From Gwen Stefani to the West Virginia teacher’s strike, the Parkland students to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Michael Moore spends two hours threading together a web of events to explain the rise of Donald Trump from reality television star to the 45th president of the United States in his latest documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9.
There’s a lot to unpack in the fast-paced doc, so EW spoke to Moore about key takeaways from the documentary and what message he hopes audiences might leave with, ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
On Trump’s decision to run for president apparently involving Gwen Stefani:
“The odd thing was that he was upset at the performance fee that she was being paid [on NBC’s The Voice] that was more than his [on NBC’s The Apprentice]. He was an executive producer on his show, she wasn’t on The Voice, so he already made great money as an executive … I guess I don’t know, he won’t talk to me so I don’t understand his reasons, but it seems like his line in the sand was Gwen Stefani. While there’s a bit of humor and tongue-in-cheekiness to this, if you remember back when he first announced, everyone was saying it doesn’t seem like he really wants the job. There’s no infrastructure set up to run a presidential campaign, there’s no way for you to get involved or to donate, he even said at that time ‘I’m not doing this for donations, I’m doing this with my own money,’ so you could see something was wrong, something was up, something wasn’t quite right, and I’m surprised nobody’s figured this out or has discussed this.
The fact that he might actually be our president because of an accident, because of his own ego, but the whole thing backfired on him because when he made the announcement, he went off the rails there and got himself fired there. The opposite happened there, instead of getting [NBC’s] money, or instead of pitting one network against another if he was threatening to move the show, that he ends up with nothing and just decides to go ahead and do those first couple of rallies and then boom, he saw certainly by August or September, he was number one in the polls for any primaries amongst Republican voters. I think that took him by surprise and then totally fueled his ego and his thought of ‘hell, I might as well go ahead and do this.'”
On including his business dealings with Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, but not delving into their involvement in the Trump White House:
“Probably because I’m afraid. I just learned while making this movie that Bannon was behind the home video company that released [Moore’s 2007 documentary] Sicko. I did not know that at the time, and I thought ‘wow, that’s how power works.’ That even me, who you would think is completely on top of everything that involves my work, that I would know that, and now it makes me question everything in terms of who is putting up the money for everything. And nobody told me that, and maybe they knew it’s best not to tell me or whatever.
I just thought about when Jared at the time had the New York Observer, and he was wanting to be part of the scene, and it brought me back to thinking about the first time I actually met Trump. It was after Roger & Me, I had moved to New York somewhere in the early 1990s and I first saw Trump at a Planned Parenthood benefit. I and others who lived or worked in New York, if you were in the entertainment industry, you were constantly crossing paths with Trump. Usually in my case, it was at some liberal thing like Planned Parenthood, or some Democratic Party thing in the city — he blew whichever way the wind was blowing. If it benefited him at that moment to support Planned Parenthood, then he did, and if it benefited him to support his daughter and her support of making gay marriage legal, he did.
He’s very adept at reading a room, he’s an incredible performance artist, he knows how to play dump and stupid and crazy — he does it so real that you actually do believe this guy is so dumb, and he’s the furthest thing from dumb. He completely outsmarted the Democratic party, the Clintons, the media, he got the media to give him so much free airtime that his campaign only spent a third of what Hilary spent. He’s a very good example of ‘How do the rich get rich?’ Well, they don’t get rich by spending a lot of money on things. If he could find a way to get the media to give him free press, that’s what he did. He did that for decades, he was always one of biggest leakers in town, he was always feeding Page Six or gossip columnists stuff about himself. When the whole Stormy Daniels thing happened earlier this year, my first thought was that he leaked that. He leaked it because he knew it would benefit him. How? Just look at the 60 Minutes piece with Stormy Daniels when she appeared with Anderson Cooper, and then look at his approval ratings a week or two before that. He was at his lowest and then Stormy Daniels happened and his approval ratings started going up and that’s because he knows something about his base. Sixty-four percent of all white men voted for him and he knew that those white guys, hearing that he had sex would a porn star, knowing he had sex with a porn star would never be a negative. It would only be positive. It would allow his male base to cathartically live through him.”
On the ways the Democratic Party contributed to the rise of Trump:
“I didn’t realize just how insidious the infrastructure and the power is and how the old school and old guard politics and politicians of the Democratic party are probably our No. 1 obstacle to getting our country back in our hands, the way it should be. It’s painful to say that but I do not shy away from it because you have to remove that which is standing in the way of progress, standing in the way of justice.
It is unjust that we’re living in a country where — as I show in all those polls and I cite all my sources — the majority of Americans believe that climate change is real, believe in equal rights for women, believe in labor unions, that just came in at 62 percent from Gallup support labor unions … on and on and on, every issue, whether it’s gun control, the American people take the liberal position. In six of the last seven presidential elections, the Democrat has won the popular vote. The American people only wanted the Republicans once in 30 years: between George H.W. Bush in 1988 and this election 2 years ago, only once — George W. Bush in 2004 — have the majority of Americans voted for the Republican. They do not want Republicans running the country, and yet they run everything — the White House, the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court. In 50 of our state capitals, Democrats control eight of them. This is insanity. How could this happen? I put it right at the feet of the leaders of the so-called people’s party, the Democrats. They have done nothing but made sure the Republicans win time after time and in large part, by running the wrong candidates but also, not pursuing the things that the American people want. They all need to be tossed out, as far as I’m concerned, and we have so many Democratic candidates running in November, what I call the insurgent candidates, and many of them are women. There’s a tsunami of women that are going to be voting and a tsunami of women on the ballot.”
On once again returning to his birthplace of Flint, Michigan, and using the ongoing water crisis to demonstrate political and policy failings:
“It’s not something that a documentary filmmaker would normally think of structuring a film that way but it’s where I was born, I’m raised there and still live in Michigan, so we saw a coming attraction for Trump with Gov. Rick Snyder, this Republican that was elected a few years before Trump and he did all the things that Trump wants to do — reduce the democracy, be a strongman, be in charge, take over those cities, then get a big tax break for the rich, remove services from the people, especially from the poor. There’s a racial element to it in the sense that Governor Snyder could never have done this in Ann Arbor or Bloomfield Hills, and then get away with it. It also showed that Trump really admired him, they had a falling out later but he was really like ‘wow, you can do this?’ and he was always sending little verbal love notes the governor’s way, and this was even before he announced he was running for government.
My point with Flint is, I ask all the viewers of this film to pay attention to things — they were constantly being given signposts from these people. It’s why I tell people Trump is always lying but he’s always telling the truth. So when he’s saying, ‘I could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Ave and get away with it,’ he’s actually telling the truth. Not just because he believes it but because we’ve seen him do so many things he’s gotten away with. Like I said, he did not fall out of the sky.”
On putting Fahrenheit 11/9 in movie theaters rather than on streaming platforms or exploring the issues in a series:
I made it so people could experience it together in movie theaters. This is not a movie you should watch alone — I noticed that Time Out in its fall movie preview had Fahrenheit 11/9 listed under horror movies opening this fall. I liked that. This is not a movie you should see home alone, this is something you should experience in a movie theater with a hundred, 200 people, most of them strangers, you will have such a cathartic experience watching this movie with others. The film was constructed with that in mind, on the big screen with a couple hundred strangers, fellow Americans who are going to be joining you throughout the film, whether you’re coming apart at the seams, whether you’re enraged, or laughing your head off or starting to cry.