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Movie review: Michael Moore exposes the roots of Trumpism

By: 
Faline Bobier

September 25, 2018

Michael Moore's new documentary "Fahrenheit 11/9" asks the seemingly simple question "How the fuck did this happen?" By "this", of course, he means the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States.

The film's title refers to November 9, when Trump's 2016 presidential win was announced (the election took place the day prior). The title simultaneously serves as a callback to Moore's 2004 political documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which refers to the date of the September 11 attacks in the United States. Both of Moore's documentary titles are an allusion to the 1953 dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

The question may be simple, but Moore shows us the answer is anything but. Luckily, and maybe surprisingly, he doesn’t focus a lot on Trump himself. Unlike late night talk show hosts Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers, this is not a movie that focuses its ire on Putin and conspiracy theories. It's also not a movie that sees Hillary Clinton or the Democrats as the answer to what ails America.

Moore insists that the roots of Trump's victory go back decades to some of the very Democratic politicians whom liberals see as the only way out. It was Bill Clinton, after all, who ended welfare for the poorest Americans, something even Ronald Reagan did not accomplish.

He also makes a claim that goes against much of the received wisdom about the 2016 election – he argues that in its majority the American people are on the left: they support a woman's right to choose, want universal healthcare, free college tuition and a reduction in military spending. How different from many pundits at the time of the election and after who argued that American workers were and are stupid, voting against their own best interests because of their venality, their racism or worse.

Corporate destruction

The best parts of Moore's film aren't his usual stunts or the pot shots he takes at Trump—for example, the creepy nature of Trump's relationship with his daughter Ivanka.

Where 9/11 truly shines is in its delineation of the destruction of ordinary working class lives by the greed of American capitalists and the politicians who aid and abet them. The section on Flint, Michigan and the poisoning of primarily Black families' drinking water is a brutal takedown of the profit motive in action.

Rick Snyder, a business executive, venture capitalist and accountant became Governor of Michigan in 2011. The Flint drinking water contamination began in April 2014 when Flint changed its water source from treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water (sourced from Lake Huron and the Detroit River) to the Flint River. Officials failed to apply corrosion inhibitors to the water. As a result, several problems occurred that culminated with lead contamination, creating a serious public health danger.

What Moore demonstrates in his documentary is why this change was made. Snyder's business friends wanted the lucrative contracts to build a totally unnecessary pipeline to the new water supply, which lead directly to lead poisoning for thousands of Flint inhabitants, particularly children, with long-term serious health effects.

It was only through the efforts of Black and other community activists over several years that this crime came to light and there is still no safe drinking water in Flint. The federal government did eventually declare a State of Emergency but in a telling video sequence we see then President Barack Obama visiting Flint.

You see the hope in people's faces when Obama arrives. Then he pulls a stunt similar to one performed earlier by Governor Rick Snyder. He takes a drink from a glass of water on the dais in an effort to reassure community members that the water is now safe.

The sense of betrayal is etched on people's faces. Obama is helping to perpetrate the lies spread by Snyder and his business cronies. As one of the Black community members, an activist in the fight for clean water, says, "When Obama arrived he was my president, when he left he was no longer my president."

Hope

Moore shows us raw working class anger but he also shows us hope—not the false hope of re-electing the Democratic Party to begin another cycle of betrayals, but the hope of united action that can bring down the system responsible for crimes like Flint.

Moore sees this hope in the teachers of West Virginia who go out on strike without the support of their union leadership and who inspire teachers in other states to take similar action against the poverty wages and crumbling public education system that serves neither teachers nor their students. He sees this hope in the high school students at Parkland who through their actions launch a national movement against gun violence and politicians' craven support for the NRA.

He also sees this hope in organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America and candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an educator and political activist who is a member of the DSA. On June 26, 2018, Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary in New York's 14th congressional district covering parts of the Bronx and Queens in New York City, defeating the incumbent Congressman, Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley, in what has been described as the biggest upset victory in the 2018 midterm-election season.

She won because of grass-roots organizing and because she represented, in somewhat the same way as Bernie Sanders, a turn away from the corrupt politics of the status quo and a turn towards a socialist vision of what life could be like. When Stephen Colbert asked her what socialism means to her she replied, "In a modern, moral and wealthy society no person in America should be too poor to live. What that means to me is health care as a human right, it means that every child, no matter where you are born, should have access to a college or trade school education, no person should be homeless, we should have structures and public policy to allow for people to have homes and food and lead a dignified life in the United States."

Ocasio-Cortez and others like her, who are running for various levels of public office in the US are reflected outside the borders of their own country, in movements like the one around leftist Labour leader Jeremy Corbin in the UK, or the growing excitement about Québec Solidaire in the lead-up to elections in Quebec.

But, as Moore shows in the strongest moments of his new documentary, the real bedrock underlying change for the better lies in the ability of those ordinary Americans whom Trump falsely claims to represent—while he continues to champion the interests of the wealthy few at the expense of the many, like Democrats and Republicans before him—to organize a fightback which takes place outside the corridors of power and which sees the need to replace a rotten system with something entirely new: socialism from below.

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