Michael Moore’s latest documentary checks all the boxes his films usually do: you laugh, you almost cry, you shake your head in frustration, and you chuckle and roll your eyes at some of the stunts he pulls.
In Fahrenheit 11⁄9, Moore also gives us some reason to hope that, despite the disaster of Donald Trump’s presidency, we can get our country moving back in a progressive direction and save our democracy.
The films opens with clips from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s rally in Philadelphia on the night before the 2016 election; a night filled with hope and the expectation that she would be the next President of the United States.
Then we see clips of Election Day, including many women who are emotional and excited about having voted for a woman to be President for the first time.
Moore notes that few expected Trump to win the election, and shows news clips of various pundits all saying that Clinton is going to win. The New York Times said Trump had only a fifteen percent chance of winning.
And yet, we all know what happened: just after 2 AM Eastern Time on 11/9/2016, the Electoral College was called for Trump.
Moore narrates over the video of Trump and his family coming out on stage to accept victory and notes how no one looks particularly happy or celebratory. Trump had not prepared a victory speech, because he ann expected him to win.
At 2:29 AM, Trump’s face as the next President is projected on the Empire State Building. “How… did this happen?” Moore asks emphatically.
It all started with Trump’s announcement that he was running for President, which Moore says was fake and just for publicity to try to prove his star power to NBC after he learned that Gwen Stefani was getting paid more for being a judge on The Voice than Trump was getting for The Apprentice.
The move backfired, as he spoke without a script and made his infamously vile and racist statements about Mexican immigrants, causing NBC to fire him.
Rather than Trump quietly fading away from society as we all wish would have happened, his sons convinced him to still go through with the two rallies he had already planned and paid for.
He loved the large crowds and the energy and attention he got, so he continued on with more rallies and made it into a real presidential bid.
And the mass media (ahem, CNN) happily gave him plenty of air time, getting ratings and profits off of the crass and crazy campaign.
Audio is heard of a CBS executive saying that “it may not be good for America, but it’s good for our ratings” and admitting that they were making a lot of money from their coverage of Trump.
Moore also targets celebrity news anchors (or, to borrow a term from James Fallows, buckrakers) who were very pointed and aggressive in their interviews of Clinton during the campaign, and like Donald Trump, have been accused of sexual harassment, including Matt Lauer, Mark Halperin, and Charlie Rose.
The film then transitions from Trump to discussing another awful elected official, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Moore’s home state of Michigan elected Snyder in 2010. Like Trump, Snyder had no political or public service experience. He was the CEO of Gateway computers, and promised to run the state like a business.
Once in office, he quickly took action to consolidate his power and reward his rich friends by passing a tax break for the rich and convincing the Legislature to pass an emergency manager law. This statute enabled him to replace the democratically-elected mayors and city councils of struggling cities including Detroit and Flint, with his cronies who worked to privatize various aspects of city services and make money for their and Snyder’s friends and supporters.
Moore then explains the basics of the Flint water crisis, and how Snyder and other government officials have failed to take any action to address it. The sheriff of Flint tells Moore that he believes Snyder should be charged criminally, saying “it is an intentional act” to let people to continue to be poisoned by the water.
This leads to some classic Moore antics.
He goes to governor’s office at the state capitol and tries to make a citizen’s arrest of the governor, but he is not there. So Moore fills up a water truck with water from Flint and goes to the governor’s mansion. He gets no response on the intercom at the gate, so he sprays the water over the fence and into the yard.
Going back to Trump, Moore shows footage of the violence against protestors and people of color at Trump’s rallies and how Trump eggs it on.
Trump in his rallies and members of his campaign staff in interviews repeatedly reference “the real America” as being who he represents, as opposed to “leftists.”
But, says Moore, we are a progressive, liberal, leftist country.
A majority of Americans support equal pay, labor unions, a higher minimum wage, a lower military budget, stronger environmental regulations, are pro choice, believe immigration is good for the country, and do not own guns.
If we are the majority, he asks, why don’t we control any of the branches of the federal government and a minority of state governments?
In presidential elections, the Democratic candidate has won the popular vote in six of the last seven elections. Al Gore and Hillary Clinton would have become President if we used the national popular vote instead of the Electoral College to seat winners, which Moore says was written into the Constitution to appease the slave states.
We can’t really call it a democracy if the person who gets the most votes doesn’t win, Moore says. He then proceeds to discuss the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries and the party’s use of automatic, unpledged delegates at its national convention. This turned people away, both from the party and from the election, Moore argues.
“The loss of faith in democracy becomes our death knell,” said a Yale historian interviewed in the film. Autocrats only succeed when enough people give up, he said.
Moore then strikes a more hopeful tone, highlighting many progressive, first-time candidates running for office this year, including New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (the likely successor to Representative Joseph Crowley) and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib, who if elected would become the first Muslim woman in Congress.
Ocasio-Cortez, who we see doorbelling in Queens shares a thought with the camera: the concept of “electoral insanity,” which she defines as electing the same people over and over and expecting different results.
Moore then highlights the momentum of other movements sweeping the country, such as teacher’s strikes, which started in West Virginia and were followed up in many other states including Arizona, Kentucky, and Colorado, and the March for Our Lives movement started by the teen survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. On one day there were over seven hundred marches in the United States and over a hundred more in other cities around the globe.
After alternating between an old black and white video about the attributes of despotism and clips of how those are all present in our society today, Moore emphasizes that it “doesn’t need to end like this”.
He ends the film with a clip from Emma Gonzalez’s speech at the March for Our Lives, highlighting the generation of activists that is helping to lead much of the change that is so desperately needed in our country right now.
I definitely recommend seeing Fahrenheit 11⁄9, as it gives you some needed perspective on things in these challenging times while also stoking your frustrations and motivating you to keep pushing for change. I also learned a few more things about the Flint water crisis that I wasn’t aware of previously.
Fahrenheit 11⁄9 opened on September 21st and can be screened in theaters across the Pacific Northwest.