People who wake up each morning dreading what President Trump has said or done the previous night may not want to revisit the emotional rollercoaster of Election Day 2016, but “11/8/16” nevertheless provides a fascinating portrait of the country’s mood, filtered through the real-time reactions of a cross-section of Americans with various political affiliations.
Producer Jeff Deutchman, working with 16 filmmaking teams across the country, takes the temperature of the electorate as the results roll in, less as a chronicle of Trump’s upset than the thoughts and feelings of the people who fear or hope their lives will be affected by the outcome.
Starting with Amrit, a Sikh cab driver in New York and ending 24 hours later with Vernon, a homeless man in Honolulu, “11/8/16” cuts between more than a dozen individuals, their friends and family in locations across the U.S. Other participants include Eric, a miner whose family believes Clinton hates the coal industry; Anthony Ray, voting for the first time in decades after being exonerated from a 30-year death sentence; Jesus, a community organizer representing a community of DREAMers who are terrified of a Trump administration; Tom, a businessman who likes to troll his wife by refusing to take off his “Make America Great Again” hat; Calene, a housewife supporting third-party candidate Evan McMullin; Christina, managing editor for the politics section of the Los Angeles Times; Hana, a fresh-faced college student; and Vetress, a Chicago businesswoman-turned-activist polling her friends and neighbors about which candidate will help them the most — or at least do the least damage.
For the most part, the filmmakers record their subjects passively, declining to challenge their assertions about the candidates’ views, values or policies, which may rankle some viewers with strong points of view about Clinton or Trump (or both). But given the gobsmacking outcome of the election, which even the film’s Trump supporters did not expect — the choice not to engage feels almost sweetly naïve, the well-intentioned byproduct of a “both-sides” mentality.
This objectivity fails to account for an anger in the electorate that Sierra, a producer of video content for Hillary For America, is the only one interviewee to acknowledge in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s victory. That said, it’s less a shortcoming of the film than a sobering reminder of liberals’ perhaps blindly optimistic pre-November 8 view of American politics.
As liberals and pundits scratch their chins and wipe away tears as the results roll in, the film also offers a thumbnail view of the talking points that dominated the last days of the election cycle, and reiterates the power of the media to shape voters’ opinions about candidates. Admittedly, combat veteran Adrian’s contention that Trump would be a better candidate because “he’s willing to start a dialogue” about tough subjects (referring to his “Access Hollywood” scandal as an example of creating important discourse) feels fairly outrageous, no matter on what side of the political spectrum you fall. But Tom’s belief that Clinton would cheat in order to win, or Eric’s family hoping Trump will reform the coal industry while Clinton will simply wipe it out, all comes straight from talking points hammered home on Fox News and in political ads, tailored and coordinated to impact the people not just likely but the most eager to believe those claims.
While there’s an enormous relief in watching exonerated death row convict Anthony Ray participate in the electoral process without incident, it’s heartbreaking to see reactions from the DREAMers Jesus represents who voice very real fears (and fears that effectively came true) about what might happen to them and their families if Trump is elected.
Conversely, the disappointment of the young (and not-so-young) white liberals gnashing their teeth over Clinton’s loss feels a bit like the episode of “The Simpsons” where Lisa Simpson briefly dates Ralph Wiggum — you can pinpoint the sound when their hearts rip in half! — but there is something extremely powerful, especially in retrospect, about the way in which the collective certainty of not just Democrats but most pundits and the media as a whole was demolished by Trump’s victory.
As a film whose ending is known before the first frame unspools, it would be interesting to revisit these individuals a year later and see how the election impacted their lives, and their opinions about Trump or Clinton may have changed. Its intimacy certainly invites viewers to remember where they were, what they were doing and how they were feeling as events unfolded, whether they want to or not.
But if nothing else, “11/8/16” showcases the sad fact that there is no such thing as “too soon” any longer, because whether you saw the 2016 election as a disappointment or a victory, it captures not just a moment, but uniquely, a single event that changed — and constantly forces us to re-evaluate — the past, present and future all at the same time.