Published 12:11 PM EDT Sep 18, 2018
How the heck did we get here?
Provocateur Michael Moore attempts to answer that question with his urgent documentary "Fahrenheit 11/9" (in theaters nationwide Friday), which examines the events leading up to and after President Donald Trump's surprise election on Nov. 9, 2016.
A follow-up of sorts to Moore's 2004 box-office hit "Fahrenheit 9/11," which took a critical look at President George W. Bush's presidency and the War on Terror, the new film cynically drives home the point that the media and a complacent public are responsible for "creating" Trump and that the American people will need more than hope if they want a different outcome in 2020.
Moore, 64, chats with USA TODAY about "Fahrenheit," Adolf Hitler comparisons and the possibility of Trump's re-election.
Question: The documentary hinges on three specific events: the Flint (Michigan) water crisis, the West Virginia teachers' strike and the Parkland (Florida) school shooting. Why did these feel like the best representations of where our country is and where it's going?
Michael Moore: Each of those events are a response to the times in which we live. After Trump's victory, many ordinary citizens decided that they weren't going to be silent anymore about the things that affected them in their daily lives – whether it was teachers, a number of whom find themselves on food stamps, or students, a number of whom have to watch their friends’ heads be blown off. It becomes too much to bear, and the lesson that Trump has taught everyone is that just doing a little bit – just voting – isn’t enough. Everybody has to get up off the bench and get in the game.
Q: The most chilling sequence is when you dub over a Hitler rally with Trump’s voice, before listing the parallels between their rises to power. Why was that crucial for you to include?
Moore: I'm a satirist. You hear people comparing Trump to Hitler, but I have Hitler in the film being Trump – no one ever says that. All kidding aside, I’m much more concerned with the parallels between us and the Germans of the 1930s, who were very educated, enlightened, cultured people, and who didn’t think it would get that bad. The front-page editorial in a Jewish (newspaper) from Frankfurt, Germany, said, "Everybody should calm down. Yes, he's crazy, but the Nazis aren’t going to harm us. We have our Constitution and it will protect us.”
When I listen to people who think that the special prosecutor or the Constitution or the Democratic Party is going to save us, at that moment, I think we’re doomed. The Constitution is actually a piece of paper, and people think it has some supernatural powers. It doesn't. Democracy has no self-correcting device; it literally can end in a flash. It's only the actions of the people that will protect and defend and save it.
Q: It seems like every other week there's a new ex-White House staff member who comes forward saying they've got some explosive recording or document that's going to lead to Trump's impeachment – and yet he's still in office.
Moore: People have had this false hope since Day 1. Remember after the election when people said, “Oh, Ivanka (Trump) will keep him straight. He listens to Ivanka.” Every time he says or does something, people think that's the end of him. But I don't know why they think that: All during the campaign, he essentially called (Sen. John) McCain a coward, he trashed the Muslim family who lost a son in Iraq, he said he could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and get away with it.
The first time I met him was at a Planned Parenthood benefit in the early '90s, and I saw him at Democratic Party things. He has no ideology and no belief system, except for his belief in Donald J. Trump. People say to me, "Oh, if we impeach him, we’ll get (Vice President Mike) Pence." And I say, "Great. We shouldn't be afraid of somebody because they have a belief system – at least they believe in something." Pence believes that gay people can be converted into straight people. If he's president, we can have that debate and we'll win, because the majority of Americans are going to agree (that gay conversion attempts are wrong). We should be afraid of the person in the White House who only believes in himself. That is dangerous.
Q: Do you think Trump will be re-elected in 2020?
Moore: I don't even think of 2020 – the only election that matters right now in terms of continuing to have the America that we’d like is Nov. 6, 2018. That's the election to save America. Is there a chance that Trump could be a two-term (president)? Absolutely. George W. Bush did it. He wasn’t elected the first time – he lost the popular vote, just like Trump. He put us into an immoral and unnecessary war and got re-elected. This can happen. Any Democrat or liberal who is operating with the attitude that, "Oh, no, he won't get re-elected" is ensuring his re-election.
Q: Last fall, the president bashed your anti-Trump Broadway show, "The Terms of My Surrender," calling it a "total bomb" on Twitter. Are you hoping he responds to this movie?
Moore: No, I hope that he would stop tweeting permanently for everyone's sake. It does us no good. How he will respond to this? I don’t know. There are things that I show and say in the film that he is not going to like and not going to want people to be reminded of. We’ll deal with it if we have to deal with it.