michael moore is still shaken by the news of donald trump’s presidential victory. who can blame him? there is integrity, even heroism, in this outright refusal to accept it, to normalize it in his mind. that cream pie in america’s face landed on november 9, 2016 – 9/11. the date gives moore a nice numerical throwback to his great 2004 movie fahrenheit 9/11 and that is still a documentary to be respected for drawing attention to the war on terrorism long before you disbelieve in weapons of mass destruction became a bland article of faith. precisely among those critics who disparaged Moore’s film at the time.
Moore’s understandable anger and bewilderment perhaps explain the flaws in this vehement but incoherent film. It reaffirms bits and pieces of all the great controversy he’s given us over the last 20 years: guns, corporate mendacity, community betrayal, vicarious guilt, and actually repeats his opening line from Fahrenheit 9/11. “Did we dream it?” he groans, with unbelievably vivid tv footage of hillary clinton preparing for his coronation in 2016, like al gore in 2000. but moore never settles on a single, convincing response to trump, he never refines his arguments to a point of counter piercing arrow. Instead, it rambles on about just about everything…entertainingly, but confusingly, ending with an image of Parkland school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez.
first, you have to admit that you fraternized with the enemy, back in the days when trump was just a media joke with no threats. trump’s son-in-law jared kushner threw a release party for one of his movies, and the u.s. vhs release of fahrenheit 9/11 appears to have been directed by creepy steve bannon, that production buff and movie distribution. And by pretending to admire Moore, she made herself fashionable at Trump’s camp, if only to baffle Jeb Bush. If he had dwelled on this issue, Moore might even have wondered if the Trump-ites were indeed inhaling some of the spirit of Michael Moore, mobilizing for their own purposes the outlaw skepticism that Moore did so much to foster. it’s like they took his trademark cap and put the make america great again logo on it.
The strongest section of this film sees him going back to his roots in Flint, Michigan. Moore is deeply angered by the way Republican Michigan Governor Rick Snyder poisoned the water supply for working-class communities in Flint in 2014 by insisting on a pointless new pipeline for no reason other than to enrich his corporate cronies; Moore is, of course, angry at Snyder’s admirer, Donald Trump, crucially emboldened by Snyder’s banditry, but also angry at President Barack Obama, because Obama did nothing to help while he was in office, and for mislead residents with condescendingly arrogant and condescending speech. . maybe the whole movie should have been just about this. that obama speech was indeed a surprise. however, attacking obama now feels so pointless and self-destructive to moore.
moore then moves on to bernie sanders, deeply affected by the democratic hierarchy, who conjured up “superdelegates” to keep his name out of the running. They assumed Sanders was ineligible. Trump’s victory makes that assumption seem simplistic, and a Sanders presidency is now one of the great what-ifs of modern times. But Moore gives us post-Sanders signs of hope, shouting out the new wave of grassroots activism, epitomized by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the fiercely intelligent and fearless winner of the Bronx Socialist Congress. Ocasio-Cortez and other bold activists are showing America the way. But Moore also slightly clouds that theme, sadly pointing out that the electoral college system is rigged against him.
then there is the matter of the media, the authentic news and the dizzying hints of fascism. Trump relentlessly attacks what Goebbels called the Lügenpresse, the lying press (although Moore himself is not above denigrating the poor old New York Times for misrepresenting Sanders’ fan base), and, in his most outrageous and studied provocation, Moore gives us a clip of Hitler with Trump dubbed it. He leads into an interesting interview with Timothy Snyder, the historian and author of On Tyranny. But there, again, Moore strikes a false note. he talks about hitler and his followers burning down the reichstag to create a spurious crisis that would legitimize his seizure of power. he then comes worryingly close to implying that 9/11 was the same thing. Conspiracy of the “real”? something else that is not helping the fight against trump.
so, to quote lenin: what should be done? i think it will take some time for the penny to drop about trump not creating a single new job in america. Moore tells us to keep the faith, keep fighting the good fight. that message is almost perceptible in the fog of pain.