Michael Moore on the rise of Trump and his new film Fahrenheit 11/9
The award-winning American filmmaker spoke to TP about his latest offering.
Michael Moore's work includes Bowling for Columbine (2002), for which he won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, and Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), which was awarded the Palme d’Or in Cannes. Other films include his breakthrough doc Roger & Me (1989), Sicko (2007), Capitalism: A Love Story (2009) and Where To Invade Next (2015), while he’s also presented and produced the popular long-running TV shows The Awful Truth and TV Nation.
Now he returns with his latest documentary Fahrenheit 11/9, a state-of-the-nation address that sets out to examine just how Donald J. Trump was voted in as the 45th President of the United States. Below, he talks about what led him to the subject, his thoughts on why Trump appeals to voters and the changes he wants to see in America.
TP: When did you decide to make this film? The night of the election?
MICHAEL MOORE: No. I’d say we started thinking about it after the Women’s March. I’d never seen what a million people in person looked like and it was really amazing. I thought, ‘Something is going on here. There’s going to be an uprising.’ So I guess that’s when we first started thinking about it. I did what I could do before the election to try and warn people that he was going to win, and they needed to get out and vote. We were here the week before Brexit, and we travelled throughout the UK and I could tell just by talking to people that it was going to pass. Whereas the press was saying it wasn’t. The people we spoke to sounded very similar to the people back home, who were looking for a way to throw a bomb into the system that had failed them. I saw it was happening here; it’s not that people wanted to leave Europe. It’s that they wanted a wake-up call for the politicians who had failed them. I think the message has been received.
TP: Do you think Trump can do more damage in a short space of time in the US than Brexit will to the UK?
MICHAEL MOORE: To the planet…not just the US.
TP: As you say in the film, Trump’s controversial actions are all undertaken in plain sight, right?
MICHAEL MOORE: He just laid off the woman in charge of environment protection for children’s health last week in the Federal government. It’s an office to make sure regulations are in place in terms of how the environment affects children – nah, we don’t need that! Just get rid of it! Wasn’t a big story. Nobody is talking about it. Every day there are all these little cuts that are happening that people aren’t aware of.
TP: This must be something he’s done for his whole career?
MICHAEL MOORE: He’s done that his whole life. It’s a very smart method to do that. I’ve seen others do it over the years. If you show your flaws to the public, the public is very forgiving of you and them. If you try to hide it, and it’s exposed, that’s where you’re in trouble.
TP: This happened in the run-up the 2016 election, when recordings of his bragging about sexual conquests leaked, which didn’t seem to affect his political rating…
MICHAEL MOORE: Remember, he got 65% of the white male vote, so all that stuff on those tapes…it’s guys going, ‘Wow! Man!’ They are envious of him. He gets to grab pussy whenever he wants. What have we learned? He’s had sex with a porn star. Sex with a Playboy centrefold. What guy – what guy who voted for him – is going, ‘Oh, this is awful!’? No, it’s ‘Man, I want to be like that!’ And the 53% of white women that voted for him…what they see is a powerful, successful man. They’re sitting at home watching him, not taking any shit and dishing it out. Over on the couch is Opioid Joe, all gone, addicted to whatever drug he’s on – on disability, not making money for the family, not improving their lot. And there’s Trump – big, strong, bold, successful. What’s more attractive? Opioid Joe or Donald J. Trump? Sometimes these decisions that people make – human beings – they come down to some very simple things. Not well-thought out, politically.
TP: You don’t spare the Democrats or Obama’s record in the film. Was that important to you? It could be very easy just to bash the Republicans…
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, it is like shooting fish in a barrel and why would I want to go see a movie about that? No, it’s there because it has to be there. I have to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, even if the truth hurts. That’s who I am as a filmmaker and I’m not going to be something that I’m not. So the Obama stuff is in the film.
TP: What about the upper echelons of the Democrat party? How do you feel towards them?
MICHAEL MOORE: The ones who lose election after election; even when they win elections, they lose them. This is a loser party. Basically, we’re without parties right now in the United States. Trump has destroyed the Republican Party. As John Boehner says in the movie, ‘It’s now the Trump Party.’ And the Democratic Party is completely inept, impotent, ineffectual – a lot of ‘I’ words, but you get my point.
