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Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018) directed by Michael Moore

The rise of Trumpism

On the 9th of November 2016, the United States - along with the rest of the world - watched in disbelief as they found out that their 45th president was going to be Donald Trump. Liberal documentary filmmaker Michael Moore asks “how the fuck did we get here?” as a racist, misogynistic populist bearing the slogan “Make America Great Again” swept to power against the odds.

Along the way, he examines the devastating water crisis which occurred in his own hometown of Flint, Michigan and the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida. He also takes a look at how a severely backsliding political system has both emboldened the far right and, in turn, is spurring ordinary Americans to take radical and inspiring steps in their endeavours to make their voices heard and hopefully, in time, start to reform it.

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On-the-nose… but also eye-opening

The election of Donald Trump to the White House is, without a doubt, one of the most contentious talking points of recent global political history. His “man of the people” approach and outright thuggish remarks in connection with all and sundry, be they Mexicans, Muslims or the free press, has won him widespread condemnation as well as a frightening number of devoted followers. His position at the head of the world’s largest and most important Western economy is a truly ominous prospect and, while not yet comparable to the darkest years of Nazi Germany, certainly has the potential to go that way.

As Michael Moore points out, in this typically manipulative yet undeniably eye-opening documentary, this didn’t happen for no reason. However, while he does very briefly point one finger at Russia during the opening salvo, he spends most of the time targeting a much deeper malaise within the United States political establishments. Moreover, he observes that it’s one which falls on both sides of the political divide, i.e. the Republicans and the Democrats.

The most resonant and shocking part of the story is when he takes a lengthy look at the Flint water crisis. Republican Governor Rick Snyder was involved in changing Flint’s main water source from Lake Huron (one of the largest expanses of fresh water on the planet) to the heavily contaminated Flint River. While an entirely unnecessary exercise as far as the general population was concerned, it provided a way for various corporate interests to make an easy buck via the requisite construction work. Cue many cases of children suffering from lead contamination-related ailments and a number of adults perishing from Legionnaires' disease. Far from taking any practical steps to remedy the issue, however, the local establishment has simply moved to deny and cover up any culpability.

Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 11/9

How does this link in with Donald Trump, do you ask? Well, firstly the pure callousness and immorality of Snyder’s actions may have, in turn, emboldened Trump to carry out the same on a larger scale. Secondly (and here is one of the numerous occasions when Moore reserves harsh criticism for the Democratic Party), then-president Barack Obama made only the most token of gestures of concern when he pretended to drink a glass of local water in front of a whole hall full of disillusioned residents.

Two bad sides of the same coin

Here, the Democratic Party is shown to be as corrupt, unscrupulous and in thrall to big business as the Republicans which they are so quick to condemn for the same (lack of) values. In a number of states where the genuinely left-wing reformist Bernie Sanders won the Democratic presidential primaries, the results were deliberately rigged to favour the more palatably pandering Hilary Clinton. When the people’s voices aren’t properly heard (which was certainly the case here), they feel disenfranchised. When they feel disenfranchised, the conditions are ripe for a populist leader who operates by creating easy solutions via pointing the finger of blame at other equally disenfranchised groups. As such, a cycle of history seen all-too-clearly in Nazi Germany repeats itself.

This would all be too despair-inducing if it weren’t for the fact that there are a number of bold men and women attempting to shake things up from the grassroots. It is at these points when the documentary is at its most moving and inspiring. Whether it’s the huge March for Our Lives protests which came about in the wake of the 2018 Florida school shootings, or an activist interviewed by Moore who is attempting to reclaim the word “redneck” from its modern negative connotations (it was originally coined in 1920 as a slang for striking coal miners who wore red bandannas around their neck as a display of solidarity), we see a glimmer of hope in people turning the tide around from the ground up. However, there’s still evidently a long way to go and part of the overall message here is one that people need to be spurred into action.

As wholly commendable as Moore’s documentary is, however, he occasionally indulges his tendencies to be a bit too on-the-nose. The most noticeable example of this is when he dubs a Donald Trump speech over archive footage of an Adolf Hitler rally. Ironically, while Moore’s politics are more or less the polar opposite of Trump’s, he has a similar aptitude for unsubtle propagandising. In a sense, one can argue that he is merely preaching to the converted. On the other hand, he is unlikely to win over those who lean much further to the right than he does because he so transparently splices and moulds his raw material to fit his (granted, largely noble) agenda.

Misgivings aside, however, Fahrenheit 11/9 is a chillingly confirmatory cementation of what has gone wrong with the United States (and, by extension, much of the rest of the world) today. Most tellingly, since filming wrapped, events have played out further in terms of both the Trump-fuelled horror show and the grassroots response. On one hand, a number of highly-publicised far-right terrorist incidents have occurred on American soil. On the other, a promising number of young women of varying ethnicities (including Puerto Rican Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is interviewed here) were elected to Democratic seats in the 2018 Midterms. The battleground still remains very much active and, while some small hopeful pushes forward have been taken, the threat of a very bleak future indeed has yet to be staved off.

Runtime: 128 mins

Dir: Michael Moore

Script: Michael Moore

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

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