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Why you need to watch ‘Fahrenheit 11/9’

| Monday, November 19, 2018

It all started with Gwen Stefani.

Donald Trump was mad NBC was paying “The Voice” star more than he was getting paid for hosting “The Apprentice,” so he decided to run for President — his second time after a half-hearted attempt in 2000 — and booked two venues to follow his now infamous ride down the gold-plated escalator of Trump Tower. As the media rode a ratings bonanza on the back of the uncouth billionaire, Trump proceeded to savage the Republican field en route to one of the most shocking presidential victories in United States history.

And that, Michael Moore tells us in his new documentary Fahrenheit 11/9, may very well be the beginning of the end of American Democracy. That’s not an understatement. Moore, who gave Trump a much better chance than other pundits, spends a solid portion of the movie making comparisons between the U.S. and Nazi Germany. The film shows articles from leading German and U.S. newspapers at the time of Hitler’s initial election in 1932 arguing that the rule of law under the German constitution would prevail, that Hitler wouldn’t follow through on his xenophobic and fascist campaign promises.

Moore brings in two historians, Timothy D. Snyder of Yale and Ruth Ben-Giat of New York University, as well as a Nuremberg Trials prosecutor, 99-year-old Ben Ferencz, to make the parallel. There’s footage of Trump supporters beating up people of color at his rallies. There’s a video of Trump “joking” about being president for four terms like Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And there’s a particularly jarring statistic he offers up: 52 percent of Republican voters in a recent survey said they would support postponing the 2020 presidential election at Trump’s request. Combined with the President’s open admiration of authoritarian leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, the threat of a Trump autocracy becomes even realer.

Fahrenheit 11/9 is perhaps the most ominous of Moore’s movies. Yet Moore doesn’t cheerlead for the Democratic Party, pointing to the establishment’s marginalization of Bernie Sanders and his supporters during the primaries, and the continuing hold by old-guard figures like Senators Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who at one point is depicted dissuading a Sanders-inspired progressive from running against an establishment favorite in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District. Still, Moore highlights the work of activist trying to shake up the ranks of the party, such as congressional candidates Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York City and Rashida Tlaib in Detroit.

Outside of electoral politics, Moore focuses on the work of activists in three key areas: Flint’s Water Crisis, the Parkland Massacre and the Teacher Uprisings earlier this year. In one particularly sobering scene, then-President Obama flies to Flint in May 2016 to address a town hall meeting in the wake of the crisis. Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder, whose administration misled the public about the scope of the problem, is booed heavily as he opens the event. In contrast, Obama receives raucous cheers when he steps on the podium. But then he proceeds to minimize the problem by talking about how he surely ingested lead from chipped wall paint as a boy, and asks for a cup of water only to take a pretend sip, a gesture that did not go unnoticed by the already angsty crowd. Moore reminds us his hometown still has to deal with the contaminated water in addition to a severe economic depression stemming from the decline of the auto industry, problems to which the government has failed to respond.

But we can take inspiration from the success of the teachers in West Virginia in their battle for better pay and school conditions, and the efforts of Parkland survivors who have now devoted their lives to activism around gun control. The movie ends with Parkland’s Emma González intensely staring out from the podium of a March for Our Lives event, before breaking into a smile as the crowd cheers. It’s a welcome reminder of the need to keep fighting for a better future, no matter who’s in the Oval Office.

Oliver Ortega

Ph.D. student

Nov. 8

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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