TP: Do you feel there is the hope in the film, with the future being in the hands of kids like those who survived the Parkland, Florida school shooting?
MICHAEL MOORE: Yes, them and women. Man, there are so many women on the ballots this November. I didn’t have time to put them all in. It’s possible that something amazing could happen on November 6th. I’m not promising it because I can’t depend on liberals to fight back.
TP: There were 100 million people who didn’t vote at the last US election…
MICHAEL MOORE: …who lean left. All research shows they lean left…
TP: What do you put that down to? People being apathetic to their right to vote…
MICHAEL MOORE: It’s not that just, though. It’s voter suppression. In many southern states, 20-40% of black men can’t vote because they’ve got a record. They’re prohibited from voting. There are all these voter suppression laws to make it difficult for the poor. Some people have two and three jobs. France, say, votes on the Saturday or Sunday. We don’t have that.
TP: When you met the Parkland kids, was your 2002 movie Bowling for Columbine mentioned by them? After all, it dealt with the gun control crisis…
MICHAEL MOORE: Yes. I don’t mention it in the film and I don’t mention that I warned everybody that Trump was going to win, and here are the states he will win in – I listed the actual states. I don’t put that stuff in there. You either know it or you don’t and it just sounds self-serving on some level, and I’m not interested in that.
TP: What changes do you want to see in America?
MICHAEL MOORE: The real system that’s rotten to the core is capitalism. If we can create an economic system that’s fair and just and democratic, we’re all going to be better off. A lot of those people who are working two or three jobs, they shouldn’t have to work three jobs, or even two jobs. You shouldn’t have to be worrying about your student loan debt that you’re going to have until you’re forty or fifty years old. This is not the way to function in a society, in a country that is supposedly the wealthiest in the world. Things should be a lot different.
TP: Flint, Michigan has become a symbol of decay in America, and it’s got worse with the poisoned water crisis you show in the film. How does that feel, given it’s your hometown?
MICHAEL MOORE: I take it personally and I know the racial piece of this too. I know other cities in Michigan, if this had happened, they would’ve had the [water] pipes replaced by now. So it’s a real criminal act.
TP: How do you see the Flint water crisis relating to the overall picture of the film?
MICHAEL MOORE: We had a mini-Trump for governor. Four years before Trump announces, we had Rick Snyder. So we got that coming attraction for what it was going to look like for the rest of the country, when somebody decides he’s going to be an autocrat, and [he] just fires the elected mayors and city councils of these black cities. The fact that he got away with it…no-one stopped him. The Federal government didn’t stop him, even though Obama was president at the time. The Attorney General should’ve stepped in; it’s a civil rights issue. Nobody did.
TP: What about when Obama came into Flint and said ‘Can I have a glass of water?’ to prove the supply was clean? It’s a very shocking and unfeeling moment…
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, it just stuck a knife in the heart of everybody in Flint and he lost the election for Hillary [Clinton] in that moment. Because she lost Michigan by 10,000 votes. There are 8,000 black people who just stayed home and had voted for Obama at the previous election. I don’t know how many white people, but there are the votes – she would’ve had the state of Michigan had people not given up. He depressed the vote.
TP: Do you think the country gets the president it deserves?
MICHAEL MOORE: I think that’s true. On some level. That also goes for the Democrats. Al Gore won. Hillary Clinton won. They never contested it. They never tried to get rid of the Electoral Collage and if it happens again, nobody is proposing getting rid of the Electoral College. Well twice, the people have spoken! They didn’t want Trump and they didn’t want Bush! The American people voted for the Democrats. Why is a Democrat not sitting in the White House? There is no rage about that.
TP: Are you concerned about giving platforms to those whose views you oppose?
MICHAEL MOORE: I think it’s very important. I haven’t seen the Paul Greengrass film [22 July] that is out, but the Norwegians learned this…by not letting the people who you disagree with have a platform, they will find other methods to have a platform and they will not always be very pretty. So now one of the things Norway has done since that massacre, like your Speaker’s Corner here in Hyde Park, they’ve got in their main park in Oslo, a place for crazy people to stand up and say whatever they want. You don’t want them to keep that inside; you want them to cathartically release it. There is enough of us to present the opposite argument to trust that we are going to win the argument.
FAHRENHEIT 11/9 is in cinemas nationwide.