Michael Moore's new documentary, "Fahrenheit 11/9," is different. It explores who created the conditions that allowed an outlier/buffoon such as Trump to succeed to the presidency of the United States. It sounds pretty good and it even has Glenn Greenwald's nod of approval.
Trump himself is a secondary figure in Moore’s film, which is far more focused on the far more relevant and interesting questions of what – and, critically, who – created the climate in which someone like Trump could occupy the Oval Office.
For that reason alone, Moore’s film is highly worthwhile regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum. The single most significant defect in U.S. political discourse is the monomaniacal focus on Trump himself, as though he is the cause – rather than the by-product and symptom – of decades-old systemic American pathologies.
Personalizing and isolating Trump as the principal, even singular, source of political evil is obfuscating and thus deceitful. By effect, if not design, it distracts the population’s attention away from the actual architects of their plight.I think Greenwald is unfair. From my reading of those books I was not left with the impression that Trump is a singular source of political evil. If you wanted to reach that conclusion, as I suspect Greenwald did, then perhaps you could find it but that's not what I or I expect most readers would take from them. Yet using Moore to slam Wolffe, Corn and Isikoff and Woodward is an unhelpful diversion even if it does serve Greenwald's purposes.
This now-dominant framework misleads people into the nationalistic myth – at once both frightening and comforting – that prior to 2016’s “Fahrenheit 11/9,” the U.S., though quite imperfect and saddled with “flaws,” was nonetheless a fundamentally kind, benevolent, equitable and healthy democracy, one which, by aspiration if not always in action, welcomed immigrants, embraced diversity, strove for greater economic equality, sought to defend human rights against assaults by the world’s tyrants, was governed by the sturdy rule of law rather than the arbitrary whims of rulers, elected fundamentally decent even if ideologically misguided men to the White House, and gradually expanded rather than sadistically abolished opportunity for the world’s neediest.I'm not aware of many Americans more than 20-miles from Capitol Hill who, before Trump, believed that America was a "fundamentally kind, benevolent, equitable and healthy democracy." Therein lies Greenwald's straw man and the foundation of his argument.
The lie-fueled destruction of Vietnam and Iraq, the worldwide torture regime, the 2008 financial collapse and subsequent bailout and protection of those responsible for it, the foreign kidnapping and domestic rounding up of Muslims, the record-setting Obama-era deportations and whistleblower prosecutions, the obliteration of Yemen and Libya, the embrace of Mubarak, Sisi, and Saudi despots, the years of bipartisan subservience to Wall Street at everyone else’s expense, the full-scale immunity vested on all the elites responsible for all those crimes – it’s all blissfully washed away as we unite to commemorate the core decency of America as George Bush gently hands a piece of candy to Michelle Obama at the funeral of the American War Hero and Trump-opponent-in-words John S. McCain, or as hundreds of thousands of us re-tweet the latest bromide of Americana from the leaders of America’s most insidious security state, spy and police agencies.I didn't get the memo that any of these things had been "blissfully washed away" as Greenwald contends. To me, that's utter contrivance.
Resistance grifters exploit fears of Trump to build massive social media followings that are easily converted into profit from well-meaning, manipulated dupes. One rickety, unhinged, rant-filled, speculation-driven Trump book after the next dominates the best-seller lists, enriching charlatans and publishing companies alike: the more conspiratorial, the better. Anti-Trump mania is big business, and – as the record-shattering first-week sales of Bob Woodward’s new Trump book demonstrates – there is no end in sight to this profiteering.
The message is as clear as the beneficial outcomes: Just look only at Trump. Keep your eyes fixated on him. Direct all your suffering, deprivations, fears, resentments, anger and energy to him and him alone. By doing so, you’ll forget about us – except that we’ll join you in your Trump-centered crusade, even lead you in it, and you will learn again to love us: the real authors of your misery.
The overriding value of "Fahrenheit 11/9" is that it avoids – in fact, aggressively rejects – this ahistorical manipulation. Moore dutifully devotes a few minutes at the start of his film to Trump’s rise, and then asks the question that dominates the rest of it, the one the political and media establishment has steadfastly avoided examining except in the most superficial and self-protective ways: “how the fuck did this happen”?
...Moore could have easily made a film that just channeled and fueled standard anti-Trump fears and animus and – like the others who are doing that – made lots of money, been widely hailed, and won lots of accolades. He chose instead to dig deeper, to be more honest, to take the harder route, and deserves real credit for that.
He did that, it seems clear, because he knows that the only way to move forward is not just to reject right-wing demagoguery but also the sham that masquerades as its #Resistance. As Moore himself put it: “sometimes it takes a Donald Trump to get us to realize that we have to get rid of the whole rotten system that gave us Trump.”
That’s exactly the truth that the guardians of that “whole rotten system” want most to conceal. Moore’s film is devoted, at its core, to unearthing it. That’s why, despite its flaws, some of them serious ones, the film deserves wide attention and discussion among everyone across the political spectrum.