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Laramie Movie Scope:
Fahrenheit 11/9

An argument for moving politics harder to the left

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 6, 2019 – According to Michael Moore, the situation in America is “Woe is US.” This is a real downer of a movie about the shortcomings of politics in America. It is about how the Democratic and Republican parties don't represent the voters, how the Electoral College doesn't reflect the popular vote, how money and media distort voter perceptions, but most of all, this movie focuses on the awful Flint, Michigan water crisis.

Although the movie starts off with the extremely improbable election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, a result that seemed to surprise Trump himself on election night (Moore even claims Trump's candidacy started off as a publicity stunt to prove Trump is more popular than singer Gwen Stefani) Moore quickly veers the film back to his home town of Flint, Michigan where he focuses on the truly appalling situation with its lead-contaminated water supply. How does this relate to the election of Trump? That is a stretch, but Moore tries to connect those two events.

The most effective part of the film has to do with how the Republican governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, declared emergencies in several Michigan cities and put his own appointees in power, including in Flint, where, in 2014, the water supply was switched from Lake Huron water to Flint River water during the construction of a new pipeline to Lake Huron. The city failed to apply corrosion inhibitors to the water, resulting in lead leaching into the water from old pipes. The result was a public health tragedy, the full extent of which may never be known.

Moore hits hard on the fact that Donald Trump, prior to his presidency, expressed his support for Snyder and his emergency powers in the state. No doubt that Moore would point out the similarity between Snyder's use of emergency powers and Donald Trump's threat to use emergency powers to build a wall on the southern border of the United States, if he were to make this film now.

Moore also hits President Barack Obama hard in this film, even though Moore personally likes him. The film is fiercely critical of Obama's response to the Flint water crisis. The film seems to imply that if Obama had taken decisive action to help the people of Flint, that might have helped to swing enough votes for Hillary Clinton to win Michigan in the 2016 presidential election. That is another tough sell, but the vote difference between Trump and Clinton in Michigan was very close.

Moore, who strongly favored presidential candidate Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, makes a big general argument of the fact that Sanders beat Clinton in the West Virgina primary, 51.41% to 35.84%, winning every single county in the state. Yet, at the Democratic convention, Clinton got one more delegate from West Virgina than Sanders did, 19 to 18. Clinton received the votes of all eight West Virginia uncommitted delegates in addition to the delegates she won in the primary election. The film's presentation makes it look like Sanders lost the Democratic Party's nomination for president because of a rigged system.

Moore also points out that in the 2016 presidential election, Clinton received 2.87 million more votes than Trump did (65,844,954, or 48.2% of the vote to Trump's 62,979,879, 46.1%). He argues strongly for the “One Person, One Vote” doctrine of electing candidates, and rails against the Electoral College as an unfair vestige of slavery, a provision in the U.S. Constitution made to appease the slave states.

Moore leaves out several important points in his one person one vote argument. If you add up all the votes in all the primary elections in 2016, Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by a bigger margin than she beat Trump. Clinton's vote total in all the 2016 primaries was 16,914,722, while Sanders had 13,206,428 votes. She beat him by 3,708,294 votes, a margin of 55.2 percent to 43.1 percent, according to Wikipedia. Clinton beat Sanders, despite the fact that the Russians, who were using cyber warfare to influence the 2016 presidential election, were supporting Sanders and attacking Clinton during the primary elections (according to the ongoing federal criminal investigations into the 2016 elections).

So if Moore really believes in one person, one vote, he should not be making it look like Bernie Sanders deserved the presidential nomination. Another thing he leaves out is that Sanders likely beat Clinton in the West Virginia primary because of Clinton's strong pro-renewable energy, anti-coal industry stance. Sanders, whose own views on coal were probably not as well known as those of Clinton and Obama, benefited from many Republican crossover votes in the primary, according to Wikipedia, which added, “Thirty-nine percent of Sanders voters stated they planned to vote for Donald Trump over Sanders in the November general election.”

There are other indicators that the West Virginia primary vote was anomalous. Sanders got an unusually large share of the moderate to conservative vote in that particular election, a group that voted strongly for Clinton and against Sanders in other primaries in the region, and in the South. This is also probably due to the coal issue. It appears that Trump, who is strongly pro-coal, would have easily beaten Sanders (had Sanders been the nominee) in the following presidential election contest in West Virgina.

