And we are a third world nation..."
—Ani DiFranco, "Self Evident"
Hope, Emily Dickinson's "thing with feathers," is what remains perched in the soul when faith has departed. I hope that I may live to see an America that no longer needs Michael Moore.
Yes, Michael Moore disappointed Progressives everywhere two years ago by actively campaigning for Clinton/Kaine, after the DNC dissed & dismissed Bernie Sanders and alienated his delegates.
Yes, Michael Moore, as a documentarian with a political agenda, is adept at manipulating and juxtaposing images to tell stories that promote said agenda, so the results often look like a victory of style over substance.
And yes, every feature-length documentary that Michael Moore turns in gets lauded as his most important movie yet! thanks partly to the hype machine of which he is an integral part.
Moore has been producing these movies for nearly 30 years now, and I'm tired of them—not because they lack quality or because Moore himself is obnoxious or because he keeps recycling the same shtick, but because they continue to be so damn necessary. Despite the laughs at the expense of politicians and celebrities, his films are difficult to watch because, despite his decades of effort, the Real America that he depicts in them has grown steadily worse since Roger & Me. The situation in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, certainly has degraded, and it was already reaching Third World status in 1990.
By the end of last night's special screening of Fahrenheit 11/9 at the Edwards 24 Greenway, I felt literally sick to my stomach. So did Kayleen: She had to leave the room twice during the screening to vomit. Our nausea may have resulted from the "dodgy Thai food" (her words) that we ate before the show, but the images on the screen certainly didn't help.
Worst. Reality. Show. Ever.
Moore campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016 for the same reason millions of Americans voted for her: more against Trump than for Clinton. Millions voted for Donald Trump more to thwart Clinton than because they actually liked him or thought he would do a good job. As Jill Stein continues to remind us, Clinton and Trump were the most disliked and distrusted pair of major-party nominees in US history.
While I don't agree with what Moore did, I understand his reasons for doing so: As he notes early in F11/9, he has actually met Donald Trump and found him a most appalling specimen of humanity. He thought that the former Secretary of State who oversaw the coup in Honduras, the death of civilization in Libya, and other such bullet points on her résumé was preferable to Republican nominee. I get that.
With the benefit of hindsight, however, Moore can look back on the experience and shake his head in disgust. The Clintons, however polished they may appear on TV, are horrible people too. Without even mentioning the Pied Piper strategy—building up Trump as the Republican fall guy to guarantee a Democratic victory—Moore stacks up the evidence that the Clintons, the Obamas, their corporate cronies, and the media-industrial complex are guilty of making Donald John Fucking Trump the leader of the so-called free world. Wittingly or not, the liberal establishment gave us President Trump.
In his promotion of F11/9, Moore has taken pains to point out that this flick is not merely an anti-Trump polemic. His beef is with "the whole rotten system that created him" (i.e., Trump).
In his oft-forgotten 1997 doc The Big One, Moore trained his cameras directly on the human effects of Bill Clinton's "end welfare as we know it" policy. In the nauseating wake of the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, anti-poverty programs were outsourced to a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin (I shit you not). Federal food and housing aid was tied to work requirements—right about the time that the Wal-Mart economy kicked into gear and full-time retail/service-sector jobs became scarce. The government was extremely stingy with child care funding for those parents who sought the required jobs, and those jobs barely covered child-care and transportation expenses.
Moore did not lay the blame exclusively on Rep. Newt Gingrich's Contract with America. Clinton announced these changes before the new Republican majority even had a chance to put pressure on him. Clinton's welfare "reform" was partly what drove Moore to assist Ralph Nader's presidential campaign in 2000. It was also the final straw that made me, and a lot people I know, leave the Democratic Party in disgust.
Two decades later, Barack Obama is in for some well-deserved rough treatment. The film captures Obama's visit to Flint in 2016, a disgraceful display of pandering that accomplished absolutely nothing for people affected by the water crisis (now in its fifth year).
Just as Obama neglected to use his bully pulpit at the 2009 Climate Conference in Copenhagen, in 2015-16 he effectively exerted zero pressure on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to switch Flint's water source back to Lake Huron and make reparations for 100,000 ruined lives and 10,000-plus lead-poisoned children. Beyond sending a fuck-ton of bottled water, the federal government was not much help.
In 2015, the US Army used Flint for urban warfare exercises, including live ammunition, without warning the citizenry first. Flint, after all, was a "target-rich environment" for such exercises due to its plenitude of abandoned buildings. This story didn't get much press at the time. But then, the water crisis didn't get much mainstream coverage beyond a few items on MSNBC. Moore makes it look as if the military exercises happened after Obama's visit, although they in fact took place a year earlier.
In a brief excerpt of an interview with Clinton/Kaine campaign chair John Podesta, Moore not-so-subtly hints that the Obama-Clinton neglect of Michigan led directly to Clinton's losing that key state by a mere 10,000 votes. The extraordinarily wealthy and usually articulate Podesta could make no coherent reply.
I don't know whether anyone else at the screening the same literally visceral reaction to F11/9 as Kayleen and I had. As we left the theater, I heard reactions from some of those in attendance. Some stated that they didn't know about Clinton-Obama transgression x, y, or z as illustrated in the film. These people clearly don't follow progressive or alternative news sources. Others sounded as if the message they gleaned from it was limited to "Trump bad! #Resistance!"—i.e., the message they likely expected when they bought their tickets.
One woman with whom I spoke sighed that the film is "depressing." It certainly is that. I replied that we have the luxury of being depressed for a while, after which we can and must convert our depression into anger and motivation to make changes. She then said something about being motivated to get people voting this November. I gently reminded her that it can't stop with voting, but didn't get to reminisce about how liberals got Obama elected in 2008 and promptly went to sleep, allowing him to commit more of the same atrocities for which they excoriated George W. Bush.
The segments covering the teacher strikes in West Virginia and elsewhere, and the mostly young, mostly female Berniecrats candidates challenging the Democratic establishment should certainly inspire us to action. As Joe Strummer famously sang in a very different context, "Let fury have the hour—anger can be power." It can also result in stunted political movements that exist mostly in cyberspace—e.g., The League of Pissed Off Voters in San Francisco.
If this flick gets long-time Democratic voters to wake up and see why a few million of us steadfastly refuse to vote for the (arguably) Lesser Evil Corporate Party, I'll be somewhat gratified. Sadly, I foresee one of two misapplications of Moore's central message:
- Liberals will cite this documentary as a scathing indictment of Trump as a person and as a politician, while ignoring the parts that make powerful Democrats look like the warmongering, Wall Street–fellating losers they are.
- Liberals will take massive, indignant exception to Moore's having the audacity to point out that the Clintons, Obama, Pelosi, Schumer, Hoyer, and the rest of that sorry lot are not the paragons of political virtue they imagine them to be. They will unleash on Moore the same vitriol they currently direct at Jill Stein, Julian Assange, Susan Sarandon, and other anti-establishment figures. Like fellow documentarian Josh (Gasland) Fox and Cenk Uygur's Young Turks, Moore will find himself forever exiled from MSNBC. He will have to confine his appearances to RT and Democracy Now!—or make his case on Fox News, as Glenn Greenwald has done on Tucker Carlson's program.