Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Where Michael Moore Dares to Venture

Like many, I have snapped up Trump tell-all books such as Michael Wolffe's "Fire and Fury," Isikoff and Corn's "Russian Roulette," and Bob Woodward's "Fear: Trump in the White House." I've also twice watched Jack Bryan's excellent documentary, "Active Measures." The books focus on Trump's election and his dysfunctional White House. Active Measures is a fine chronicle of Trump's 30 year history with Russian mobsters. They all have their place.

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.


the salamander said...

.. your last 1/2 dozen or so essays have left me scrambling Mound.. I was worried when Lorne at Politics & Discontent expressed his uncertainty and concern, even despair for the future, several months ago (and he's not alone). I hold to my 'truths' or beliefs.. even optimism, but observations & feelings are what they are. And currently I aint feeling optimistic at all. Recent posts of the Indy Bloggers noting events and impending events or developments have me looking to rewire or reorganize how I see our incredibly shrinking world.. ie what I consider to be 'fact' - or what is optimistic fiction. What is doable ? Attainable ? Should we sell the farm ?

I remember waking up and hearing Stephen Harper had a majority government.. and I remember watching Trump collect the Presidency. I knew immediately in both instances, that in the short term and near future, the Environment of North America was screwed. And that meant Habitat and Species.. rivers, forests, the very air, the marine coastlines.. I just didn't see the juggernaught coming. Uh, overpopulation, poverty & misery) on one hand and despicable greed (the One %) on the other hand -- Twin planet and civilization killers.

I still maintain that politics and its parasitic political parties have become a veritable septic tank.. so why would they respect the Environment? They've adapted to thrive as litiginous parasites (probably 98% of them, anyway) who now tell us who we may vote for... and in the USA they even decide who can vote - often based on skin color. Much like you are indicating.. I am looking more at root cause for root solution, not at individual losers. Brave New World ? Where is my 'Upside Of Down' - Mound ? Are we headed for The Thunderdome.. or The Hunger Games ? Or Lord Of The Flies ?

Right now I feel like doing an extended 'Travels With Charlie' a la John Steinbeck. A 1 ton pickup with camper back.. and go coast to coast of Canada, starting in the east and following the sun.. westward ho ! Maybe somewhere goin down the road to Tofino and a clam chowder.. I'll regain some trust that there's hope for Canada and Canadians.. I sure aint gettin it from government.. quite the opposite in fact

The Mound of Sound said...

The pickup and camper journey sounds idylic, Sal. Best wait for late Spring.

As we approach 2019 I'm feeling a lot like you are. We know what's coming but we don't know how rapidly. Meanwhile our governments have turned their backs on us.

It still makes me furious to recall Morneau telling Canadians that they've been consigned to a future of "job churn" and had best adjust to it. What a thing for a rich man to say to the plebs and with JT's blessing.

Those two plus Christy Clark, Notley and Kenney, Wall and Moe and now Ontario's Ford are all weakening my sense of belonging to this nation. We're not being governed. We're being ruled. We're not being led. We're being herded. That is the real and disgusting face of neoliberalism and it makes me want to puke.

Anonymous said...

Oh my......such a conundrum that just makes the heart sink. Sal, do go to Newfoundland and take a good look at the Atlantic Ocean. Anyong

the salamander said...

.. thanks Anyong.. I would likely start on Newfoundland's south coast - Grand Banks area.. without a doubt at Isle Aux Morts - Isle Of The Dead.. but that big rock & Labrador needs a 2nd lifetime I aint got to really 'experience' - I just grabbed several 'tastes' and somehow I would also have to hit Cape Breton Island which has denied me several times, socked in by fog. Rest o th Maritimes have been truly kind to me & mine.. Hell, the wooden ships my Irish ancestors arrived on were lucky.. so perhaps Mound is right.. late spring departure ('late spring' to me is weather dependant) as if Newfoundland weather was ever 'dependable' ! But my reference point for 'late spring' is always when I can get a seed drill for corn or mixed grain onto the bottom lands.. and my boots aint squelching if I check the lower hay or clover fields. The rest I know so well, the run up n over the Great Lakes, on to Manitoba (can I squeeze in Manitoulin Island ?) then on into pronghorn country.. where the tall grain elevators use to roam.. and halleluja.. ! Is that the Alberta Foothills looming afore the mighty Rockies ? On into Banff National without delay.. I can hide in there.. do Sentinal Pass if the legs say OK ! Overnight camp Valley Of the Ten Peaks & listen to the minor ice falls all round.. hope no bears want our chocolate or brandy or a dogmfor dessert. Never dawdle - its on to beautiful BC, clear Roger's Pass & downhill to Van. I always do a wicked roller blade blast around English Bay or walk it when lame.. but soon the ferry calls and off to The Island.. mucho memories there. But the goal line is always the clam chowder in Tofino.. and following day is Long Beach, Pacific Ocean (toes in the water freezing).. & consider the great country where I started off at the Atlantic Ocean looking east

The journey (OK.. The Adventure) should be a Canadian right of passage.. I've done it dozens of times, train, hitch, bus, jet, drive.. & it never ceases to astonish me.. I could (and may yet) fill books with the rich experiences across the great land.. OK, there were a few scary ones too ! Like upside down in a ditch near Lake Louise, Christmas Day.. But there was so much more - Klondike Days, Old Quebec City & Plains of Abraham, lobster roll in PEI, Fiddlehead Greens & Scallops roadside in NB, Fowl Supper or oxtails in Mennonite Country Ontario, stewed venison & fresh baked buns in Wawa, the quiet study of Manitobans after combining all day at supper - 11 PM supper ! Stampede time, Smoked Black Alaskan Cod in Ucluelet.. and the Rockies or Coastal Mountains where time stands still. Crazy country that just won't quit on you, endless variations

Owen Gray said...

