Michael Moore’s new film is an Apocalypse Now set in the US. It begins on the night of Trump’s election (Nov. 9, the “11/9” of the title), which hijacked the country and pushed it in a nationalist-populist direction, threatening to permanently derail the American experiment.
Fahrenheit 11/9 is not just an attack on Trump, but rather a snapshot of a democracy already in an advanced state of decomposition when he came on the scene. Naturally, Moore begins his jeremiad with a guided tour of the psychopathologies of the notorious narcissist who, against all odds, consumed the Republican Party from the inside two years ago, then won the election to become president of the “last superpower.” The director sees the beginning of his ascent as something like a perverse game, a display of Trump showing off in order to convince NBC to increase his pay as the owner of the reality show The Apprentice. The real-estate mogul only decided to run in earnest after his first rallies met with unexpected success.
The film’s prologue, depicting his (by no means unstoppable) ascent, presents Trump’s presidency as, on one hand, a freak accident, and on the other the inevitable endpoint of a longstanding democratic deterioration under the regime of late financial neoliberalism. This is the starting point for one of the main themes running through Fahrenheit 11/9: harsh criticism of the Democratic Party, under fire in Moore’s film even more than the conservatives, for having willfully renounced any real opposition. The Democratic so-called opposition was an accomplice, in collusion with and subservient to the same financial masters, and they stooped to sabotaging Bernie Sanders’ campaign and snubbing the working class electorate from de-industrialized states (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan), which would end up costing them the presidency.
Moore’s filmmaking genius has always been his talent for representing moral issues in compelling ways, and to illustrate the neoliberal war on the working poor he returns to the scene of his best agitprop: his hometown of Flint, Michigan. The thread which details the predatory privatization of the rust belt town’s water supply and consequent mass poisoning of its (mostly black) children is perhaps the film’s most powerful narrative strand—especially as it details the shameful cover-up by the state’s proto-trumpian businessman governor Rick Snyder. The whole (still unresolved) affair paints a powerful picture of a callous system built to favor the powerful over the powerless.
Much of the film—conceived as a rallying cry ahead of the midterm elections in November—is then dedicated to the signs of life on the Left. Featured are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Socialist congressional candidate in the Bronx; Rashida Tlaib, a Muslim woman and the front-runner for a Congressional seat in Michigan; Richard Ojeda, a union veteran in West Virginia fighting for miners and striking teachers; and David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez and the other kids who survived the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, who organized a campaign against the National Rifle Association, in which millions of people took to the streets.
Young people, women, minorities, the working class: this is evidence for a possible new coalition similar to Roosevelt’s, which Moore argues is the only possible salvation in the November elections, crucial for the fate of the US and the planet. The alternative, which he presents at length at the end of the film, is the definitive normalization of a fascism for the new millennium that would encompass Trump, Brexit and the resurgence in European sovereignism.
The following is a conversation with foreign journalists Moore held in Toronto after the film’s world premiere.
How did you have the idea?
From the beginning, I felt Trump was the logical conclusion of five decades of the slow destruction of the American dream, of our democracy, and the takeover by corporate America and Wall Street and that that became more important than our rights and the idea that everyone should have a seat at the table and a slice of the pie. That went away—gone—or maybe was never real. But Trump is the final nail. I often call him the last president of the USA, because he may well be. And there is no mechanism, really, to remove him. So we are up against the toughest opponent we’ve ever had.
How do you explain the current rise of authoritarian regimes?
I think that people around the world are fed up with how things are turning out for them in their daily lives, and they view Trump or Brexit, or any of these things as a Molotov cocktail they can throw into the system and blow it up, because the system doesn’t like Trump or Brexit or similar [phenomena] in other countries.
I had a profound experience being in EU before Brexit. I was doing press [for my previous movie] and we traveled to London and Sheffield and Belfast, and by the end of the 10 days, I realized, “My God, Brexit is gonna pass.” We were in the working class cities and they reminded me of Michigan. And all the polls were wrong. … And when I came back I realized Trump was going to win—the world is topsy-turvy and we’re gonna fall off it. And I went on the Bill Maher show and I said, “Trump is gonna win Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.” And the audience booed me. Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but listen to me. I am the guy who stood on the Oscar stage and said there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I made Columbine and I said we need to address the issue. And how many shootings do we have now?
