Michael Moore's latest polemic has a greater sense of desperation than his previous films - with good reason. With Trumpism and kitsch fascism on the rise, the questions Moore attempts to answer are crucial ones. How did we get here? What does running a government like a business truly look like? Is democracy on the down slide? While the narrative of Trump's rise not unfamiliar, Fahrenheit 11/9 does something valuable in that it puts a human face on what's happened to America in the past decade.
In a way, Fahrenheit 11/9 is the culmination of Moore's previous work, starting with his most Reagan era lament Roger & Me that examined the aftermath of General Motors closing several plants in Flint, Michigan that left his hometown in terminal decline. As Moore points out the fate of Flint was a harbinger of things to come for the rest of Rustbelt. With so many communities barely surviving the appeal of Trump as a candidate to shake up Washington hit a nerve, much more than that, a movement.
For skeptics of Moore, those who will expect two hours of Trump hating, they will be somewhat surprised. He's just as hard on the Democrats and devotes half of the film to the Flint water crisis, connecting Flint's recent history to what is happening in the country at large. Moore also spends time with Parkland kids and a younger class of political candidates who want to carry on the work of Bernie Sanders.
In 2010, the newly elected Michigan governor Rick Snyder promised to run the state like a business. In a cash grab scheme he supported rerouting Flint's water supply from Lake Huron to the polluted Flint river by building an unnecessary pipeline for a quick cash grab. As soon as the pipeline went into operation, the residents of Flint were getting lead contaminated water, causing cases of skin damage and brain damage. President Obama did little to help Flint, his PR visit in May 2016 offered little more than lip service. As Moore points out, with Trump in power one of his priorities is to deregulate and decimate the EPA.
A catchphrase lately is that the new totalitarians will not be wearing military garb, but Armani suits. Moore makes direct connection between Trump and Hitler, simply by taking audio from his rallies that he continues to conduct. Historian Tim Snyder appears in the film who's been writing about the new authoritarianism in America, his book On Tyranny is a must read. Those who speculate on Trump creating a private army or canceling elections are dismissed as alarmist, but many said the same thing in 1933 Germany. Are we in the middle of a 1930s redux? Or Is it something completely different? Does Trump represent an aberration or the new normal? Will his crimes eventually catch up with him? Or will his power/ reign of terror worsen? Will his followers declare him a deity like the Caesars of Rome? History can provide some guidance, but no one has a crystal ball. Everything is up in the air.
Moore sees hope in the young that fact that 70% of American oppose a harsh right wing agenda. There's a rehash of the debacle in the Democratic Party in 2016. When it was clear Bernie Sanders was firing young people up about politics, the Clinton establishment carried the day. But if this idealism can be harnessed, one that dares to challenge the basic tenets of modern capitalism, there's the possibility of a better future. But right now everything hangs in the balance.
Everyone knows Moore can be manipulative and distort the truth at times. His self-righteousness can get maudlin, but at the end of the day he's on the right side of history. Moore's in the tradition of the muckrakers at the turn of the 20th Century, using the power of mass communication to raise awareness about social injustice. Critics of Moore will say he has no understanding of economics, but these people need to consider the consequences of the policies they champion, maybe they do, with a shrug of the shoulder. Forget the irony and bland talking points, as Bob Dylan wrote "you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears/take the rag away from your face/now ain't the time for your tears."