If there is any liberal Democrat to take other liberals and other Democrats to task, it’s Michael Moore. Of course he takes down the Republicans and Donald Trump as expected, but he also exposes the double standard regarding the left that not enough people talk about: when one of our own does something awful, there’s no great outcry among us. How is that different from Republican complicity with the current criminal president, exactly?
So I’ll just get this part out of the way early on here: in Fahrenheit 11/9, Moore also unsurprisingly puts a lot of focus on his home state of Michigan — his 1989 debut, Roger & Me, was about the initial depression of his hometown of Flint, when General Motors closed all of its local manufacturing closures. This is a state which elected its own highly unqualified ultra-rich CEO “businessman” governor Rick Snyder, effectively a state-level trial run for the ascension of Trump. And when Republican leadership in Michigan switched Flint’s drinking water source from Lake Huron to the far less clean or fresh Flint River, ultimately resulting in thousands of children being exposed to lead, to this day not nearly enough has been done to rectify the matter.
But I was going to mention Democrats, right? When then-President Obama made his first visit to Flint two years after the water crisis began, he made a show of a publicity stunt of drinking a glass of filtered water in the middle of his speech — not once, but twice, at separate events. Let’s just say local leaders and activitsts were not impressed. Moore himself even spoke out about it at the time: thousands of children poisoned and twelve deaths are not things to be trivialized. And you know what? I never bought into the lie that Obama was a saint (though I don’t hate him), but I never heard anything about this. And I agree with Moore: this kind of political pandering is disappointing at best.
To be fair, I’m not always the biggest fan of Michael Moore’s tactics, either. I never saw much utility in his own stunts, such as in Bowling for Columbine (2002) when he brings a couple of shooting victims to K-mart supposedly to claim a refund on the bullets still inside their bodies. Similarly, in Fahrenheit 11/9, he brings a camera crew to record an attempted “citizen’s arrest” on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. He doesn’t get any further than security at the entrance, so he brings a giant truck full of Flint water to spray all over the front lawn of the governor’s mansion. I can’t say he accomplished much with that, aside from an admittedly fun, indelible image.
So, okay, Michael Moore isn’t perfect either. Neither are his movies. But it could still be argued that they are vital, and they are undeniably entertaining. This being a thematic sequel to his 2004 film Fahrenheit 9/11, in which he delved into the Bush Administration’s suspect motives for the wars in Iraq in Afghanistan, I honestly approached Fahrenheit 11/9 with some trepidation: just how fucking depressing will this be? How much painful footage of the most despicable president this country has ever had will we have to suffer through?
Actually — not too much. I mean, plenty, still. But Trump himself is not the sole focus of this film, even if 11/9 is a direct reference to the date on which he was declared president in 2016. (The election was held 11/8, but the presidency was not declared until well after midnight, so, a nice bit of reverse-engineering in movie title marketing there). Moore takes a more macro look at how Trump is a symptom, not the disease, and looks at how both Republicans and Democrats brought us here. I think he’s slightly unfair to Nancy Pelosi as he laments so-called “Democratic establishment,” but whatever. You can’t have everything.
Crucially, Moore uses much of this movie to be hopeful rather than downbeat — the very tactic that made his last movie, Where to Invade Next (2015), so great. Here he offers up extended segments on the groups of people offering inspiration when they could easily despair: the teenage activists coming out of the Parkland, Florida shooting who organized the March for Our Lives on their own; the fiercely independent (read: non-establishment), young minority and largely female congressional candidates coming up the ranks in current local elections across the country; effective statewide teacher strikes in deeply conservative regions.
It’s not all cheer leading, however. Michael Moore just isn’t the type. He doesn’t let any of us off the hook — hence the pointed reference to our Beloved Obama’s own missteps (and a reminder that Obama took more in donations from Goldman Sachs than from anyone else). When he speaks to local Democratic voters in West Virginia disillusioned by overhalf their states superdelegates voting Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention even though every single county in the state went Bernie Sanders in the primary, it’s easy to see how voters throw their hands up and give up. (And I say this as someone who was always a Hillary supporter and who feels continued resentment toward Sanders is more than justified.)
If you want our democracy to work for you, or to work at all, you don’t just have to participate in it — you have to do it in numbers large enough to demand that it run properly. Not perfectly, but properly. Otherwise, the country you get is the country you deserve. Michael Moore doesn’t say that outright, but it’s the basic, simple point, and one he gets across in ways both sobering and entertaining. He’s never been perfect in his efforts, but all-or-nothing demands for perfection is what got us into this mess in the first place.