These days it seems that just about every conversation will work its way around to politics. Whether you’re talking to a beloved family member, long-term friend or Internet stranger, our current political climate has so permeated our day-to-day that most of us don’t even realize what we’re talking about until we abruptly come to the end, unable to contain or respond to the emotions rising to the surface. As an American, I’ve learned to brace myself for it, as I quickly learned during the 2016 election that a sleeping giant of discord was disturbed from its apathy. And we will never be the same.
How? Why? What? Even now the world continues to ask what exactly went down during the 2016 election. How did one of the most well-known politicians in D.C. lose the Presidential election to one of the most well-known celebrities with no political experience? Why did American media and political experts get it so wrong? What impact remains to be seen as a result of one of the most puzzling elections to-date?
In his documentary The Accidental President, Director James Fletcher seeks to answer these exact questions. By inviting those closest to both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to share first-hand experiences of the events leading up to and directly following the election, Fletcher offers as close to a neutral and balanced view as one would hope into the unpredictable journey that was the 2016 Presidential election.
I had the privilege of speaking with Fletcher as we dove into the divided conversation that is the election and legacy of President Trump, but before you listen to the full interview, I’d like to offer a word of invitation.
No matter what you fall on the political spectrum, I implore you to please watch The Accidental President. The amount of insight and balance that is woven throughout the film is unlike anything else I have watched or read. As someone who works to remain diligent in challenging my own “why” that informs my beliefs, this film provided a safe space for both validation and challenge. Fletcher himself says it best: “Across the board….people feel very strongly about Trump one way or the other – whether you love him or hate him, there is something in this film for you.” And in a time when emotions are often leading our opinions and conversations, I cannot stress the importance of critical and open thinking enough. Confirmation bias doesn’t just exist in our media – it’s everywhere and impacts everyone, even if we don’t realize it.
Through this film, viewers are given an inside look into the experiences of those on the front lines. Kellyanne Conway, Piers Morgan, Jerry Springer, Frank Luntz, Aaron Sorkin, Molly Ball, Steve Schmidt, and Michael D’Antonio are just a few of the witnesses including in this film. And his approach to engaging with each one of them was the same: Fletcher was sure to invite his interviewees to share from their own perspectives.
“I basically say ‘tell us what happened…’ I want to hear from them. I want to hear how they see it – and they can’t be wrong in that. So the viewer could decide if they disagree with any of the interviewees. I’m not telling anyone what to think.”
And with a background in television and then later as a campaign producer in the UK, Fletcher’s experience and familiarity with the political landscape makes him a qualified guide through the disruption that was this election.
I think I can safely say we all were shocked. Long-term politicians, pollsters, journalists, Republicans, Democrats, celebrities, and voters all watched with mouths agape as the events unfolded. The Trump campaign was able to tap into the feeling of invisibility that many voters had lived with. The Clinton campaign went into it overly-confident and failed to make that same emotional connection. With every controversial action or statement from Trump, Republican leaders and political experts repeated “he’s done.” And yet his popularity grew as Clinton’s plummeted.
Being able to go behind the scenes of how this happened has helped reshape my own views regarding the roles we all have to play in politics. To Fletcher’s point, “If a game show host becoming the most powerful person on the planet isn’t worthy of a conversation I’m not sure frankly what is…This is essentially a historical document about the 2016 election, and I think there are lots of lessons to learn for both sides of the aisle.” And no matter my politics, I completely agree. We all have to be able to take a step back and watch something like this. Why? Because our political landscape has irrevocably changed. If we are to navigate it, we have to be willing to listen to the voices that don’t sound like our own. No one – not the media, not our elected officials, not our voters – should be living in an echo chamber. And this documentary is a great place to start.
There is so much more to glean from The Accidental President and my interview with James Fletcher (full audio below). I encourage you to check out the film, which is currently available for purchase on VOD and will be available on Starz later this year.