Even if you don’t follow politics, we are obviously living in politically tumultuous times in democratic countries. UK’s Brexit and the Trump presidency in the United States show there are major shifts in who, and what, people will vote for. Notably, voters seem sick of the status quo and distrustful of the major parties. They are sick of the same old lies from politicians who then grab power and make their corporate donors richer. Filmmaker Michael Moore is back to provide an analysis of his country’s political scene since that fateful day in November, 2016, when it became clear that the predicted and expected future for America was, in fact, entirely wrong.
FAHRENHEIT 11/9 begins by taking us to the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. It’s a lengthy and detailed takedown of the small ‘l’ liberal (i.e. left-wingish) idea of the time, that Donald Trump could never become president. Practically no politician, no pundit, no journalist, thought that anyone but Hillary Clinton was going to be the nation’s next head of state and government. There were even a number of Republicans who had resigned themselves to the idea of President Hillary Clinton. Moore, unusually enough for someone on the left, had predicted Trump would win. He’s good enough not to brag about it in the film. He pushes the idea (which has some support from other sources) that Trump didn’t want the presidency, but rather was using the bid to promote himself and up his price as a reality TV show host.
Trump’s unexpected and unplanned win, and what his ambitions have become in the subsequent two years, form the documentary’s framing device. Packed in the middle is a plethora of material, possibly too much to be properly appreciated in just one viewing. Moore looks into the student-led, anti-gun March for Our Lives movement; the way Democratic Party leadership is beholden to corporate interests and the rise of a more left-leaning brand of Democrats who want to bring power back to disenfranchised labour, such as auto workers and school teachers. However, it is his re-telling of the water crisis in his hometown of Flint, that is the most fully realised and focused of his story choices. The way in which Michigan’s Republican Governor, Rick Snyder, took apart state institutions and effectively poisoned thousands of Flint residents with lead-filled water, all to enrich his corporate donors, is truly shocking to hear.
Moore suggests that Trump saw how Snyder gained tremendous power in Michigan and has essentially copied these moves. He argues that Trump has and will continue to destroy the organisations and institutions that check his power. Moore has fashioned a documentary that is a call to action, which isn’t new for him, his 2015 film WHERE TO INVADE NEXT was filled with activist suggestions about things that needed changing in America. FAHRENHEIT 11/9 is a more solemn work with a larger theme. He is declaring that action is needed to save American democracy.
FAHRENHEIT 11/9 is hampered with a too-similar title to Moore’s own FAHRENHEIT 9/11. The “office-invading” stunts he pulls, which were his stock-in-trade back in the ‘90s, come off as pointless. On the plus side, his researchers and editors do a sterling job of finding appropriate sound-bites and video-grabs to underline the various arguments. His questioning the health of his nation’s democracy will seem over-the-top to some, but investigating this idea is part of maintaining a functioning democracy. When our elected representatives object to transparency, what is it that they’re afraid we will see?