When Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million but won the Electoral College, the debate about our electoral system became more urgent.
Now, a new documentary, "Trumping Democracy: Real $*Fake News*Your Data," offers insights which not only a call into question the process and relevancy of the Electoral College, but points to disturbing factors brought on by the digital age.
Director Thomas Huchon, a French journalist and documentary filmmaker, has drilled down on how unvetted information -- and disinformation -- can rapidly go viral on the Internet. His search, post-election, to understand how Trump captured the presidency, led him to examine cutting-age digital tools, dark money, and a network of interrelated players with common ideological goals.
At the center of this configuration is hedge-fund billionaire and computer scientist Robert Mercer. (His daughter Rebekah went on to become a leader in the Trump transition team.) Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, and KellyAnne Conway are planets in the constellation, along with David Bossie, known for his role as president of Citizens United. Mercer was a staunch supporter of altering campaign election funding rules, that for sixty years had reined in individual and corporate donations.
Huchon breaks down his story into three chapters: Lies; Cover-Up; Manipulation. The first two sections review better known material. It is the final third of the film that connects the players in a way that is revelatory and alarming. Huchon taps a group of experts from the fields of journalism, political strategy, law and technology to deliver takeaways that are unsettling.
The narrative begins with a portrait of a New York Trump voter disgusted with "mainstream media." He gets his news from online outlets, including "pseudo-news" sites that push stories like the bogus child sex trafficking ring of #Pizzagate fame.
Paul Horner, "fake news" creator and prankster, is on hand to speak about fictitious stories he has posted. Disseminated by right wing outlets, Horner references a fictitious post he wrote that was picked up by Eric Trump, who retweeted it with the hashtag #CrookedHillary.
The backstory of Breitbart News is delineated and defined as a platform promoting anti-immigrant sentiment, misogyny, and white supremacist content. A graph depicts how the Breitbart readership expanded dramatically in 2017 during the months of October and November, from 45 million unique monthly users to over 100 million.
Tad Devine, political strategist, runs down the changed habits of how the public consumes news, unlike the days when three broadcasting stations delivered the nightly report. He emphasizes Trump's "delegitimization of the mainstream media." Pollster Ben Tulchin notes that Conservatives don't believe the reporting of the New York Times, the Washington Post, or CNN.
As a candidate, Trump stated he would express the facts "plainly and honestly." Yet, the nonpartisan fact-checking website Politifact found differently. It showed that Trump's statements had a 4 percent veracity rate and that 33 percent of his assertions were actually false.
FoxNews and Breitbart helped Trump to create and propagate his own truth. Trump painted himself as the sole person who could "drain the swamp" and make America a "winner" again.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the reclusive Mercer took the opportunity to put his unlimited funds into the service of his extreme vision of limited government.
This trail is fleshed out in the "cover-up" segment. No coincidence that the three entities in question share the same building address in Los Angeles. They are Breitbart News, Glittering Steel Productions, and the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies --where Mercer was co-CEO. (Note: Mercer has since stepped down.)
At RenTech, Mercer used the trading algorithm he innovated to make a fortune. That mathematics morphed into a technology for other purposes.
Mercer has become a top billionaire on the political scene. Besides his own family foundation, he funds a host of conservative think tanks. Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr gives advice on how to get a clear picture of Mercer's game plan: "Follow the money."
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