(All quotes pretty much guaranteed not to be verbatim, but to be accurate to the spirit of what was said.)
Last night, with about a day of advance notice, shambling filmmaker and ass-kicking provocateur Michael Moore came to my place of work, a college, to give a talk about the current election. While it wasn't billed as such, it seemed to be a warm-up gig before he films an appearance in Ohio next week that he can release before we're all voting in November (even if some of us have started already). I've been a fan of Moore's since I saw Roger and Me in a movie theatre in New Orleans in 1989 because, agree or disagree with him, he is sincere behind his snide attacks on stupidity, complacency, and cruelty. He believes, perhaps naively (although, at 60, it's hard to call him that), that we can toss aside the shit that divides us and we can make the country better.
But first, of course, there's all that shit to shovel through.
Moore gave the starkest, most frightening explanation of how Donald Trump could end up winning the presidency against Hillary Clinton. For him, it all comes down to Rust Belt Americans in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and he focused on the white males in that region, men who have seen their jobs sent across the border or overseas, who, yes, believe they're getting a raw deal from demographic shifts that reduce the power of white men, who have broken marriage, debts, and an anger that their government doesn't seem to give a frantic rat fuck about them.
For them, Trump is a voice they needed to hear, Moore said, someone who isn't afraid, someone who can say, "Fuck you" without consequences, someone who can say to Ford that he'll put a 35% tariff on cars not made in the United States or that he'll compel Apple to make iPhones in this country. It doesn't matter whether or not he can do it. The truth doesn't matter. What matters is that these isolated, angry white men hear this and it gives them irrational hope that they can get back some of what they've lost or that they've perceived they've lost, a little power and a decent amount of cash. Voting for Trump turns Americans into "legal terrorists," Moore said, and their votes "are Molotov cocktails thrown into a machine they want to blow up," and, goddamn, doesn't it feel good just to watch shit burn for a while? Then, Moore concluded, a few months later, they'll understand that Trump isn't gonna do any of the shit he said he would. Betrayed again. (Moore wrote a version of this earlier in the year.)
Moore explained why he thought Trump won the debate: because he didn't lose any voters. He didn't gain any new ones, but his voters are standing by him no matter what. Those voters, he believes, are far more energized than Hillary Clinton voters, and that enthusiasm gap is what frightens him into thinking that Trump might very well win this goddamn thing.
So he addressed that, in some really funny terms about the difference between liberals and conservatives. Liberals, he said, are the people who are always losing their keys and waste a fuckload of time looking for them. Conservatives are the type who have the key hooks by the door, all labeled and ordered and they know where the fuck the keys are all the time while liberals are still distracted trying to find theirs. So liberals are mild instead of wild about Clinton, voting for her with a shrug. (I think this undersells genuine energy out there for Clinton, especially post-debate, but point taken.)
And while he doesn't get why people hate Hillary so viscerally, Moore says you shouldn't stop hating her. And on Election Day, "You should wake up hating her. 'Fucking Hillary Clinton.' And you should take a hateful shower" and then you should get in your car, angrily cursing her, and head to your polling place and, spitting and growling about her, force yourself to vote for her. "I've never voted for Hillary," Moore said. But he's going to do it now.
His reasoning was one of those Michael Moore moments where, no matter how glib or didactic or self-righteous he gets, you sit back and think, "Motherfucker, he's right."
Someone in the audience shouted out, "What about Jill Stein?" and Moore gently said that he really does support most of what the Green Party stands for and that he's voted third party a couple of times. But this year, Moore said, "Voting that way just makes you kind of like Trump. You're being narcissistic. You're only voting that way because it makes you feel good to say you didn't vote for Trump or Clinton." Sometimes, Moore continued, "you just gotta suck it up and vote for the good of the country." In other words, Moore, who called Bill Clinton the "best Republican president we ever had," doesn't buy the liberal bullshit that Trump and Clinton are alike. Trump is different. And you're a fucking idiot if you don't get that.
I don't want to spoil the rest of the show for anyone who sees it live or on video (and I'm sure it will be far more polished by next week). But one other moment stood out for its frightening logic. A black student asked if Moore was going to make a film on the police gunning down unarmed black Americans. Moore said he was helping a filmmaker who worked with him before make just such a movie.
This led Moore to wonder what's going to happen when people in a neighborhood start coming out of their homes with guns, not camera phones, to stop the cops from shooting people. "If you had a gun instead of a camera, wouldn't you shoot the cop who's going to murder your husband?" he asked, adding, "Of course you would. Any cop would do that if another cop was about to shoot his wife."
No, Michael Moore is not the cultural powerhouse he once was. He moves much slower, he gets distracted easily, but he's still got a perspective that focuses and gives voice to things we might not know how to articulate. And he remains a necessity to the discourse of politics, especially the discourse of liberalism, in this country.