So when you say did I ever feel like giving up, you know the answer. How many more films do I have to make and bang my head against the wall to tell this nation what’s going on? Because now we’ve let it go this far that we put someone in the White House that doesn’t respect the rule of law, or human decency. … I almost gave up. Just like everybody else. People are full of despair. We are a dispirited nation. We’re gonna have to do this together—tens of millions of us are gonna have to get in the streets, get in the voting booths, and do the work that needs to be done. Now there’s more of us than there are of them. We already know that: Hillary won. There’s at least three million more of us, OK, so we should be able to pull this off. But if you’re depending on Michael Moore to do it or Bernie Sanders, it ain’t gonna happen that way.
Meantime, Trump is having his way.
Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear how he feels about Muslims. He initiated the travel ban against Muslim countries, then added a symbolic non-Muslim country. His hatred of people who are not him is stunning, and it’s embarrassing for us as Americans—and he lost. People in other countries need to hear this over and over again: the majority of Americans did not want him, and because we have an arcane clause in our constitution which was written 200 years ago to appease slave states, that’s how he got in. So its shameful. His bigotry, his racism, his whole attitude towards the Muslim world, his moving the embassy to East Jerusalem: a provocative act that has nothing to do with achieving peace but only was done because he admires the strongmen, the autocrats, the people who rule with an iron fist, and one of those people is Benjamin Netanyahu, and he admires someone like that. And we’re the ones who have to pay the price. We have to get him out of there—the sooner the better. There’s not much left any more in terms of being an optimist, but, look, you saw in the film we’re gonna send the first Muslim single mother to the US congress, so there are things happening where people are saying this is how we’re gonna stop Trump, this is how we’re gonna stand up to him—and maybe we’re gonna win out…maybe.
How do you keep up hope?
Don’t give up but stop hoping—hope doesn’t fix anything. Hope does not create a revolution, doesn’t throw anyone out of office. Hope is our enemy right now. That’s what Democrats keep telling us: hope for 2020. … We’re not gonna get to 2020 at this pace. We need to rise up right now. We need to get to the polls in November. We need to do whatever it takes to stop this madness. But if you’re just sitting at home hoping…I don’t have much hope, really. And I say that not because I don’t think we can win, but if we sit around just hoping we’re not gonna get anything done. This younger generation, especially those who survived the Parkland shooting, they’re not hoping—they’re acting. We need action, we need everybody to rise up. That’s the only way change can happen. It doesn’t happen by hoping that people will do something, that voters will show up to vote. Hope, hope, hope, hope…that’s just whimsical and foolish and maybe just makes you feel good. Not that I’m against feeling good, I’m just against medicating myself with hope.
Many of the problems pre-date Trump?
We’re in kind of a slow-moving nightmare. I felt that for some time before Trump. For most people, the American dream (has been) a nightmare. Forty to fifty million people live in poverty and cannot read beyond a 10-year-old level. The more you dumb people down and make them illiterate, and instill fear—“They’re coming into our country!” Who does that sound like?
The Vichy government in the US today is called the Democratic Party. They are the collaborators. They’re the ones that corporate America no longer needs to worry about because they will do what they want. They [just] make it look better. Corporate America doesn’t need to worry about Democrats so much because they are busy being “moderate,” not “overreacting” to things. That will be the end of us.
It’s why in the film I put the front page of a Jewish weekly from Frankfurt after Hitler was elected. They wrote: “Calm down, [there is] no problem, it will be all right. We’re prominent Germans. We have the constitution to protect us.” And this sounds to me like the people [today] relying on the special prosecutor or on impeachment.
Do Americans understand what’s at stake?
You know who gets it? Women, young people, people of color. … There will be a tsunami of voters in November: Latinos, black Americans. They will be out I think in record numbers. … I know that people will show up. The Republicans will be thrown out. If they don’t, not only will the Republicans win, but [Trump] will be re-elected in 2020.
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