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Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics

Still from “Fahrenheit 11/9.”

Michael Moore fans will be happy to hear that “Fahrenheit 11/9”, which opens today at theaters everywhere, is his best film in years, even in spots achieving the brilliance of “Roger and Me”. As pure entertainment, it is on a par with the best of Saturday Night Live, the Stephen Colbert show or any other pop culture attempts to rally people against Donald Trump even if it is unlikely that any such comedy so wedded to the Democratic Party will have any effect.

The film is a blunderbuss attack on the Trump administration and the Democratic Party establishment that includes Bill and Hillary Clinton. Even Barack Obama gets the Michael Moore treatment in an obvious display of buyer’s remorse. If you’ve seen the 2009 “Capitalism, a Love Story”, you might recall that the film portrays him as a knight in shining armor. Two days after Obama was elected for his first term Moore said, “The Republicans aren’t kidding when they say he’s the ‘most liberal’ member of the Senate. … He is our best possible chance to step back from the edge of the cliff.” In keeping with the general drift of the left, Moore now regards him as a total sell-out. In a lengthy segment on the Flint water crisis, we see Obama as a total jack-ass making a “joke” at a mass meeting of parents worried sick about their children’s health by asking for a glass of water. He repeats this stunt at another meeting with doctors and community leaders.

For Moore, the original sin was Bill Clinton becoming the equivalent of a moderate Republican in his first term. Since organized labor was not as powerful as it was in the past, especially in places like Moore’s hometown Flint, Clinton decided to cater to big business that would provide the necessary funding for him to be elected and then re-elected. This meant putting an end to Glass-Steagall, Aid to Families with Dependent Children and other policies falling under the rubric of neo-liberalism.

Obama maintained these policies, especially by bailing out “too big to fail” banks and even introducing a de facto nativist immigration program that provided a precedent for Trump’s vicious attacks on refugees from war in the Middle East and from economic misery in the Americas.

The film begins with a scathing look inside the arena where Hillary Clinton and her supporters gathered on election night. Everybody was convinced that predictions from CNN, MSNBC and other nominally liberal outlets would hold true, namely that she would be the next president. When the networks announced around 3 am that Trump had been elected, everybody wanted to know what happened.

To a large extent, “Fahrenheit 11/9” is an attempt to answer that question.

To start with, Moore—a master at getting noticed on television—makes the case that these very same liberal TV stations who predicted her victory were instrumental in providing the free airtime for Trump that was instrumental for his victory. Why? Because it benefited their bottom line. We hear network executives admitting as much in interviews that, like everything else in the film, reflect an assiduous and sharp excavation of archival material that allows the powerful and the wealthy to hang themselves on their own petard.

Another factor was sexism. You see various big-time TV talk show hosts holding Clinton’s feet to the fire over her use of a personal email server, each and every one of them subsequently fired for sexual harassment (Charlie Rose, Matt Laurer, et al).

But fundamentally, it was her commitment to the same policies her husband and Barack Obama carried out that was responsible for her defeat. We see Donald Trump demagogically referring to her speeches at Goldman-Sachs et al as proof that she is serving Wall Street interests as well as the gruesome spectacle of her embracing Henry Kissinger.

There is thankfully an alternative to the dead end of Republican Party neo-fascism and the Democratic Party business as usual policies that allowed Trump to become president. That is a new set of men and women in shining armor who are garnering the same sort of adulation Obama received in 2007, namely Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We see Ocasio-Cortez going door to door handing out campaign literature as well as hear from another “insurgent” Democrat in West Virginia named Richard Ojeda who looks like a Mixed Martial Arts fighter. Ojeda is just Moore’s kind of guy, an army veteran fed up with the suffering he sees all around him in Logan County.

Moore is also inspired by the teachers of West Virginia whose wildcat strike demonstrated a combative mood that combined with electoral victories by the new Democratic Party insurgents like Ocasio-Cortez and Ojeda can transform the country. Unlike Sanders and the DSA, Moore does not name capitalism as the enemy, however. Nor does he recommend socialism as a solution to America’s problems even though his 2015 “Where to Invade Next” was a panegyric to Western European countries with strong social democratic institutions and parties.

Leaving aside Moore’s failure to identify the source of our problems, the film is worth seeing as pure entertainment of the sort you can see nightly on Stephen Colbert, the Comedy Channel, HBO, Showtime et al. One doubts that anybody watching Sacha Baron Cohen punk a disgusting Republican Party politician will take the next step and begin studying Marx’s Capital but you do get some satisfaction out of some idiot walking backwards while bearing his buttocks as a way of fending off terrorists.

In fact, Moore is so entertaining that his fans include Steve Bannon and Donald Trump. We hear from Bannon in the film describing Moore as a great talent, great enough for him to have become the distributor of one of his documentaries in a deal with the disgraced and bankrupt Weinstein company that produced Moore’s documentaries. As for Trump, he and Moore were scheduled to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show one afternoon but when Trump learned that he was to face him off, he demanded that the conversation remain non-confrontational. You see footage of the show’s producer taking Moore aside and getting him to agree to “cool it”. Eager not to ruin his chance of future bookings (my interpretation), Moore played nice guy, a decision he now rues.

