Michael Moore keeps up the pres­sure on Trump

Michael Moore saw Trumpaged­don from a long way off and un­der­stands how the US pres­i­dent ‘gets you feel­ing sorry for him’, but with grim de­ter­mi­na­tion, he’s still fight­ing the good fight

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - WORDS BY DON­ALD CLARKE Fahren­heit 11/9 is out now

I was lis­ten­ing to peo­ple and pay­ing at­ten­tion. I knew that peo­ple were go­ing to vote for him, not so much be­cause they liked him but be­cause they saw him as a Molo­tov cock­tail that could cause the most dam­age

I t’s the mid­dle of the Lon­don Film Fes­ti­val and Michael Moore is a lit­tle damp­ened. I mean that lit­er­ally. It’s been lash­ing for a few days and he’s had just about enough. That sur­prises me. The stal­wart doc­u­men­tar­ian was fa­mously raised in the blue-col­lar city of Flint, Michi­gan. His break­through fea­ture,

Roger & Me, de­tailed the de­cline of the lo­cale’s car in­dus­try. In his lat­est pic­ture, the an­gry, caus­ti­cally funny Fahren­heit 11/9, he re­turns to Flint and dis­cusses how ban­dit cap­i­tal­ism poi­soned the wa­ter sup­ply. They get all kinds of weather up there.

“Yeah. But I’d rather see the snow than just be wet,” he says.

He sounds tired. Who wouldn’t be? Named for the day that Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion was con­firmed, Fahren­heit 11/9 of­fers a sur­vey of a coun­try caught up in fu­ri­ous dis­pute with it­self. Moore isn’t proud of him­self, but he saw Trumpaged­don from a long way off. He al­ways thought he had a chance of the nom­i­na­tion. When I last talked to Moore in the sum­mer of 2016, he warned that Trump re­ally could win the Rust Belt states in the up­com­ing elec­tion. I don’t imag­ine he’s happy to be proved right.

“I live in the Mid­west,” he says. “So I was lis­ten­ing to peo­ple and pay­ing at­ten­tion. I knew that peo­ple were go­ing to vote for him, not so much be­cause they liked him but be­cause they saw him as a Molo­tov cock­tail that could cause the most dam­age.”

Moore is happy to point out that a large part of the US is ig­nored by coastal elites. But that has al­ways hap­pened. They went through worse in the 1930s, but, rather than elect­ing some right-wing dun­der­head, they em­braced some­thing close to demo­cratic so­cial­ism with the New Deal.

“I think most peo­ple now re­alise the Amer­i­can dream is just that – it’s never go­ing to be a re­al­ity for them,” Moore ven­tures. “Both par­ties have let them down and they saw that the elites of both par­ties hated Trump. And that made them like Trump.”

Charm­ingTrump

Fahren­heit 11/9 be­gins and ends with a study of the Trump as­cen­dancy. In be­tween, Moore pon­ders re­cent phe­nom­ena such as the Park­land shoot­ing, the West Vir­ginia teach­ers’ strike and the ap­par­ent rise of a new left. He also finds time to ad­dress his own early en­coun­ters with Trump. Of course, he ended up on a TV broad­cast with the fu­ture pres­i­dent. The most un­likely peo­ple have ad­mit­ted that Trump can be charm­ing in per­son.

“Ab­so­lutely, yes,” Moore says. “I didn’t tell the whole story in the movie. I had to go back into the green room and tell him that it was go­ing to be okay. I didn’t re­alise un­til much later that I was be­ing played.”

He had to tell him ev­ery­thing was “go­ing to be okay”? He had to com­fort the great Em­peror of Brag­gado­cio?

“He gets you feel­ing sorry for him,” he says. “He al­ways feels like the out­sider. The rich elites never did ac­cept him into their club in New York. He was the trailer trash of mil­lion­aires. He doesn’t want them to like him. He gen­uinely doesn’t care about them.”

That’s in­ter­est­ing. So, in that sense, maybe his vot­ers are right about him. De­spite be­ing born into wealth, Trump might just be an

anti-es­tab­lish­ment fig­ure. A long si­lence. “Let me think about that one,” Moore says som­brely. “I’m not sure how to an­swer that.”

