A full year after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, the left is still trying to comprehend – as Hillary Clinton titled her post-mortem book – what happened. How did the matriarch of the Clinton crime syndicate – er, political dynasty, riding the promise of an historic victory as the country’s first female president, lose the White House to a brash, unpolished, shoot-from-the-hip reality TV mogul with no political experience? For that matter, how did the upstart Trump, whom the media and his competitors dismissed early on as an unserious candidate and fraudulent conservative, emerge as the party nominee from a field of seventeen established Republican politicians to challenge Hillary in the first place?
The answer lies in filmmaker Joel Gilbert’s latest documentary, Trump: the Art of the Insult, the title of which is an obvious nod to Trump’s 1987 business advice book, The Art of the Deal. Gilbert’s previous work includes Dreams From My Real Father, which presents the case that Barack Obama’s real father was Communist propagandist Frank Marshall Davis, and There’s No Place Like Utopia, in which Gilbert sets off across the country in search of the Progressive dream.
In his newest work, the filmmaker has compiled an hour and a half of campaign and interview footage of Donald Trump using a verbal flamethrower to lay waste to the media landscape, to the other Republican presidential candidates, and to Democrat opponents Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, on his way to a stunning election victory.
The film includes no commentary or narration – Gilbert simply lets Trump speak for himself. And speak he does. Trump has no politician’s filter, as one interviewer says of him, which freed him to hurl insults relentlessly at targets unaccustomed to dealing with an opponent on that level of discourse. Trump went after competitors who were used to polite, orderly policy debates, and instead of engaging them on that level, pegged them with demeaning nicknames and called them schmuck, idiot, stupid, nuts, nut job, doofus, loser, clueless, incompetent, and lacking enough charisma to intimidate other world leaders. The implication was that Trump was everything they were not – especially a winner.
For example, the film depicts Trump goading the otherwise mild-mannered Jeb Bush to distraction with attacks on his presidential father and brother; pegging Ted Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted” and implying that his father was involved in the assassination of JFK; labeling the quiet intellectual Ben Carson as “super low energy”; smearing Marco Rubio as a tiny man and a profusely sweating choker; and so on. His unsettled fellow candidates had no idea how to respond to this except, initially, to take the high road and dismiss Trump as a clown, assuming that this boorish strategy couldn’t possibly find favor among the American voters.
The problem was that Trump kept rising in the polls. Asked about this a few times in the documentary by media figures like Anderson Cooper, Trump’s opponents had no answer except to say that it couldn’t last. But it did last, because Trump had struck a chord in the American right that the other candidates couldn’t fathom how to play.
“This is not going to be an election based on a nice person,” Trump tells a screaming rally audience in the film. “It’s going to be an election based on a competent person. We’re tired of the nice people.” At another point Trump tells the media, “The public gets it, you know.” And they did. The American right, weary of Establishment Republican milquetoasts like Mitt Romney who lacked enough of a down-and-dirty fighting spirit to compete with the left’s go-for-the-jugular politics of personal destruction, were galvanized by Trump’s drive to win and his willingness to play exactly the sort of political game that the left had mastered.
One by one, as Trump’s candidates bit the dust, they “got it” too. In one clip from The Art of the Insult, failed candidate Ben Carson explains to The View’s Whoopee Goldberg that, “If you’re nice, if you’re respectful, and you talk about the issues, it gets you exactly where it got me – nowhere.” Carson looks utterly disillusioned and broken (as any decent human being ultimately must be who dares enter the arena of presidential politics). The film shows that eventually Ted Cruz has to concede to Trump as well, but Trump has so personally stung Cruz that the latter refuses to support the nominee, telling the Republican Convention audience to “vote their conscience.” Trump responds by saying he doesn’t need or want Cruz’s endorsement.
When Trump took the Republican nomination, the left was alternately aghast that a man like Donald Trump was in the running for President, and overjoyed that the right had chosen the one candidate Hillary could surely beat. What they didn’t realize until election night is that it was precisely the opposite: Trump was the only Republican candidate who could have beaten Hillary. He was the only candidate capable of declaring brutally truthful things like, “Hillary has tremendous hate in her heart” and asserting, as he did on the debate stage, that if he were in charge of the law she would be in jail.
The last half hour of the film focuses on Trump attacking “Crooked Hillary,” Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren, and his biggest target of all, the “fake news” media, or as he ultimately dubbed them, the “very fake news.” Warren had never been hammered in such a politically incorrect way before (Trump is seen in the film shrugging off complaints that the nickname “Pocahontas” is offensive). Hillary had never been verbally assaulted like this before (the frozen smile on her face as he insults her on the debate stage is priceless). The press had never been treated this way before – with all the contempt they deserve – and they absolutely lost (and are still losing) their minds over it. The documentary concludes with footage of Trump whipping the news media into such a frenzy with his tweeting habit that filmmaker Gilbert depicts their talking heads literally exploding.
Trump: The Art of the Insult is a film that will confirm one’s pre-existing biases for or against the President: if you despised the Donald Trump you saw on the campaign trail and found his winning tactics appalling, the documentary will trigger you all over again; if you found candidate Trump inspiring and entertaining, the film will amuse you all over again. Either way, Trump: The Art of the Insult captures the essence of The Donald’s instinctive and unapologetic lust for victory, and demonstrates clearly why he occupies the White House.