doing, and I imagine if they had, someone would have gone on the record to refute the accusations.

Mostly, I am scared that if Donald Trump manages to win the election, by, it appears, whatever means necessary, the country is in for a lot more pain before they start to actually “turn the corner” on the pandemic. More people will needlessly die because too many people took the President’s cavalier attitude toward mask-wearing and social distancing as hints that they didn’t have to follow those CDC guidelines. This will lead to more economic turmoil. Everything is hinging on a vaccine. I do believe that Anthony Fauci and other experts will make sure the vaccine is safe before they start inoculating people, but I also think the Trump administration will put pressure on the experts and pharmaceutical companies to cut corners, probably in the production of the vaccine. And that worries me.

One thought on “Dueling Documentaries

  1. It’s another example of people believing only what they already believe in. Why bother to read/watch/think when others will do that for you. This is not purely a Trump phenomenon, it’s democratic trait too. Another example of increased and increasing partisan “beliefs” and behaviours.


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