The problem with films like those we keep getting from Michael Moore is that they continue what is a very consistent theme found in popular liberal media; they are mostly good documentaries that do what they are intended to emotionally but which ultimately cannot break analytically from their base liberal moorings. Fahrenheit 11/9 is more of the same (and yes, I was tempted to say “Moore” of the same). It’s well done and gets at everyone on the acceptable political spectrum. It even has the standard Moore pranks and self-deprecating jokes. But it, as usual, feels like Moore is afraid of his own analysis and, therefore, he will not appropriately explore on film what appear to be his own genuine conclusions. Moore asks in his film, “what the fuck happened?” He then tells us and proceeds to ask us to do what he said got us here all over again.
Moore clearly sees himself as a common man but even as he admits, demonstrates, the popularity of some fairly basic “radical” ideas he never involves those who would best be able to discuss them, offer outlets for organizing around them or people who might have alternatives to what routinely fails to advance the very popular national will to redistribute the $18 trillion of GDP generated every year. What we get is more righteous anger with some tame and ineffective solutions offered by those with the same limited analyses of the situation.
Of course, Donald Trump is described in detail as he is in the film’s subtitle; a tyrant, a liar, and a racist. The Clintons get some of their own too for Bill’s earlier role in a political process that dragged the Democrats even more toward the Right and Hilary as the expected but undeserving and unprepared candidate unable to overcome the self-described “storm” of Trump. The increasing right-wing move of the DP, the imposition of Hilary over the primary victories of Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama‘s utter betrayal of the people of Flint, MI are all shown by Moore as some of what has led to a further weakening of the Democratic Party’s potential to represent the interests of the world’s majority (people of so-called “color,” women and the poor).
Moore goes on to comedically and with sound historical substance compare this moment to pre-Hitler Germany, not, as he has said, as much from the perspective that Donald is Adolph but more that the American public are the liberal Germans, and Jews, who were certain their Constitution and Democracy (both of which seem stronger than present-day USA) would protect them. It’s a compelling argument.
Where viewers of films like these are cheated is in the perpetual absence of people or ideas that would come from the political Left of the filmmakers. Those liberal binds cannot be easily broken and definitely not in anything that attempts distribution to a mass audience. So, once again, Moore raises important questions about capitalism, racism, corporate dominance over entertainment, news and politics. He even does more than most to show the Democratic Party as complicit in destroying its most progressive candidate in Bernie Sanders, and that party’s tradition of abandoning any tendency in its ranks to move truly Leftward, and how Obama is what many of us said he would be long before-hand; nothing different.
But, as has he has done with all of his films and is done all the time with similarly situated media product, Moore sheds no light on ideas or people or movements or political parties that come or operate from his left. He will go to “Middle America” and the Deep South and speak with all manner of people to his Right. He will include the ideas and analyses of virulent racists, politicians, police officials, the corporate elite and even in this film makes fun of himself for doing so. He admits that Democrats and the liberals are cowards, soft, routinely punked and unwilling to fight. Even when he talks to Sanders, its brief, not about his politics (whose own definition of or description as Left still deserves real discussion) but to more or less praise him and then show him capitulate beneath the will of his Democratic Party Super Delegates’ pre-determined selection of Hilary Clinton. Here I do think Moore deserves some credit for at least showing how the DNC lied about its own party’s votes and suppressed a Sanders victory though even this makes my point.
Instead of taking us Leftward from that critique Moore has to discuss the handful of “new Democrats” coming to take over the party and lead the country to a new day. He did this with Capitalism: A Love Story (2009) too. After appropriately demonstrating all film long how capitalism is simply monstrous he ends the film suggesting Obama’s election was a progressive advance. And there too Moore also offered no analyses or discussion of anything or with anyone to his political left.
Finally, while Moore makes routine reference to racism and male dominance he repeats another liberal media cliche and speaks to Black victims of systemic abuse but to none when it comes to analysis or active response. Black women and men are consigned once more to the same media roles often assigned by even those proclaiming progressivism. In 11/9 Black people can again be seen explaining just how bad things are, crying over the deaths of loved ones, and being victimized by racist mobs. But overwhelmingly the historical explanations and prescriptions come from White men and women and all pointing invariably back to the hopefulness of new Democrats.
These are limitations which need to be challenged. Moore, for instance, praises the students of Parkland high school for organizing on their own enormous national rallies. But these are young people in the 21st century, adept at party and event planning who like most of us are not so adept at political education or organization. They/we need more media which offer a broader range of radical ideas and exposes future activists more fully to revolutionary traditions kept from them, from us. Moore shows, for another example, that young people – well over 50% – want something other than capitalism but never interviews or discusses with those to his left what those options might look like or where these young people might go to learn more about what they might do better than we have to implement those alternatives. Bernie Sanders may have popularized the word “socialism” but not so much its substantive discussion. Moore has made countless films in which he is loudly critical of capitalism but I am unaware of even one discussion in any of them with anyone to his left about alternatives and how to end up with any of them. All solutions seemingly point back only to supporting another Democrat or engaging in a sometimes funny but politically useless stunt of some kind.
So “what the fuck happened?” Exactly what Moore both says and has done in 11/9: a disorganized Left predicably dissipated into a fraudulent Democratic Party which itself is beholden to the very sources of power hoped to be overthrown by its supporters and to which party leadership has already given itself. But Moore is right in at least one thing; this pattern of behavior will definitely lead us to something worse.