First Thoughts After Watching the Trailer for “2000 Mules”
I just watched the trailer for the new docudrama that Donald Trump is touting as the smoking gun which, so far, not a single one of his lawyers has managed to present persuasively in front of a real judge. The movie, called 2000 Mules, is the work of Dinesh D’Souza, and alleges to provide evidence of largescale 2020 election fraud, in the form of surveillance videos and anonymous cellphone tracking records purporting to demonstrate that thousands of individuals did illegal “ballot harvesting,” getting paid to stuff hundreds of thousands of illegal votes into mail-in election drop boxes in hotly contested states.
My first reactions to the trailer:
Dinesh D’Souza? Oh, right, the guy who was convicted a few years ago of making illegal campaign contributions, i.e., of knowingly breaking election laws in order to effect his preferred result. Are we to assume this makes him particularly qualified to recognize electoral illegality?
The professionals involved in making this docudrama went to great lengths to frame D’Souza himself in dramatic poses and lighting, which I am sure will go a long way to enhancing his image as a celebrity filmmaker for Trump supporters, which in the end seems to be what this is all about.
This movie is implicitly making the case for universal digital surveillance and police state tactics, to be employed by anyone (with enough money) against literally everyone. The Chinese Communist Party certainly will not ban this one — in fact, they might make it mandatory viewing in China, since it overtly rationalizes and normalizes the use of ubiquitous digital monitoring to guarantee “moral behavior” and to isolate the “immoral.” (“After all,” as the advocates of such methods are wont to say, “if you haven’t done anything wrong, then why should you object to having your behavior and whereabouts tracked and tabulated by microchips, algorithms, and CCTV cameras?”)
D’Souza seems to have a conveniently timed exposé that purports to blow the lid off something right around each high-interest season in U.S. politics, such as midterm election campaigns, almost as though he were more interested in cashing in than in actually exposing anything of ultimate importance — which perhaps helps to explain why each of his great exposés to this point has quickly vanished into political and cultural irrelevance.
The trailer features a roundtable group of commentators who, at the beginning, express varying degrees of reticence or doubt about the claims of a stolen election, and then, towards the end, express outraged alarm at the level of fraud that D’Souza has revealed to them. The roundtable is comprised of famous men represented by the company releasing the film, all of them individuals who put their eggs into the Trump basket in 2016, often in defiance of their own prior statements and reputations, and who therefore have the strongest possible vested interest in believing that any purported evidence in support of the vainglorious demagogue to whom they publicly sold their souls might be valid.
To properly assess the validity of D’Souza’s inferences, one would have to know the full context of the phone tracking data his associates at True the Vote (who did all the actual work here) were using to arrive at the conclusions they reached — and which they set out to reach — such as what else might have been inferred from the same data with an alternative set of presuppositions, what other statistical outcomes might be available but unmined in this same raw data, and so on. In other words, once certain numbers are isolated out of context, and fancy graphics used to visually represent (i.e., suggest) certain ominous insinuations, it is naturally very difficult for anyone (especially one with a bias in the same direction) to see anything in those numbers and insinuations but what one has had one’s eyes directed toward. Hence, a rational skeptic ought to be alerted by this framing technique, replete with spooky music to punctuate the graphics and insinuations, to ask, “What else could one semi-plausibly glean from this data, if it were presented without the loaded framing?”
And then there is the fundamental allegation (or is it merely an implication) of the movie, namely that 400,000 fraudulent votes were cast against Donald Trump, through the machinations of those 2000 mules and their nefarious employers. But wait. That those votes can be proved to have been deposited in drop boxes illegally (by ballot harvesters) is still at issue. But even then, this is a far cry from the deeper and far more significant assertion that those “harvested” votes were actually fraudulent ballots — fake voters of some sort. Does D’Souza have any evidence suggesting, let alone proving, that any, let alone all, of the votes he purportedly reveals to have been mishandled through the mules were actually not the legitimate votes of real, live, legal voters? (Or, for that matter, that any or all of them were votes for Biden and against Trump?) For then we would no longer be talking about an abuse of the early voting boxes, but of hundreds of thousands of fake votes having been counted and added to the election totals without raising any alarm bells, without the mail-in ballots having been double-checked against official voter lists, without any of the real human election workers having noticed this problem or drawn attention to it in real time. As reported in the Washington Post, when a spokeswoman for True the Vote was asked about this in front of a Wisconsin legislative committee, she explicitly denied that the organization was claiming that any of these votes themselves were fake or fraudulent ballots, but merely that there were improprieties in the way the ballots were handled and delivered to the drop boxes. So what is D’Souza’s claim here, since it depends entirely on the research of True the Vote?
Maybe D’Souza is onto something. Maybe the evidence he claims to be presenting is truly damning. Maybe, if one cuts through the phony “true crime”-style reenactments, the Dinesh-aggrandizing compositions, the mock hidden-camera framing of meaningless shots, the stock ominous music soundtrack, the perception-manipulating graphics copied right out of a hundred sci-fi and espionage movies, the obviously biased presentation, and the disturbing fact of the filmmaker himself being a confessed and convicted election felon (pardoned by Trump), this movie will actually turn out to be based on some hard facts that deserve more than passing attention. Maybe. Or maybe not.
The fact remains, however, that even if Donald Trump was defrauded out of his rightful victory in the 2020 election — I said “if” — his victory would only have established that the United States electorate had been reduced to handing its hopes for the future over to a tyranny-admiring ignoramus who had already proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was utterly disdainful of the very idea of a constitutional republic, and believed in none of the institutions and premises of a free society.
D’Souza is probably talking through his hat, because he tends to do that. If he isn’t, then he is toiling sincerely on behalf of what we have all been trained, in this “can’t happen here” era, to euphemize as “populism.”