I, too, find that I'm becoming increasingly pessimistic. But, if all I do is curse the darkness, I'll make no contribution to any solutions.

Danneau said...

I realized, in the course of a conversation with my stepson, that we're coming up on the decade anniversary of our attempt at creating some awareness and resilience for the crises that await us in our little valley just over the Hump from the Mound of Sound. Working through the tender ministrations of Rob Hopkins and Richard Heinberg, with a dose of Geoff Lawton and Paul Hawkens with a dash of Paul Wheaton and grounding in the writings of whatever progressive folk we can lay our hands on, we have arrived at some third-rate bike lanes, some food initiatives, many films screened, forums hosted, fair booths, discussions, attending meetings of groups somewhat tangentially connected to our central themes, but little practical penetration into the consciousness of the community. People don't want to know. I always had some quiet admiration for André Malraux, his adventuring spirit and his willingness to act in the spirit of hope while remaining profoundly pessimist in his inner self. I'm not sure how much more I'm willing to butt up against the wall of ignorance, often willing, and indifference. I'm old enough that I may miss the worst of what's just over the horizon, and I still have large stacks of unread books.

Dana said...

Owen, the time of solutions is long past. The time of adaptation planning is upon us. Unfortunately we're failing at that too.

"Fear no more the heat o’ th’ sun
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages.
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o’ th’ great;
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke.
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak.
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning flash,
Nor th’ all -dreaded-thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan.
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee and come to dust.

No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have,
And renownèd be thy grave!

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Troy said...

Trump, as some wag once described, is the real life equivalent of an internet troll. He doesn't believe in his own bullshit, but if it gets him ratings, he'll say and do it.

That he's under investigation? He'll probably come out of this if not clean then at least acceptably grubby. The lifetimer politicians in Washington probably can't even be bothered to take actual action against Trump. There'll be song and dance, and the sound of tremendous fury, but in the end... nothing of real substance. Trump is far too useful to be disposed of this soon. (On that note, Manafort probably receives a slap on the wrist for his part in the illegal use of campaign funds. And cockroaches... I meant business leaders will be outraged one of their own was treated so harshly by a federal prosecutor, and will lobby to have rules and regulations around campaign finance relaxed so this doesn't happen again.) And whatever Mueller does, nothing will actually invalidate Trump's election, because, again, Trump is too useful. There'll be hella accusations, innuendoes, and insinuations, but nothing really real. Trump impeached? Unlikely.

With Trump in office, it gives Democratic leadership a figure to point to, and state how changing leadership and policy now would be a grave mistake, "because look, it's Donald Trump in the West Wing. Do you want four more years of that hairpiece?" Honestly, I believe current Democratic leadership would prefer four more years of Trump in office than to concede any policy or political position to Democratic progressive grassroots. Look to the New York Democratic primary as an example of the lengths Democratic leadership will go to fight against change in their ranks. Cuomo outspent Nixon's campaign 10-1, and barely eked out a victory; it doesn't bode well for the current Democrats at all in any upcoming election, as Democratic leadership are a bunch of losers who are only interested in campaign donations and cushy jobs in finance when their revolving door stints in politics are finished. The upcoming mid-terms should be the Democrats to lose, and they probably will, because as stated, they're losers.

With Republicans... well, it's basically a lost cause. The old neo-conservatives seem to be busy trying to rehabilitate their images, and migrate to the Democratic Party to escape the Tea Party (ironically a creation of the neo-conservatives). Whatever arises out of that goddamned nuclear cesspool will probably come to dominate US politics if it ever mutates, grows legs, and starts walking. And whatever that creature is, I doubt it'll be good to be progressive, brown skinned, and outspoken in North America then. Time to brush up on a second-language.

There's opportunity for progressives to take down the neo-liberal leadership of the Democratic Party, but it involves getting down and dirty, and brawling like junkyard dogs in dark, dirty alleyways. It involves dragging down the neo-liberals into the wasteland of the neo-liberals own creation, and in the ensuing conflagration taking back everything that was ever taken from them in as nice as manner as those sort of circumstances will allow.

I honestly don't expect much though. The time to start doing that was twelve years ago, but Obama's presidency saved neo-liberalism... well, staved off its decline for another eight years. The Tea Party has too much of a head start.

Northern PoV said...

"Honestly, I believe current Democratic leadership would prefer four more years of Trump in office than to concede any policy or political position to Democratic progressive grassroots"

Yup. Right on Troy.

In Canada, the elite got behind Jr. when the Harper thugs became unacceptable and beyond redemption.

We are witnessing a single-term meltdown of Jr's regime:
trying to keep both his masters happy and retain a shred of electoral credibility is obviously well beyond his abilities. But the 'sheer' incompetence of the oppositions parties may get him past the fptp election that was never supposed to happen.

A ray of hope from the UK where Corbyn thrives against his own party's elite due to genuine grass roots support. Corbyn knows that a second referendum could help preserve the UK-Cons hold on power. (Killing brexit is like removing Trump ... removing the public irritant while carrying on biz-as-usual.) If he can provoke an election it is far better than another referendum.