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FRONTLINE: Trump's American Carnage

Trump supporters attacked the nation's capital on Jan. 6, 2021 in protest of the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election.
Courtesy of Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Trump supporters attacked the nation's capital on Jan. 6, 2021 in protest of the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election.

Encore Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV + Thursday, Feb. 3 at 10 p.m. on KPBS 2 / On Demand

Following Capitol Attack, FRONTLINE Documentary Traces President Trump’s Incitement of Division, Violence and Ultimately Insurrection Throughout His Term

It was a sight that shook the world: Images of a violent pro-Trump mob storming the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the presidential election, threatening lawmakers’ lives, flying the Confederate flag in the building’s halls and erecting a gallows outside. But the chaotic and deadly end of Donald Trump’s presidency was in many ways the inevitable result of four years of a president who stoked distrust, divison, anger and racism — and ultimately sought to undermine the election itself, with large swathes of his party echoing his claims.


How did American democracy reach this moment of crisis, and who is responsible? In the new documentary special "Trump’s American Carnage," FRONTLINE tells the inside story of how Trump’s presidency laid the groundwork for bitter division, violence and insurrection — and why many lawmakers went along with him in what one conservative commentator in the film calls a “Faustian bargain.”

“Our film identifies how, for years, the country’s political leaders missed, ignored and discounted clear warnings of the violence and chaos that was to come,” says FRONTLINE filmmaker Michael Kirk (“America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump,” “Trump’s Takeover” and “United States of Conspiracy”).

With his team, Kirk has made more than 20 documentaries about the Trump and Obama eras, examining the growing divisions that led up to the storming of the Capitol on January 6 and the ongoing fears around the country.

Tracing the path from Trump’s inaugural address, where the president famously vowed an end to what he called “American carnage,” to the violent siege of the Capitol, “Trump’s American Carnage” premiered in January, 2021.

How Charlottesville Led to the Capitol Attack | "Trump's American Carnage" | FRONTLINE

Drawing on an extensive archive as well as new interviews, the film finds a direct line between Trump’s actions over four years and the insurrection that exploded at the Capitol. It tracks how, from his very first day in office, Trump tapped into the politics of grievance and waged war on his perceived enemies: the media, the Democrats and the establishment leadership of his own Republican party. 


The documentary goes on to examine how Trump seized control of the Republican party, the high price that he extracted from GOP leaders and why the party now finds itself in the midst of conflict over its future. As the Biden administration begins and Trump faces an unprecedented second impeachment trial, "Trump’s American Carnage" offers a powerful look at how the U.S. reached this volatile moment.

Related Interview: “We Take Our Democracy for Granted,” Says Bob Corker, Former GOP Senator and Trump Critic

The Interviews:

Production began after a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. To help tell the story of the politics that led up to that moment, FRONTLINE conducted 12 original interviews and drew on scores of other interviews we have done over the last five years with Trump campaign and administration officials, leading Republicans, political analysts and journalists. Interviews that appear in "Trump’s American Carnage" can be explored in video or text. The collection is part of FRONTLINE’s Transparency Project, which makes our source material available to the public.

Watch On Your Schedule:

The film is available on demand on, at, on YouTube and the PBS Video App.

Join The Conversation:

FRONTLINE is on Facebook, Instagram, tumblr, and you can follow @frontlinepbs on Twitter. #frontlinePBS


A FRONTLINE production with Kirk Documentary Group, Ltd. The director is Michael Kirk. The producers are Michael Kirk, Mike Wiser, Jim Gilmore, Gabrielle Schonder and Philip Bennett. The writers are Michael Kirk and Mike Wiser. The reporters are Jim Gilmore and Gabrielle Schonder. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.