Millions of words have been written about how and why Donald Trump became the forty-fifth President of the United States. In “Fahrenheit 11/9,” his new documentary, Michael Moore has a new theory. He boils it down to three words: Blame Gwen Stefani.
Moore suggests that when Trump found out that Stefani was making more money as a judge on “The Voice” than he was as host of “The Apprentice” he cooked up a false run-for-president announcement to show the bosses at NBC how popular he was. The plan backfired. NBC fired him but Trump’s sons encouraged him to go ahead with two rallies he already had planned. The turnout at the gatherings convinced the real estate tycoon he could be “king of the world” and the race for the White House was on. The media bought in lock, stock and barrel. Especially NBC who didn’t think Trump would win, but at least they could now put him on TV for free.
“It may not be good for America,” says now disgraced CBS executive Les Moonves, “but it is great for CBS.”
From there the film takes the expected jabs at Trump, complete with the usual Moore flourishes. There’s a thumb-wagging montage of Ivanka sitting on her father’s lap—“If Ivanka wasn’t my daughter,” says Trump, “I’d be dating her.”—and archival footage of Hitler dubbed with Trump’s voice, but here the left-wing filmmaker does an equal opportunity smear job.
Moore is a singular voice, unapologetically on the left but here he criticizes sacred left-wing icons like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama (“The worst thing Obama did was pave the way for Donald Trump.”) and paints the Democrats as an out of touch group of elites who may only be saved by young, insurgent candidates like Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
He even takes a job or two at himself. He admits he has been in the enemy camp. Jared Kushner once threw him a party. Steve Bannon released the “Sicko” movie on DVD and Kellyanne Conway snuggles him in some cell phone footage.
Mostly Moore sews together a patchwork quilt of political woes. He dives deep into the case Michigan governor Rick Snyder, the man he says is responsible for the poison water in Flint, Michigan. He goes as far as to say Snyder has bested the terrorists. “No terrorist organization has ever figured out how to poison an entire American city.” He uses the Flint water supply crisis as a microcosm of what is wrong with the system.
He makes a case against the Electoral College, “the last vestige of the constitution written to appease the slave states 200 years ago,“ and details how Bernie Sanders was swindled out of a nomination in state after state by the use of super delegates.
Frankly he hasn’t uncovered much that is new, he just presents it differently than everybody else. His brilliance is in creating pop-culture pastiches with a flood of news clips, archival print material and voiceovers that drives his points home. It’s not all style and eye candy, however. “Fahrenheit 11/9” is a look at why men like Trump and Snyder thrive on power; about how corporations have infiltrated politics and how the future is based in the kind of resistance championed by Parkland shooting survivors Emma González. “It doesn’t need to be like this,” Moore says in voiceover during a montage of modern misery, “and it still doesn’t. We don’t need comfort. We need action.”
Is heavy-handed? Yes. Of course it is; it’s Michael Moore. Is it effective? Yes. It’s a dissertation on where we are and where we are headed, for better and for worse.