This runs against one of Moore's contentions in the movie, that Americans are far more liberal than the politicians who represent them, based on polling data. But in the case of West Virginia, it appears that Bernie Sanders won the primary election, in part, because he was perceived as the more conservative candidate, at least when it comes to the coal industry.

Let's take a look at one example Moore gives, 70 percent of Americans support the single payer “Medicare for all” health care plan supported by some Democratic candidates for president. Public support depends on how you ask the question in the survey. If you ask the average voter if they support Medicare for all, but that you can also keep your current health care plan if you want to, support is at 74 percent. If you ask the same question, but add that private health care insurance will be eliminated, support drops into the 30 percent range, and gets even lower if you add that you'd have to pay higher taxes to cover the costs of the single-payer program.

Moore continues this my way or the highway approach to politics in his depiction of President Bill Clinton as a compromiser. He rails against political compromise as a fatal weakness of the Democratic Party, citing Clinton's support for mandatory criminal sentences, corporate deregulation and welfare reforms that increased poverty, as compromises that caused great harm to people in America.

Yet Moore supported Barack Obama in his run for president, despite the fact his whole approach to politics is based on compromise, the idea that Republicans and Democrats could work together in Congress to enact reasonable laws. It was not to be. Republicans refused to cooperate and compromise. Republicans stood firm, the Democrats, under Obama, did not fully use their power to accomplish much, and the Democratic majorities in the U.S. House and Senate were both swept away by Republican victories during Obama's eight years in office.

A good example of non-compromise are the so-called Tea Party Republicans in Congress, easily one of the least effective political movements (in terms of policy achievements) in recent years. The Tea Party was supposed to be fiscally responsible, yet were not able to halt huge increases in the federal budget deficit under Republican rule.

Obama's singular achievement, the Affordable Care Act, called Obamacare, was achieved without Republican support. In the film, Moore flatly says Obamacare is dead, but it is not. In fact, support for Obamacare helped fuel the biggest Congressional Democratic vote surge in U.S. history (exceeding the post-Watergate surge) just a month after this film was released in 2018. The Republicans were swept from power in the House in a landslide, and they would have lost the Senate, too, but the Senate election map was too strongly against the Democrats this time around.

The final part of the film is very dark. Moore strongly equates Trump with Adolph Hitler. He warns of the dangers posed by Trump's power grabs, his admiration of dictators like Putin, Kim Jong Un of North Korea and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. He equates the separation of immigrant children from their parents at the Mexican Border with the separation of Jewish children from their parents by German troops in World War II.

For a filmmaker with a reputation for humor, this film is not funny. It is depressing. I wonder if it would have been a bit lighter if he had made it after the 2018, Congressional elections instead of before. He portrays Democratic Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer as part of the problem, not the solution in the film. Does he still think this? One would think Pelosi's firm stance against Trump's “take it or leave it” border wall proposal, leading to the longest ever government shutdown, would meet Moore's approval.

It seems to me this film aged very quickly because of the November 6, 2018 elections, in which Michigan's Rick Snyder was replaced by a Democrat, by the way, one of many states where Democrats, many of them women, gained power. Maybe this film helped in those elections. At any rate, things have changed in America. Women, shocked by Hillary Clinton's loss, have found their voice and their power. I am a good deal more hopeful about America's future than I was when Trump was elected in 2016.

Maybe Michael Moore is right and we should despair about the future, but I believe in the resistance. I believe positive change has come and more of it is coming. Moore believes the Democratic establishment is way too conservative. Others think some of the Democrats elected in 2018 are too liberal. Others think a Bernie Sanders kind of candidate is a one-size-fits-all kind of solution. I think that is doubtful, since 54 percent of Democrats identify themselves as moderate or conservative.

I know we're probably never going to have national elections where qualifications and policies are more powerful than gut emotions, yet I am still more hopeful about the future than Michael Moore seems to be, and I would appreciate a less depressing film from him next time. This film rates a C.

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Copyright © 2019 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]