There have been a lot of documentaries about Donald Trump and Donald Trump’s America, and more will show up between now and election day 2020.
But the only one on that subject that strikes me as “essential viewing” is “Red, White & Wasted,” an eye-opening peek into the psyche, intellect, folkways and values of “the Trump base” we hear so much about these days.
Filmmakers Sam Jones and Andrei Bowden Schwartz access this world via the “mudding” community of Central Florida. They dive into a subculture of Confederate flag-flying rednecks who like nothing better than throwing a cooler into the aged pick-em-up truck they’ve spent their time and dimes modifying, and tearing up some bit of swampland, drinking, littering and whooping it up with their tribe as they do.
With every glimpse into these lives, every hedonistic excess — twirking, stripping bikini clad mudder molls — every disagreement settled with fists, every drunken “accident” that no one, save for anyone with a lick of common sense “could’a seen coming,” we come to understand the “live like you’ll die young” mindset.
With every racial slur, every suck on a beer, drag on a bong and gap-toothed Trump endorsement, we grasp the helplessness of lives of the white, low income, “low information” and low tolerance for anybody not them. We grit our teeth and wonder how many millions of votes it’s going to take to chase them back under the rocks they crawled out from under.
Our tour guide here is a grand old man of mudding, Matthew Burns, who used to be known as “Video Pat” back when there was lots of undeveloped/unmonitored land for this weekend pastime. Before cell phones, Pat would camcorder your Sunday mishaps and trucking triumphs ruining Florida watershed by tearing up wetlands.
Burns is, by the standards of a lot of the angry, intolerant and/or morbidly-obese men we hear from in the film, a decent enough sort. He’s a scrapper/scavenger, scraping out a living dumpster-diving for scrap metal, with two daughters, a junk-filled yard and manufactured home to match.
“Mud is like a drug to me,” he waxes. “But it’s not worth going to jail for.”
Pat rather cluelessly laments the diminishing access he and his kind have to public lands and undeveloped private property that they’ve trespassed on for decades. He bitches about what’s being “destroyed” by developers, without seeing the destruction and desecration mudders bring to their weekend brews-and-big-trucks bacchanals.
Then we meet his daughters and hear our first racial slurs. And the n-word happy young women symbolically open the floodgates — “foreigners” are favorite whipping boys of the good’ol boys and gals of Greater or Lesser Orlando.
“I like Russia, though,” one dead-end-at-25 cretin bellows. “I have a lot of respect for Vladimir Putin.”
The Budweiser flows and the belligerence grows. “The Confed’rate flag,” one tipsy pre-diabetic “country boy” expounds, “ain’t about SAL-very (sic),” in between hiccups.
We see gun tattoos and bumper stickers and hear screeching, shirtless tirades about “second ‘mendment” before we see the first firearm. For the godless and amoral, guns are their religion.
The filmmakers use some of Pat’s old videos and a stunning amount of access and embedding to get racist “redneck stereotype” confessions and reckless offroad moments that explain every “offroading fatality” we hear on the news.
This isn’t “Vernon, Florida,” Errol Morris’s classic dissection of small-town cracker Florida. But what Jones and Schwartz give us here is jaw-dropping in ways that make you think, “Oh, THAT explains EVERYthing” about America today.
We appreciate Pat’s plight, that “makin’ a living off other people’s garbage ain’t easy,” but see the distressing environment he’s raised his kids in, despair at seeing one of them pregnant, and shake our heads at how hellbent Pat is on “getting (the baby) in the mud” with them.
Their “don’t give a f—” ethos is in every utterance, their delusions are deep and wide. Self-reliant, handy with tools but blind to the poverty programs that they so deride but which have to be paying for an epileptic daughter’s medicine and the pregnant daughter’s childbirth, venomous about “foreigners” until Mario, a neighbor, helps fix a lawnmower and proves “Spanish people can be all right.”
One telling crack from one of the assorted testimonials reveals how much as a group they like doing things that “piss a lot of people (especially ‘libruls’) off.”
We think, for a moment, that maybe Pat — with a new grandkid, a life plan that hasn’t worked out, kids that are staggering into the same pothole he did — will have a “Come to Jesus” moment, visiting the vast Red Neck Yacht Club mudder park at Punta Gorda, and seeing the chaos that putting thousands of people just like him in one place creates.
Maybe the development of the ironically-named “Swamp Ghost” land, mudder trespassing property right off Orlando’s tourist-trap International Drive, will wake him up.
Why is the swamp there a “ghost,” Patty-boy? Because you all helped kill it.
But nah, self-reflection isn’t big with this crowd. He’ll be dreaming of his old trucks and looking for a back-way into a state wetlands sanctuary in no time. Maybe before the closing credits.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, nudity, drug and alcohol abuse, smoking, profanity, racial slurs
Cast: Matthew “Pat” Burns, Kristi Burns, Jessi Burns
Credits: Directed by Sam Jones, Andrei Bowden Schwartz. A Dark Star release.
Running time: 1:29