Last Wednesday, Nov. 8, marked the first-year anniversary of the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. The win of the New York City real estate mogul is still difficult for many to deal with. The press is just beginning to come out with blow-by-blow recaps, with some analysis about how such a long shot could have come in — against all odds and against the establishment members of both parties (not to mention much of the press corps).
The title of two books and a new documentary about the election show the slant: “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign,” by Politico colleagues Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History” by Katy Tur and the documentary film “11/8/16.” They attempt to tell the election story comprehensively — week by week for almost two years and minute by minute on election night — through the eyes of people who were there and involved. The feeling of incredulity of those who covered the campaign intimately, nearly all of whom expected Hillary Clinton to win, comes through clearly.
The authors of “Shattered,” a 445-page book published in April, had the advantage of having already written “HRC,” a positive book about the candidate, for which the campaign staffers had already opened up to them. They had access. The officials thought their briefings about how they were using big data and technology to decide when and where to campaign and how they were raising historic amounts of money were being recorded as the history of a win.
After the loss, the authors pulled from the details they amassed a narrative of “failed insights, campaign gaffs and missteps that gave Donald Trump the opportunity he needed to win,” they write.
Katy Tur’s book, meanwhile, is an account of her almost two years on the hectic, sleepless, heady and sometimes dangerous day-to-day campaign trail covering Trump, the first national network reporter to do so (for NBC). In an exhausting-to-even-read-about tale of the mounting tensions between the Trump campaigners and fans and the press, Tur portrays a personal accounting of the “deepening weirdness between Trump and me.” At times, he attacks her and, at others, embraces her.
As Trump prevailed over each of his 16 Republican opponents and the press focused increasingly on him and only him, Tur writes that despite the rising rating for the TV networks and her own stardom, it would be a mistake to blame the sometimes over-the-top media coverage for getting him elected.
“Donald Trump hit a nerve,” she writes, recalling a late-night epiphany. “That nerve exposed itself in those giant rallies where thousands of people showed up before the primaries! That was the big news. What you can do [as a reporter] is try to put him into content, fact-check him. But ultimately people who wanted to vote for Donald Trump did it despite the TV coverage, his inconsistencies and his flouting political norms.” In fact, Tur came to realize “they liked him for all those reasons.”
That narrative is documented in the film “11/8/16,” a composite of 16 stories selected from footage by 50 different filmmakers of families throughout the country. The subjects include Trump and Clinton supporters, editors from the Los Angeles Times and an NPR anchor in Philadelphia, undocumented immigrants and their advocates in California, professionals, small business owners, craftsmen, a coal miner, mothers, dads and kids. Campaign workers go from anxious to joyous and crestfallen. The diversity of the American voters in seen in the Latino Trump voter and a nonpartisan executive.
Now that the lessons of election-year 2016 have been put on the table, the authors and filmmakers themselves have moved on to the latest breaking news. What, if anything, we have learned from the experience remains to be seen. And election-year 2018 is on the horizon.