This latest offering from documentary filmmaker Michael Moore looks at the election of Donald Trump as president and asks the question: How the hell did that happen?
He says that the precursor to Trump was Rick Snyder who, a businessman with no political experience who won the Michigan governorship in 2010 on promises much like Trump’s, that his background in business was what the state needed. He then proceeded to run the state for the benefit of the wealthy, gutting democracy by putting major cities in the state under a state of emergency and installing how own people as administrators to run them, sidelining the local elected officials.
The Flint water crisis was due to the decision of the administrator backed by Snyder to replace a clean source of city water taken from Lake Michigan with water from a filthy local river, supposedly just to save a little money. This is the kind of thing that would never even be contemplated if the city involved were not largely poor and minority. The result was highly elevated levels of lead in children and widespread sickness in the general population. Because the city was poor, their needs and complaints were treated lightly. That is the kind of criminal negligence that in any just society would have seen the people responsible go to jail. But not in the US, the so-called ‘world’s greatest democracy’ that ‘upholds the rule of law’. Here, the wealthy and powerful are special and have immunity and the laws apply only to the rest of us.
Moore does not spare the Democratic party establishment, taking to task Barack Obama, then president. Obama dramatically came to Flint on Air Force One and drove into town in his impressive motorcade. The people there were ecstatic, expecting him to save them from their water problems by declaring a state of emergency and using the Army Corps of engineers to fix the problem. Instead, his visit was nothing more than a shameful do-nothing photo op in which he gave a platitudinous speech and pretended to drink the water, a stunt that everyone saw thorough. Moore said that the people there were utterly disgusted and that in Flint alone, 8,000 people who voted for Obama twice did not vote in 2016. Trump won the state by less than 11,000 votes. He says that from the time of Bill Clinton, the Democratic party adopted the strategy of being Republican-lite and has suffered for it and that is why he saw the Trump victory coming before many others did.
One thing that shocked me that I had not been aware of was that without notifying the residents of Flint in advance, the US military suddenly unleashed an assault using the city as training ground for its forces to conduct an urban military training exercise. In the middle of the night, residents were suddenly woken by what seemed like an invasion, with attack helicopters, bombs exploding abandoned buildings, missiles flying everywhere, and gunfire all around. One shaken resident warned that people elsewhere had better take note that this could happen to any city. But she is wrong. This kind of thing would never be done to a neighborhood that was wealthy. That is not how the ‘world’s greatest democracy’ rolls.
I have spent most time in this review on the coverage of Flint (Moore’s hometown) but the film is far more than that. The story of Flint is depressing and infuriating but overall the film actually is positive and hopeful. Moore looks at successful teachers’ strikes around the country, the activism of young people on climate change and gun control, and the rise of young, progressive candidates for elected office. Although filmed in the summer before the 2018 election, he pointed to candidates like Alexandria- Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib in Michigan, and Richard Ojeda in West Virginia as harbingers of a new energy that seeks to break the party establishment away from the stranglehold of neoliberal thinking. I had not known until seeing the film that Tlaib had, along with several other women, been thrown out of a Trump rally during the 2016 campaign for protesting.
Here’s the trailer. The trailer is not very good and the film is far better than it suggests and well worth seeing.