A documentary by Michael Moore. Rated PG
A fitting bookend for the era that began with Fahrenheit 9/11, the latest from people’s polemicist Michael Moore tales its title from date when the worst person in the USA became the most powerful man in the world. The orange menace is only occasionally seen and heard here, fortunately. But the film’s bad news is that the tribalism, greed, and naked misogyny he represents is now pretty well entrenched in the remnants of liberal democracies just about everywhere.
The gadfly filmmaker gained extra cred in the fall of 2016 by being one of the few voices to get it right about the chances of Trump winning. (Cue clips of supposedly smart pundits laughing at the notion.) He doesn’t always get it right; in 2007, Moore told this writer he was certain that Hillary Clinton would be elected in 2008.
Obviously the timing of this cinematic pronouncement is connected to the midterm elections. While it’s hard to imagine any Cult 45 member being swayed by this nifty encapsulation of everything that went wrong in the past two years—including Russian interference, rampant voter suppression, and Republican blindness to their new leader’s ill intent—it doesn’t really seem aimed at them.
Indeed, the movie is fairly tough on the Democratic Party establishment. Moore oversimplifies the process that Bernie Sanders fans feel “robbed” him, but there can be no doubts about the smug complacency of the old guard, and its timidity in the face of norm-smashing crooks intent on serving the NRA, big banks, and filthy-rich oligarchs, foreign and domestic. Here, there’s some hope, in that the post-Parkland climate has unleashed a new slate of grass roots candidates, mostly female and including many people of colour.
As usual, the big guy skips around like crazy, sometimes at the expense of depth and coherence. At first, the side-trip to Flint, Michigan—his hometown, and main locale for the breakthrough Roger & Me—seems like a digression. But he builds a strong criminal case against governor Rick Snyder, who made millions for his rich friends by hollowing out the state’s black-majority cities and poisoning the people of Flint for his own profit.
Then-president Obama comes off particularly bad in this (ongoing) episode, since his much-heralded visit to Flint turned out to be a meaningless phot-op—followed menacingly by explosive army exercises about which no one bothered to warn the residents. The militarization of police, demonizing of immigrants, suppression of dissent, and cruelty to women and children are just some of the parallels drawn with the rise of European fascism in the 1930s.
Some of Moore’s trademark stunts, like going to the Michigan statehouse to “arrest” Snyder, feel like tired time-wasters. But his j’accuse at 100 million Americans who didn’t bother to vote in 2016 rings loud, clear, and now.