Michael Moore’s 2018 anti-Trump jeremiad serves as a warning to the hysterical purveyors of pessimism.
I rewatched Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 11/9. The 2018 film is mainly a screed about all the bad things Trump was going to do as president. Time is a cold mistress: Basically nothing Moore said four years ago about what was going to happen actually happened. Moore was wrong about Trump’s ties to Russia, Moore was wrong about Trump being the last elected president because he would seize total power, and Moore was wrong about the lasting impact of the progressive heroes of that year, the Parkland High School survivors.
Sorry to get ahead there. You do remember the mass shooting in a Parkland, Florida high school, right? A handful of survivors were made into instant media sensations. Barack Obama supposedly personally wrote the Time magazine cover story saying they had “the power to insist that America can be better” that we’re led to guess he himself did not have.
In his film, Moore portrayed the kids as examples of the anti-Trump force sent by the universe as a balancing mechanism, arguing the power of activism was America’s only chance to remain a democracy. I can’t do justice to the hyperbole of Moore’s narration; you would think by listening these kids had the power to raise the dead simply by amassing retweets. A good chunk of the movie is just Moore staring at the kids at work changing everything by being online, the filmmaker's expression somewhere between a pedophile on the playground fence and a proud dad.
Back in his heyday, there was a meme among businesspeople: “Michael Moore just walked into your office. What do you do?” The answer back then was to lawyer up, call security, etc. Today the proper response would be to tell Mike, sorry, you're not hiring, and offer him a bottle of water if he’ll leave quietly. Moore created a style of documentary journalism where facts don’t matter if the conclusion (in this case, “guns and orange man bad”) is righteous enough. He forgets that in his earlier movies this sort of worked only because his generous abuse of facts and the actual conclusion were often close enough to one another, as in Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Fahrenheit 9/11.
But it is almost painful to watch him in this movie, claiming how the Parkland kids organized the massive March for Our Lives in Washington on March 24, 2018 all by themselves. He never asked how a few high school kids in Florida secured marching permits from the notoriously persnickety Washington, D.C. bureaucracy and National Parks Service, how they secured the massive security bonds and insurance needed, arranged stage construction, porta potties and sound reinforcement, set up security, ran an international media campaign, and so forth, all from study hall. Taking over the National Mall is not something you do by saying, “Alexa, tell me how to take over the National Mall.” Moore thinks he's fooling the rubes in ignoring such things when in fact he's dumping on his subjects, setting them up to be blown over by the lightest of questioning.
Moore himself is someone to be pitied. You see him in this movie, hunchbacked and obese, searching the country for old-school Bernie-style liberals to champion. He doesn't realize the parade passed him by sometime during the George W. Bush era, and he comes off like some `80s hair metal band playing Holiday Inns with only one original member on stage.
Moore gets caught up in his own narratives, and does so in this film with an extended side story about how the water is still bad in Flint, Michigan—a point that ends up inadvertently highly critical of Saint Barack. His wandering call for Bernie to re-emerge walks dangerously close to admitting Hillary Clinton engineered his political castration. Moore awakens about half way through the movie aware who he is really criticizing for the most part and quickly pivots to more familiar ground, an extended lip syncing of a Trump speech to some iconic Leni Riefenstahl Nazi propaganda footage of Hitler.
In the case of the Parkland kids, by refusing to let them off the pedestal Moore in the end exposes them as the media-hungry fakes they are, or, to be generous, were made to be. A major scene shows kiddie activist David Hogg using Twitter to cancel a male candidate for some minor state seat in Maine and engineer his replacement with a woman. We don’t know anything about either candidate, only that Hogg did it with Twitter during fourth period (Moore assures him on camera it’s OK to fail his psych class to accomplish global-level change) and this is what the future is going to be.
The problem is the movie was made in 2018 and we can judge Moore's vision of the future from our perch five years later. Nothing really happened. The Parkland kids misunderstood, and Moore celebrates, that emotional manipulation, weaponized self-pity, and claims to victimhood are not action. Gun laws are pretty much the same post-Kids, and who can count the number of mass shootings since Parkland? Apart from lip service by the Democrats, there is no effective gun control legislation on the stove. Yes, yes, conversations were started and awareness was raised, but Moore falls into the same naïve hole the Parkland kids live in, mistaking noise and political stunts (like being Michael Moore) for real change.
Moore of course will never make a follow-up film, but here's what it would contain if someone else ever did.
Emma Gonzalez is famous for standing in silence at a lectern for a little over six minutes to commemorate how long it took for seventeen people to be killed during the shooting. In 2018, Madonna, the Michael Moore of the pop industry, even sampled Emma’s voice for an album. Gonzalez later advocated for Joe Biden, thoughtfully tweeting “a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for fascism.” Today she has become a hollow woke caricature.
Emma has changed her first name to “X,” because “I don’t want people thinking that they’re my friends just because they know my name.” X is pursuing a degree in activism, with classes such as Manifestos, Alternatives to Capitalism and Socialism, Post-Colonial Literature and Theory, Black Social and Political Thought, and Global Politics/Radical Comics at the prestigious New College of Florida in Sarasota. How do we know all this? X is back in the media for the first time in almost four years on the Jimmy Fallon show, pimping a movie about herself.
David Hogg was the skinny white Parkland kid with Brylcreem hair and an oddly triangular face. He was raptured out of the swamps of Florida to attend Harvard after the shooting. In addition to promoting the same film as X, Hogg also started a pillow company in 2021 to challenge Donald Trump ally Mike Lindell and his My Pillow company. The Hogg pillow company quickly amassed more than 80,000 Twitter followers but not so many sales. The whole thing was so egregiously awful that Cameron Kasky, a fellow Parkland survivor, attacked Hogg, saying “To those of you who marched, donated, lobbied, and called for change... I’m so sorry this is what it turned into. This is embarrassing," adding, "Welcome to America, everything ends up a grift.”
And right, be sure to check out the merch on the March for Ours Lives website. The #MarchForOurLives "Stop Gun Violence" T-shirt is about as likely to help stop gun violence as it is likely to stop a bullet for the wearer. And for the record, Colin Kaepernick, who makes a cameo in Moore's movie, has seen his own net worth grow to some $20 million via paid endorsements for McDonald's, Jaguar, Electronic Arts, and MusclePharm. Moore's film was originally funded by everyone's favorite carnivore, Harvey Weinstein. Michael Moore himself owns nine properties and is worth $30 million, a helluva way to help redistribute wealth, to himself.
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Michael Moore should take his inspiration for his next film from that Parkland Kid statement, “Welcome to America, everything ends up a grift.” It's the only true statement in this whole mess. It was never about actually doing something about guns; it never is. It’s about getting a free ride into Harvard, pimping a documentary, starting an odd pillow business. It is all always about profiting personally from victimhood, the retirement strategy of most Americans under forty today, and of Michael Moore.
What was intended by Moore in 2018 as a rallying point, a radical film to drive young people into the streets to defeat National Socialism, looks just a few years later like another contribution to a generation's cynicism. How many heroes pumped by the media—Robert Mueller, James Comey, Michael Avenatti, and Michael Moore come to mind—need to implode before young people figure out the grift and turn away. Now that might be the start of the movement Michael Moore imagines he'd be the guy to lead.
Fahrenheit 11/9 is irregularly available on Netflix. Scroll past the Pride section, Black Stories, and Marginalized Voices down to the part that might be labeled "Stuff You Can At Least Tolerate When Your Friends Come Over and No One Is Talking to Each Other."