3
Jul
2024
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The Surprising Answer to ‘Why Trump?’

Award winning director Brian Schodorf journeyed deep into Republican terrain to complete his newest documentary, Why Trump?, the first of a four-part series premiering on July 11. “Back in 2020, I had never met a Trump supporter while living in Chicago and often wondered where they all were,” he explains at the beginning of the film. In a region of the country sometimes known as the Corn Belt, he finds them everywhere. 

The first installment of the series documents how rural voters justify their support of Donald Trump because they believe he is the only one who expresses any interest in improving their situation. 

“Sometimes farmers and rural areas don’t get the attention from policymakers that they deserve,” fifth-generation Iowan Aaron Lehman tells Schodorf. “Donald Trump was able to portray that he was on the side of those people who are on the outside.” Lehman is among dozens of farmers, ranchers, small-town mayors, tavern-goers and mom-and-pop business owners to speak on camera.

Seasoned politicos like former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, former Obama Senior Advisor David Axelrod and former Secretary of Agriculture and Democratic Congressman Dan Glickman reinforce the perception. 

“There is a sense of estrangement and alienation in those communities and a sense that politics is not working for them culturally or economically,” says Axelrod.  “And I do think Democrats have played into that by getting so deeply immersed in some of these divisive cultural issues.” 

Schodorf combines the downhome wisdom and the highfalutin analysis to not only answer the question posed in the title but also demonstrate how it shouldn’t be a mystery to anyone.  

WHY TRUMP? | TRAILER

‘WE’RE JUST PRETTY ISOLATED’
The trip begins in Dixon, IL, home of President Ronald Regan, the leader who actually coined the phrase “Make America Great Again,” as the film reminds us. It continues through Iowa and lands roughly “two hours from Wichita, two hours from Tulsa, two hours from Joplin,” according to Jack Warren, Mayor of Sedan, Kansas (population 1,010).

“We’re just pretty isolated,” says the mayor. 

Along the way, locals describe the struggles — and, occasionally, the joys — of a broken-down part of the country that Democrats seem to ignore. 

“They don’t care about us,” says Brad Haun, owner of Fredonia Livestock Auction in Fredonia, Kansas (population 2,138). “They care about the East Coast and the West Coast. They don’t care about whether I make a living or starve to death.” 

Footage of news reports, prairie towns, dilapidated shacks, cluttered porches, farm equipment, country sunsets, American flags and amber waves of grain complement the dialogue and Schodorf’s narration. Standard for the subject, but beautifully edited by Chicago production and post house october nonetheless. Noticeably absent are a preponderance of MAGA stereotypes. There are very few “lock-her-up” style comments and a decent amount of respect, as well as disappointment, for former President Obama. 

The memory of COVID lockdowns spark some resentment, but it’s hardly the conspiracy-theory kind. According to one Kansan, they contributed to the demise of local businesses. “You can go to Walmart. You can go to Target. You can go to Home Depot,” he says. “But you can’t go to a mom-and-pop store?” 

A STANDOUT AMONG DOCUMENTARIES
Indeed, the Trump supporters come off as smart, reasonable, honest and friendly. This is where Why Trump stands out among political documentaries. Some of the success can be attributed to Schodorf’s experience — his 2019 film about urban displacement and segregation, Chicago at the Crossroad, has scored more than 2.5 million YouTube views. But most of it comes from the filmmaker’s unique familiarity with the situation: he knows these people. 

Schodorf grew up in Wichita, but spent most of his time on the family farm in southeast Kansas. He is the great grandson of Kansas homesteaders, the grandson of a Marine Corps Brigadier General, the nephew of broadcasting icon Bill Kurtis and the son of former federal prosecutor Richard Schodorf and Republican Kansas State Senator Jean Schodorf. Sporting dress pants and collared shirts, he puts people at ease by fitting right into the mix.

Senator Schodorf, his mother, switched to the Democratic party after retiring from politics and freely criticizes the GOP, but never seems to anger her right-leaning associates. 

The Kurtis/Schodorf family farm serves as a backdrop for a handful of interviews. Located at the historical site where Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder settled with her family in 1869, it is now the site of a nonprofit museum that Brian says is “dedicated to preserving Kansas history.” 

Tractor rides, country music and a log cabin are among the attractions. A young man wearing a “Freedom Isn’t Free” t-shirt describes it as “a little slice of the old life” while making a length of rope in a field. These simple pleasures are thousands of miles away from big city concerns. 

No doubt, the support for Donald Trump occasionally ventures into the “every-politician-lies” and “we-all-say-crazy-things” rationale. But the patronage is not fueled by ideological spats, social issues or a cult of personality. In a place where the American dream has disappeared, voters have no time for that. Likewise, Why Trump suggests that the time to address the situation is running out. 

“As far as any rural town in America, we’re dying,” says Mayor Warren. Wearing a red “Keep America Great” hat on Main Street in Sedan, Kansas, he intends to vote for Donald Trump in November. 

PREMIERE EVENT
The World Premiere of Why Trump? will take place at the iO Theater in Chicago on July 11, followed by a reception with the director. For more information, click here.

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