‘Unprecedented’ review: A doctor gains access to Trump but reveals little
“Unprecedented” is a good title for a documentary series covering the last six weeks of Donald J. Trump’s presidency, particularly the events of January 6th. One could say, and you’d be right, that nothing in the Trump presidency has had much precedent, from his habit of saying whatever the hell came to his mind to his penchant for achieving politics through chaos. But with the campaign and 2020 election, Trump has surpassed even his own sociopathic, lip-shooting self. His claim that the election was stolen by Joe Biden effectively set the stage for the next layer of alternate reality in American politics, one we might call “Goodbye democracy, hello QAnon!”
I only wish I could say that the 149 minutes of “Unprecedented” (which released Sunday on Discovery+) was more unprecedented. The three-part series, directed by British filmmaker Alex Holder, is a glorified clip job – an all-too-frivolous, behind-the-music rehash of too many events we’ve seen 100 times before. It’s a show for anyone who feels they haven’t spent enough time in their lives watching heartland rally speeches from the likes of Donald Trump Jr. The catch with the series is that Holder was given special access to Donald Trump and his adult children, who effectively managed his 2020 campaign. (Tiffany, his daughter with Marla Maples, wasn’t part of the team but does have a cameo.) That in theory sounds like promising raw material for a documentary that could give you a glimpse into Trump and his family dynamics.
But that’s how it works in Unprecedented. Trump has settled into the faux-hunting-saloon den of his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, for several lengthy interviews, and in each of them he’s as smoothly controlled and informed as if Tucker Carlson were tossing softballs at him. There’s no superficial footage of Trump, and we never hear Holder ask him a challenging question — not that Trump would back down if faced with one. Trump, seeing a more red-hot bronze tone, is essentially spitting out his textbook palaver: Ivanka is awesome, Don Jr. is awesome, my supporters are awesome and I love them — and oh yes, the 2020 election was an outrageous scam that American was added to people.
There’s not much news, to say the least.
And what about the Trump children? “Unprecedented” keeps telling us that Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric are “part of the Trump brand” and if you’ve heard it said a dozen or so times that they “have the Trump brand values” and “embody the Trump” . brand” and “seeing yourself as an extension of the Trump brand”, you may be even more annoyed with the Trump brand than you thought you could be. Yes, these three are part of the Trump brand, but that’s ultimately what’s uninteresting about them. With rare exceptions, they do as they are told and go where they are kicked. All three are rich kid jerks who speak in the script. Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, presents a more complex case, but he rarely appears in the film — and when he is, he speaks in polite euphemisms without revealing anything.
Ivanka, we’re told (although we never get to see it), once urged her father to admit to the election, which was a blasphemous thing in Trump’s presence. It’s a sign of the power Ivanka wields within the family that she was able to say it. She’s Trump’s darling and always has been (at least since his divorce from Ivana), and on the campaign trail she’s beaming with bright smiles and “we’ll prevail” spunk. After touring proletarian Nevada, she says, “I’ve been to four states in the last two days, and the energy and enthusiasm for the president surpasses that of 2016.” Ivanka was trained in media from a young age (her mother went with her her on red carpets) and she speaks like a corporate PR executive. “Nobody takes more admissions than the President,” says Ivanka in her calm, guru-of-spin velvet tone. “Most politicians have neither the strength nor the conviction to withstand this resistance. This President does.” Yawn!
As for Donald Trump Jr., the film seems to think he’s the future politician of the dynasty (want to make bets?). And because he’s broken with his father once or twice, mostly by becoming a hunter and an outdoorsman (which Trump found declasse at the time), he has some influence on the red-fleshed side of MAGA loyalists. But the smug, bearded Don Jr. is also a flyweight opportunist so deluded he actually fancies he’s on the side of the “working class” for slaving away as a bartender in Colorado for a year and a half after graduating from Wharton. (As Atlantic author McKay Coppins points out, most working-class bartenders don’t have a trust fund.) These Trump descendants stand for nothing. They’re their father’s spearmen and that’s all, and the idea that Alex Holder thinks he’s gotten a documentary scoop for allowing them to shoot more than half of his film is startling.
Despite all their gassing, none of the Trump children will say anything about January 6th. Neither does Mike Pence, who is interviewed here, at one point just as he receives an email asking him to invoke the January 6 25th Amendment to get Trump out of the to remove office (he responds with a Mona Lisa smile). He doesn’t reveal anything either. The film gives you a vivid sense of how the January 6th gathering, incited by Trump, turned violent, but the January 6th hearings have already gone so far beyond that in depicting the day’s events – visual, logistical, conspiratorial – that “Unprecedented” feels like a repeat.
We see a clip of Trump saying, “I will fully accept the results of this great and historic presidential election…if I win.” Is that from 2020? No, this clip is from November 16, 2016, so Trump hasn’t changed. As the film points out, it has always attributed its failures to a rigged system that dates back decades. He simply increased the zeal and open declaration of his authoritarian ideology.
The difference, of course, is that he is now well on his way to building an army of state-level officials who can work with him to overturn the democratic results of the next presidential election. A phenomenon destined to provoke a constitutional crisis that would likely be resolved by a Supreme Court now likely to side with Trump. And this film focuses on how much Donald Trump Jr. embodies the Trump brand!
But in that sense, “Unprecedented,” in its smoothly watchable greatest hits of Trump’s outrage, reflects the irrelevance that much of the current media has its head in the sand, at least in relation to the danger Trump still poses. The idea that Joe Biden stole the election is a conspiracy theory as dangerous as it is insane, but a sizable segment of the Republican Party and Liberals have embraced it, pushing the scenario of Ron DeSantis gaining enough power to overthrow Republicans snatch nomination from Trump seem caught in their own web of deception. DeSantis has almost become a hero to them; They claim to despise him, but their secret fantasy is that he’s not Trump, and hence his name means relief.
What is left out, of course, is something all too real but difficult to measure: that Trump has turned the Republican Party into a cult, beyond the usual measure of political power. As a documentary, Unprecedented is something of a mediocre made-for-TV version of the Jan. 6 hearings — which, as some of the hearings’ most staunch supporters will admit, were put together and presented not as Congress’s usual drone fest, but as one show, a compelling dramatic presentation of the narrative of Donald Trump’s crimes. Still, I know too many progressives who drink the hearings as some sort of Broadway show of Watergate nostalgia, as if their genuine effectiveness as drama meant they were game-changing somehow. Newsflash: The Watergate hearings were compelling, but their effectiveness lay in how they connected to our justice system – the fact that Nixon resigned because he would have been impeached and impeached.
The equivalent here would be for Donald Trump to be arrested and prosecuted for his crimes of treason and sedition. We always talk about smoking guns; In the case of Trump’s attempts to overturn the election, we have a dozen smoking guns. But will US Attorney General Merrick Garland impeach him? Every time I read another editorial predicting why he couldn’t do it (It’ll tear the country apart! It’s too hard to win by jury!), my heart sinks and I think, This is why , why Merrick Garland should teach in a college anywhere . Where’s LBJ when we need him?
Either we confront Donald Trump about his crimes or we don’t. And all the tut-tutting in the world about January 6 isn’t going to achieve that. There is no question that Trump is to blame for that day’s violence, but since then he has committed a far worse and more profound form of violence against America: violence against our political system. We must confront his open plans to steal the 2024 election. And if we don’t do it now, we’ll regret the day we didn’t. Because what is yet to come could tear America apart. If our leaders don’t do the right thing, we will blame them too.
https://variety.com/2022/tv/reviews/unprecedented-review-donald-trump-1235313064/ ‘Unprecedented’ review: A doctor gains access to Trump but reveals little