Three months ago Michael Moore predicted the end of the world. Specifically, the election of Donald Trump. “I lived in Michigan. And let me tell you,” the veteran firebrand said, “it’s gonna be the Brexit strategy.”
Now the filmmaker, who looks increasingly like a middle-aged Eric Cartman crossed with Garth from Wayne’s World, has launched a surprise ad hoc documentary campaigning for a Hillary Clinton presidency.
Michael Moore in Trumpland, released on iTunes, is a one-man show (with a few pre-recorded interstitial segments) filmed in a theatre in front of a live audience. It’s a little like Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, though the portly provocateur’s yak fest is more like politically-themed stand-up than a keynote presentation.
With giant photographs of a young Clinton adorning the wall behind him, Moore says he wants to make Trump supporters feel welcome. Then zing! he announces – cut to camera B – the Mexicans are upstairs. So too are the Muslims. A drone is deployed to watch them.
Moore then declares, again with faux earnestness, he wants to meet Trump voters halfway. Put your hand up if you don’t agree with gay marriage, he says. A couple of people put their hands up. Zing! “So don’t get gay married.” Surprise surprise, people aren’t that keen to keep putting their hands up.
The filmmaker pretends the Trumpland evening (weird title given Trump barely gets a mention) is going to be an empathetic, non-degrading affair. Of course that is not true. There is a one-note humour that washes through all of this. The joke is that if you support Trump, you are an idiot. And possibly a bigot.
The golden rule drilled into the heads of aspiring magicians is that it’s OK to fool people, but it’s not OK to make people feel like fools. Moore’s logic swings in a different direction. If he perceives you to be an idiot, you deserve to be made to look like one.
There’s an obvious issue with this approach, and it’s usually called “preaching to the converted”. In Moore’s perhaps those words need to change: “turning people into a punch line for the converted”.
Trumpland comes with a sense everybody – including Michael Moore – is getting burned.
If a person he interacts with does not support gay marriage, Moore would prefer to deliver a zinger (in front of as large an audience as possible) than listen to why. It’s nothing if not a fight-fire-with-fire approach. And like some of the filmmaker’s other work, Trumpland comes with a sense everybody – including Michael Moore – is getting burned.
You could argue Moore is part of the problem when it comes to rough-and-tumble political debate. In the eyes of Trump supporters, he’s just another artsy-fartsy lefty who thinks he’s better than them. And this is a guy who’s never once come home from a long, hard, honest day’s work.
These are not my views, but you can see how Moore might bring them out. He draws his version of pitchforks; the opposing side draws theirs. The reason Bowling for Columbine is his best film is in part because it never surrenders a genuine moral high ground, even when the director blatantly cherry picks information.
He’s not able to pull that off in Trumpland. Moore gets up to respond to comments from the audience, stand up style, about any objections they have of Clinton. When he passionately rebukes all of them, it’s as if the man’s opinions are up for grabs depending on the political situation at hand. I don’t recall a single criticism made of Clinton. And this is from a guy who says he actually voted for Bernie Sanders.
Whatever you think of his style, Moore sees the forest for the trees. He’s copped and thrown enough shit over the years to have reason to feel cynical. Perhaps he thinks if he says anything negative about Clinton, conservative media with report that and only that. Perhaps he thinks the Democrats simply need to win this election and doesn’t want to over complicate the message.
Given most of us can actually, feasibly imagine the end of the world with Donald Trump as US President, it’s hard to completely discredit this logic. But if that means-justify-ends rationale sets a pattern for how to construct arguments about important issues, and that pattern is maintained over a course of decades, you can cross the line into something much worse than simply not telling the whole truth: intellectual dishonesty.
Nobody can say exactly where that line is, but Moore probably crossed it a long time ago. Perhaps his fire-with-fire approach will help America, persuading swinging voters and disenfranchised Sanders supporters to back Clinton and therefore, worthwhile in the scheme of things. Documentary ethics can be tricky at the best of times. More so when Armageddon is on the mind.