Like Bernie Sanders, Michael Moore enjoys being in the limelight. Yesterday, I heard him on Morning Joe taking part in the 24/7 gabfest on MSNBC about the threat that Donald Trump poses to our democracy. It seems that he is agitated over the president’s Tweet: “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”

Moore emphasized the seriousness of this threat. “This is NBC, not somebody selling a socialist rag at the front gate of Columbia University.” This for me epitomized the terrible failure of America’s best-known liberal filmmaker to understand the nature of the period we are living in. Despite the prominence of NBC and the obscurity of a socialist newspaper, it is the solution proposed by socialist newspapers that can stop the fascist threat posed by the Trump administration.

The final fifteen minutes or so of “Fahrenheit 11/9” is devoted to making the case that Donald Trump will be the American Hitler unless we take action to stop him in his tracks. Moore recounts the history leading up to Hitler taking power that in his mind can be repeated in the USA unless we gird our loins and be prepared for a great struggle. What that great struggle amounts to except electing people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Richard Ojeda is never articulated.

In the hopes of alerting Americans to the fascist threat, Moore superimposes the words of Donald Trump over footage of Adolf Hitler at a mass rally. While I understand Moore’s frantic efforts to warn the world that we are in danger of a Reichstag Fire-type “false flag” that can lead to Donald Trump assuming dictatorial powers, perhaps what is needed more is a dispassionate analysis of how the Nazi party became powerful enough to be in a position to carry out a coup in 1932.

Like the Democratic Party, the German Socialists cut deals with the opposition rightwing parties to stay in power. In effect, they were the Clinton and Obamas of their day. In 1928, the Socialists were part of a coalition government that allowed the SP Chancellor Hermann Müller to carry out what amounted to the same kind of sell-out policies that characterized Tony Blair and Bernard Hollande’s nominally working-class governments.

To give just one example, the SP’s campaign program included free school meals but when Müller’s rightwing coalition partners demanded that the free meals be abandoned in order to fund rearmament, Müller caved in.

Another example was his failure to tackle the horrible impact of the worldwide depression. When there was a crying need to pay benefits to the unemployed, whose numbers had reached 3 million, Müller was unable to persuade his rightwing partners to provide the necessary funding. Their answer was to cut taxes. If this sounds like exactly the nonsense we have been going through with the Clinton and Obama administrations (and a new go-round with Mrs. Clinton), you are exactly right. The German SP had zero interest in confronting the capitalist class. That task logically belonged to the Communists but the ultra-left lunacy mandated by Joseph Stalin made the party ineffective—or worse. When workers grew increasingly angry at SP ineptitude, it is no surprise that the most backward layers gravitated to Hitler.

The ineffectiveness of the Müller government led to a political crisis and its replacement by Heinrich Brüning’s Center Party. Brüning then rolled back all wage and salary increases as part of a Herbert Hoover type economic strategy. Needless to say, this led to only a deepening of the economic crisis and political turmoil. Eventually, Brüning stepped down and allowed President Paul von Hindenburg to take over. And not long after he took over, he succumbed to Nazi pressure (like knocking down an open door) and allowed Hitler to become Chancellor.

Can we expect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to be more like Rosa Luxemburg, as the DSA would have you believe, or like Hermann Müller? The jury is still out.

When she was on Jake Tapper’s show on CNN the other day, the host grilled her about how she would come up with the forty trillion dollars needed to fund Medicare for all, housing as a federal right, a federal jobs guarantee, tuition-free public college, and canceling all student loan debt.

She hemmed and hawed in her reply to the point that Tapper told her that he was assuming that he was not going to get an answer. Instead of her saying something as mealy-mouthed as this: “And, additionally, what this is, is a broader agenda. We do know and we acknowledge that there are political realities. They don’t always happen with just the wave of a wand. But we can work to make these things happen.”

In 1968, I was selling subscriptions to a “socialist rag” door-to-door in Columbia University before the sit-in began. I was also supporting the candidacy of Fred Halstead and Paul Boutelle who if given the opportunity to be interviewed on CNN would have said something like this. “To fund these badly needed programs, we have to start with closing every single military base in the world starting with South Korea. Why are we still formally at war with a country that only resorted to a nuclear defense program to ward off an attack by the USA? The Senate just passed a bill that provides the military with $716 billion for 2019. That should be cut by 90 percent at least. We would also re-introduce progressive taxation measures that would not only be in line with the 90 percent under Eisenhower but exceed it. We would also make sure that Apple and other corporations could not use tax havens in Ireland or Caribbean islands anymore.”

However, this would mark her as a flaky radical that would be an unreliable ally in Congress. What is needed now, according to leading Democrats, is a common sense, progressive, pragmatic approach of the sort Andrew Cuomo prescribed in a press conference after he defeated Cynthia Nixon by 30 points. He wrote off people like Ocasio-Cortez as a “ripple” in the Democratic Party and whose electoral victory in Queens was a “fluke”.

Oh, did I mention what she told Jake Tapper when asked about her attitude toward the corrupt and neo-liberal Governor who just treated her like dirt? “And what I also look forward to moving forward is us rallying behind all Democratic nominees, including the governor, to make sure that he wins in November.” If she is okay with Cuomo, how can we expect her not to urge a vote for Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg or even John Kerry in the next election? After all, even if it was this type of politician that greased the skids for Hitler in the late 1920s, it is much more “practical” than calling for socialist revolution.

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Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.org and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

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