reOnald Trump’s personal battle with COVID-19 is the most vivid example one can imagine that the President has messed up his response to a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 210,000 Americans to date. While the Commander-in-Chief’s infection warrants only a text coda in Alex Gibney’s Totally under control, the latest tireless documentarian is a damning account of Trump’s gruesome – and criminally negligent – handling of the crisis, from his downplaying the severity of the virus, to his refusal to defend mask-wearing and social distancing, his poor dealing with the demands of PPE and ventilators, its feuds with scientists and state governors, its spreading false facts and figures, its manipulation of the CDC, its promotion of dangerous “miracle cures” and its deliberate disregard for its health and safety and those of those around him, thus endangering the country’s national security.
(Did I miss something? long 2020.)
In short, it’s an up-to-the-minute synopsis of Trump’s nightmare on America, told exhaustively, definitively and maddeningly.
Premiere on Tuesday October 13 in VOD, Totally under control has been produced in secret by Gibney and co-directors Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger over the past five months, and focuses primarily on the initial stages of our ongoing disaster. In the tradition of the documentary filmmaker, this is a precise and concise report of recent events, consisting of conversations with experts (including New York Times reporter Michael Shear, who just tested positive after flying with Trump on Air Force One), archival news clips (including a parade of Trump’s deceptive hits), and digital graphics that complement Gibney’s narrated commentary.
Since we all just went through this tragic story, much of what is on display will be extremely familiar to viewers, as will its minor omissions, such as Trump’s marginalization of Dr.Anthony Fauci, his slander of masks as “political correctness.” His penchant for bleach-based remedies and his attacks on Joe Biden for adhering to the precautionary measures he purposely flouted at press conferences and rallies. Yet while Gibney cannot include every one of Trump’s serious crimes, what he delivers is a decisive denunciation of the presidential failures that have brought us to our current predicament.
With interviews conducted via a new remote camera system, and with subjects often wearing masks when they first appear in front of the camera, Totally under control claims a formal approach which itself is a rebuke in contempt of the Trump administration for security measures. Its talking heads uniformly criticize the Commander-in-Chief, chronologically exposing the many ways that U.S. leaders have refused to adequately prepare for the arrival of COVID-19, properly assess its severity, and act accordingly to contain its spread. Gibney’s film illustrates that the powers that be began to fall at work almost as soon as the virus was first identified in Wuhan, China, as well as after Washington reported its initial patient, who didn’t was only tested four days after he fell ill – meaning he had already spread it to over 2,000 fellow citizens.
Gibney’s straightforward storytelling allows for a lucid diagnosis of the many missteps in the way of our current situation. The lack of urgency expressed by officials. The shortage of testing kits, which was later found to be flawed, thus preventing testing during the crucial first moments of the calamity. The creation of a working group led by people with little scientific expertise but many political motivations. The administration’s refusal to cut red tape to have tests fabricated (and use the Defense Production Act) and its institution of limited testing guidelines that did not target community spread. His desire to trust the free market to meet PPE needs – hence leading to competition between states and the federal government. And, of course, Trump’s endless lies (“This is their new hoax”; “Anyone who wants a test can take a test”; “It will go away. One day it’s like a miracle, it will go away” ).
To emphasize that all of these shortcomings were preventable and / or correctable, Gibney juxtaposes America’s pandemic procedures with those of South Korea. Through rigorous national testing and tracing mandates (inspired by their previous virus-related crises), South Korea got its hands on COVID-19 before it became unmanageable. We, on the other hand, have taken an approach of interagency bickering, delays, misinformation and politicization of masks – underscored here by viral videos on social media of Republicans hopping into grocery stores and coughing strangers over their objections. to face coverage requirements.
“For the most part, however, there is nothing even terribly funny about his documentary; the overall approach is clinical and the mood is discouraged and indignant.“
Gibney’s account is so disappointing and infuriating that when he attempts a slightly cheeky moment – marking a montage of states’ efforts to import PPE into CW McCall’s “Convoy” – he comes across as a gallows unfit for humor. For the most part, however, there is nothing even terribly funny about his documentary; the overall approach is clinical and the mood is discouraged and scandalized. Trump’s support for hydroxychloroquine, which he learned from Dr. Vladimir Zelenko of New York (who touts his drug cocktail in the film, for unconvincing purposes), is a particularly infuriating passage. However, this is no more infuriating than Gibney’s explanation of the Airbridge Project, a program in which the government subsidized five private healthcare companies to buy and sell PPE to states, giving those companies an advantage. unfair to their competition and forcing governors to literally bid against each other, eBay style, for essential goods.
It’s no surprise to learn that one of these companies was Gilead, the maker of Remdesivir – a drug whose patents are owned (and research funded) by the federal government. The Trump administration has allowed Gilead to charge exorbitant fees for Remdesivir, and now it’s the drug Trump has spent the past few days taking, giving him a PR platform money couldn’t buy. The whole system, Totally under control convincingly argues that this is a corrupt mess, as Trump and his cronies have exploited the pandemic to profit from it while downplaying its harshness in order to keep the economy running – and, Trump believed, to maintain his chances of re-election.
With the president a recent patient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, his post-debate poll count dropping – thanks to a variety of new scandals, including the bombs of his tax returns – and nationwide infections in Rising, it’s evident that Trump’s self-interest strategy backfired, at least in early October. Certainly this has done nothing for the country as a whole, mired in the fact that it is in a disaster which, Totally under control claims, could have been tempered by a response favoring caution, clarity, team cohesion and sacrifice. Gibney’s document is yet another reminder that we have been deprived of such a vital strategic response to the pandemic by a selfish and incompetent president who cares about no one other than himself. As Michael Bowen, Executive Vice President of Prestige Ameritech, says, “Our manager let us down.”
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