A few weeks before the election, Fusion premiered Trumpland, our documentary profiling four Trump voters. Back then, like almost all polls predicted, we assumed that Hillary Clinton was about to win, even if by a squeaker, and become the next President of the United States.
But even if things had gone according to plan for the Democrats, millions of Americans had already lined up behind Trump's vision for the country. They weren't going anywhere, no matter who won the White House. The importance of understanding who these people are and what they believe went beyond the election. Our new documentary, we hoped, would help deepen that understanding.
Then, of course, things did not go according to plan. Trump won the election, and the world was turned upside down. Since then, the Democratic Party has been in a conniption over the question of its own relevance. How did it lose the white working class? Perhaps more importantly, how did it lose white suburban women? How can the party win back its appeal to these groups? Should it follow the example Bernie Sanders set, and pursue an unapologetically populist, anti-monopolist, redistributive agenda? Should it reject identity politics? Should it hold to them tighter? Is that a false dichotomy? All of the old political truisms vanished, replaced only with more questions.
We didn’t make Trumpland with this moment in mind, because we didn’t expect it to come. But here we are, and the film is suddenly more relevant even than before the ballots were cast. Throughout the campaign season and to this day, there have been many misreads, oversimplifications, and outright caricatures of Trump voters, by some who maybe never even have had a real, face-to-face conversation with one. Now, Democrats are so consumed with getting to the bottom of Russia’s alleged election hacking, they’ve barely even started asking the right questions about all the voters they lost fair and square to Trump.
That’s a problem for Trump’s detractors—not because of some ethical mandate to “empathize” with Trump’s base, but because if Democrats and progressives don’t even bother trying to understand the electorate that just rejected them, they’ll have a very hard time winning elections in the future. That’s a statement that once would have been considered self-evident. Now, like everything else about this election, it has somehow become controversial.
Trumpland is a non-partisan documentary that we hope will be of interest to anyone, regardless of their politics. But at this moment, it should be especially instructive to those who oppose Trump, and whose challenge over the next four years is to persuade the public to join them. Consider the film a real-world focus group of regular voters, with a cluttered mix of political preferences, who came to believe that Donald Trump was the best answer to America’s problems. Who are they? What are their lives like? What do they see when they look at the country around them, and what would they rather see? This sense of curiosity animated the film and we hope that’s what viewers will bring to it, too.
Today is the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency. It’s a good day to start getting to know the people who brought us here.
Leighton Woodhouse is a journalist and documentary filmmaker in Los Angeles, and the director of Fusion's Trumpland. He blogs at leightonwoodhouse.com.
Nando Vila is Vice President of Programming at Fusion and a correspondent for America with Jorge Ramos.