From The Way I See It (2020), dir. Dawn Porter (courtesy Cinetic Media)

Pete Souza has twice been a presidential photographer, documenting the Reagan administration early in his career and later becoming chief official White House photographer for Barack Obama. The title of Dawn Porter’s new documentary The Way I See It gestures to how Souza believes his experiences give him a unique perspective on the presidency — most pertinently, how Donald Trump is not fit for the position. Unfortunately, he instead exhibits a tragic case of the liberal civility fetish, and the film in turn falls prey to it.

The documentary is mainly a retrospective of the Obama years, touching on the backstories of images like “Hair Like Mine” and “Situation Room.” It’s a nostalgia trip for people who refuse to look at that time without wearing their rosiest glasses, all to further stoke rage over Trump. Yet Souza also speaks fondly of Reagan, without whom modern conservatism and Trump’s presidency would not have been possible, because he had “dignity” and exhibited “empathy.” This privileging of tone and affect over deed and effect evinces a truly toothless vision of politics and the presidency, one with no consideration of power and how it works.

The Way I See It is now available in virtual cinemas.

Dan Schindel is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Brooklyn, and a former associate editor at Hyperallergic. His portfolio and links are here.

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