Unlike the standard Michael Moore film that is replete with cheap shots and lurid tangents aimed at hooking and pleasing his choir, Moore cuts back on candy for his Trump-hating fans in Fahrenheit 11/9 and instead provides them with much-needed political truths.
The substance of Fahrenheit 11/9 challenges his fans to go beyond their easy contempt for the obnoxious Trump. Moore pushes his audience to consider how the corporatist blue team — an authoritarian Democratic National Party, a clueless self-serving Hillary Clinton, a slickly betraying Barack Obama and an ultimately pathetic Bernie Sanders — helped elect Trump to the presidency. Moore exposes the Democratic Party’s complicity in Trump’s victory and in US social and economic injustice. Sadly, it appears that Fahrenheit 11/9 will have a smaller audience than previous Moore films.
Fahrenheit 11/9 is being portrayed by many in the mainstream media as merely a Trump-bashing film that is a box-office failure because audiences are bored with Trump trashing. This misrepresentation of Fahrenheit 11/9 is made easier by Moore himself, who has not completely shed his compulsion to treat audiences like circus customers needing to be manipulated into the big tent with freakish side shows; for example, Moore can’t stop himself from inserting familiar shots of Donald Trump’s lechery toward his daughter.
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But once Moore feels like he’s given his audience enough to stick with him, he gets to some uncomfortable realities that have real political value, truths that will provoke at least some blue team voters to reconsider why approximately 100 million potential voters didn’t even bother voting — and why Trump won.
Moore informs his viewers of some unsettling facts that the vast majority of Americans are unaware of. One such fact is that in the 2016 Democratic primary in West Virginia, Bernie Sanders won all 55 counties—yes, all of them; yet because of the authoritarian and corrupt Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee, Clinton ended up with more West Virginian delegates than Sanders. And Moore points out that West Virginia was not the only state where this kind of disenfranchisement occurred.
Moore, very effectively, links Democratic Party legal corruption to voter apathy and Trump’s victory. Many Americans didn’t bother voting not because they were lazy, but because they felt voting doesn’t matter. I live in Ohio, a 2016 Trump state, and I know Democrats who in the past had dutifully voted for the lesser-of-two-evils Democrat, but who in 2016 just couldn’t stomach Hillary Clinton — and stayed home. I also know Trump voters who actually thought highly of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein as they were disgusted with both the Democrats and the Republicans, but ended up voting for Trump because he at least seemed willing to blow up the Republican Party. And I know Sanders supporters who have vowed to never take a politician seriously again after Sanders—looking like a POW fearful of being tortured by his guards for truth-telling—gave his support to Hillary Clinton, who his supporters absolutely despised.
Moore does not spare Barack Obama, making it starkly clear how little Black lives matter to him — at least the Black lives in Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan, the scene of a devastating and shameful water crisis. Flint’s poisoned water supply is a tragedy that is killing and severely injuring its citizens, and Moore shows how it was precipitated and criminally covered up by Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. When Flint residents heard, in the spring of 2016, that then-President Obama was visiting Flint, they became hopeful that surely, he would do something about their water. However, as Moore vividly shows, Obama put a knife in their hearts.
Obama came to Flint and gave a speech that minimized the dangers of their toxic water supply and then performed a despicable stunt for the camera — insisting on having a glass of Flint water. And to make matters worse, in a friendly meeting with Snyder, Obama performs the same water stunt, providing Snyder and the Michigan ruling class with propaganda to prove that Flint’s water problem had been fixed. Even cynical viewers may shed a tear when they see African American safe-water activists emotionally crushed by a president who they had previously given their hearts to.
You know that you are not living in a genuinely democratic society when dissent is ignored. Moore shows that both the Democrat and Republican Parties are obedient servants of the ruling class, and that both these parties expect US citizens to be happy with their freedom to vote and voice dissent regardless of how impotent that voting and dissent are. While dissent can be effective in a genuine democracy, as the US anti-authoritarians I profile in Resisting Illegitimate Authority discovered, dissent alone is impotent with authoritarian rule. Thomas Paine, Malcolm X, Jane Jacobs, Noam Chomsky and Edward Snowden understood that safe dissent without strategic disobedience is easily ignored by authoritarians.
Moore ultimately uplifts anti-authoritarians by depicting Americans who get it and who move to strategic disobedience — and are successful in gaining real justice. Moore focuses on poorly paid West Virginia public school teachers. These teachers were fed up not only with their uncaring government employer, but by their own cowardly union leadership. The teachers went on strike, then rejected their union leadership’s acceptance of small concessions, and stayed on strike until they achieved complete victory. Their victory was contagious, empowering oppressed teachers in other locales.
After studying the lives of several great US anti-authoritarians, there is reason to have hope for Moore. Some of history’s most revered figures took time to mature from crowd-pleasers to become powerful anti-authoritarians. George Carlin (1937-2008) in his twenties had already appeared on the “Tonight Show,” but by the end of the 1960s, he had become disgusted with his “mainstream dream” and “people-pleaser job.” Carlin ultimately came to realizations such as: “Laughter is not the only proof of success. Boy, what a liberating recognition that was!” In the last chapter of his life, fully liberated from people-pleasing, Carlin came to relish the joys of being an artist who could powerfully convey vital truths. Ultimately, Carlin would become an anti-authoritarian prophet of sorts (“Forget the politicians. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice! You have owners!”).
In Fahrenheit 11/9, Michael Moore has taken a step toward liberation from being foremost a “people-pleaser” who merely validates his fans’ feelings to becoming the kind of artist who, like George Carlin, challenged his fans to think and is cherished and revered by anti-authoritarians.