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Filmmaker Ken Burns is scared of what he sees in Donald Trump

Josh Ascher, CNBC producer
Ken Burns won't say Trump's name

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is an expert on American history, and he's scared of what he sees when he looks at GOP nominee Donald Trump. In an interview with CNBC's "Binge," Burns said that in 216 years of U.S. elections, there has never been someone so manifestly unqualified for the top job.

Burns made headlines this summer with a harsh critique of Trump, telling students at a Stanford commencement speech the Republican presidential candidate is someone who "easily lies" and "is an insult to our history." But the speech was also notable for what was not said: the name of the GOP nominee.

"I don't say his name," Burns said. "And it was important for me not to do that. To just speak to what I felt was a historical moment. And my obligation as a citizen. Not as a filmmaker, not as an amateur historian, but as a citizen to say, 'I don't think this is right. Can we stop?'"

At Stanford, Burns attacked Trump as someone "who creates an environment where truth doesn't seem to matter, who has never demonstrated any interest in anyone or anything but himself and his own enrichment." The filmmaker said he spoke out this time because the person running for office is just so unqualified.

"I am not alone," Burns said. "Almost everyone in the historical position knows that to be the case and has written about it and talked about it and has tried to warn a populous sort of distracted and infatuated by the media circus."

When Burns looks at Trump's success, he says it reminds him of a subject he covered in great detail. "Let me tell you the story of the film I've been working on," Burns said. "Single-issue political components that metastasize with horrible, unintended consequences. The demonization of recent immigrant groups in the United States. Smear campaigns during a presidential election cycle. And a whole group of people who feel like they've lost control of their country and wanna take it back. "

Burns says that film isn't about the 2016 election, but rather his documentary "Prohibition." "We think Prohibition is gangsters and flappers," Burns said. "And they're there and they're fun and they're interesting. The more interesting thing is the way in which it resonates."

Burns added, "We don't ever, in the three sections of Prohibition, go 'Hey, neon sign. Doesn't that seem an awful lot like today?'"

Devour the full season of "Binge" with Carl Quintanilla here.