Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme — the filmmakers behind the “The Swamp” — tell TheWrap ahead of the HBO Congress documentary’s premiere that the “politics of hate” function as both Democrats’ and Republicans’ “biggest fundraising tool.”
The self-described “liberal” duo — known for “Get Me Roger Stone” — spoke to TheWrap about gaining access to the House floor and three Republican representatives, as well as what they learned about the political process.
“In the film, we try to track the kind of modern evolution of our politics and we kind of hone in on 1993 and Newt Gingrich taking over as Speaker of the House. Changes he put into place really opened the floodgates of money into the system, but also paved the way of this kind of perpetual campaigning and perpetual mudslinging and the idea that you have to win above all else,” said DiMauro, adding that when politicians run for office, the goal is no longer just “beating your opponent,” but “painting them as evil,” too.
The documentary follows Reps. Matt Gaetz, Thomas Massie and Ken Buck, who try to fundraise and stay in Congress while heeding President Donald Trump’s call to “drain the swamp.” The swamp, the filmmakers argue, is the money that’s poured into Congress by special interest groups.
The film covers Gaetz’s decision to stop taking money from political action committees, or PACs, but DiMauro and Pehme make it clear he still has to play by certain rules in the House. Gaetz even mentions in the film that when he does television news hits, he thinks about them in terms of inflammatory clips that will find new life online.
Pehme said Gaetz “does hundreds and hundreds of television appearances each year,” and he’s not alone. “We went through all of their appearances that we could get our hands on to try to find the clips that would best illustrate our story.”
“The media itself has a role to play in why our dysfunctional government is so dysfunctional,” added DiMauro of how the “politics of hate” plays out on in television and social media clips. He went on, “Matt [Gaetz] soaks up the attention that they’re all too willing to give to him when he’s being inflammatory and that’s how he grows his power in a kind of structure that is outside the traditional leadership power structure in Washington.”
The idea that the “politics of hate” drives fundraising is echoed by a professor in “The Swamp” trailer, which you can watch above.
Pehme shared his thoughts on how to “break the cycle”: “It’s so easy for us to do get wrapped up in the politics of hate ourselves and to perpetuate it and we just need to be smarter consumers of information and understand why we’re being fed that information.”
“It’s incumbent on all of us to realize that the divided nation is the one that both parties want and that we need to focus on, ‘What is our common enemy?’ And the common enemy is the fact that we have a system that is not set up right now to work to address the fundamental needs of the American people. We have a system that’s rigged to help the money, the monied and special interest groups enrich themselves even greater,” argued DiMauro.
“The Swamp” premieres on HBO at 9 p.m. ET and will be available to stream on HBO Max.