Trump vot­ers

No­body could ac­cuse Moore of be­ing born any­where near a sil­ver spoon. His fa­ther was an assem­bly-line worker and his mother was a sec­re­tary. He has gone on to move in the most ex­alted cir­cles. Bowl­ing for Columbine won the Os­car for best doc­u­men­tary in 2003. Just a year later, Fahren­heit 9/11, his dis­sec­tion of the sec­ond Bush pres­i­dency, be­came the first doc­u­men­tary in nearly 50 years to take the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Yet he has re­tained that work­ing-class look through­out: base­ball cap, baggy shirt, shaggy hair. I won­der if his pol­i­tics have changed. Has he, with age, drifted even a tad to the right? “No. Have you?” I don’t think so. But peo­ple do. “Oh no. I think the op­po­site. I am more rad­i­cal,” he says. “When peo­ple say: ‘What can we do to con­vince Trump vot­ers?’ I say: ‘Don’t waste your time.’ All our en­ergy has to be di­rected to get­ting our side out. If some­body is still for Trump af­ter all they’ve seen in the past two years, then they’re lost. You have to let them go. You have to spend your time con­vinc­ing those on our side who may not be plan­ning to vote.”

With that drive, he could have made an ef­fec­tive politi­cian. In­deed, Moore started out along that road. Aged 18, when he se­cured a place on his lo­cal school board, he be­came the youngest per­son to hold elected of­fice in the US. He did a year in col­lege. He then drifted to­wards jour­nal­ism on the rad­i­cal news­pa­per Mother

Jones. He must oc­ca­sion­ally won­der what might have hap­pened if he had pur­sued a life on the hus­tings.

“Yeah, I ran for of­fice when I was 18 and got elected,” he says. “I served for four years. I think ev­ery­one should run for of­fice. But I am more ef­fec­tive do­ing what I do.”

Are we any closer to Amer­i­can so­cial­ism? Have the films af­fected how peo­ple think or vote?

“I feel that way about all my films,” he says. “Each of them moved the ball down the field. Not as far as I wanted it to go. We don’t have the univer­sal health­care we need. But when I made a film called Cap­i­tal­ism: A Love Story, you couldn’t even use the S-word. Now it’s used all the time. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t think it would have an im­pact.”

Doc­u­men­tary boom

The films had, at least for a while, an im­pact on the in­dus­try too. Fahren­heit 9/11 be­came the high­est-gross­ing doc­u­men­tary of all time and the high­est-gross­ing win­ner of the Palme d’Or (yes, it made more than Pulp Fic­tion). For a while, non-fic­tion films earned se­ri­ous coin. That doc boom hasn’t lasted. But he made a dif­fer­ence.

“I feel re­ally good about it,” he says. “I didn’t start out that way. I wanted to make a doc­u­men­tary that peo­ple would en­joy see­ing in the movie theatre – not medicine they felt forced to take.”

He goes on to pon­der the ab­sence of doc­u­men­taries on ur­gent cur­rent events and then veers to­wards a dif­fer­ent genre.

“There’s a film in the fes­ti­val called Rosie. Have you seen that?”

Paddy Breath­nach and Roddy Doyle’s drama about home­less­ness in Dublin? I have in­deed. I pass on my hearty rec­om­men­da­tion and Moore prom­ises that he will go and see it that even­ing. He’s never been shy about ac­knowl­edg­ing his Ir­ish­ness. I mean, just look at the man. Where else could the an­ces­tors have come from?

“Well, look. As Ir­ish peo­ple, we’ve been through a fairly dark time,” he chor­tles. “Along the way, we de­vel­oped a de­cent sense of hu­mour. And we were pro­hib­ited by the re­li­gion we were raised in from just end­ing it all. We have to go to the end of our nat­u­ral lives.”

He’s perked up now. The damp has been shaken from his bones.

“The only way to make it there is with a dark sense of hu­mour – and a pint of Guin­ness when­ever pos­si­ble.”

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: CHAD BATKA/THE NEW YORK TIMES; NOAM GALAI/GETTY IM­AGES; NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP

Left: Michael Moore - “If some­body is still for Trump af­ter all they’ve seen in the past two years, then they’re lost. You have to let them go.” Be­low: Moore with Don­ald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kush­ner, and mak­ing his voice heard out­side Trump Tower in New York City.

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