Just so you know, Michael Moore isn’t happy that he’s right. The filmmaker called the presidential election in an essay back in July, explaining why he suspected Donald Trump would be our next president. Still, he did his own version of campaigning, staging a one-man show called Michael Moore in Trumpland in Ohio — an attempt to reach out to potential Trump voters, but also speak to the core group of leftists that the filmmaker has built his brand around. In the stage show, which also became a film, Moore plays satirical video clips, answers questions from the audience, and tells jokes. It works more often than it doesn’t.
In part, it’s because Moore is someone who has never voted for Hillary Clinton. He’s a critic, but he’s willing to see how Clinton became the kind of politician that she is. Moreover, he’s speaking to an audience of all ages, a gesture that feels more radical than it should. Moore’s at his best, though, when he’s telling stories, like the time when he went to visit a hospital in Estonia and discovered Hillary Clinton had gone there back in the 1990s, or that time he met the Clintons at the White House. Vulture spoke with Moore on the phone after the election to discuss Trump, Clinton, and what liberals should be doing to combat president Trump.
This is a very loaded question, but how are you doing this week?
Well, I live in a bubble, so … The way I’ve been feeling about this is, I’ve been feeling like this for months. I was trying to do what I could do to warn people. I’m not in the state of shock that a lot of people are in, because I saw this happening quite some time ago.
I think I’m the only person on the left that watched Celebrity Apprentice. I also watch American Idol and The Bachelorette, and I think more people on the left should pay attention to what America watches. And sometimes it’s entertaining. Kaitlyn [on The Bachelorette], everyone thought she was going to pick Nick. She went with Shawn. And the whole country’s coming apart: What the hell is she doing? Clearly Nick was the winner! Shit happens in this country. It’s a large country with lots of different kinds of people. And you can choose to live in the country, or live in your bubble. I understand why people live in the bubble. It’s comfy in there. It’s cozy, it’s warm. It smells like cinnamon.
You were incredibly prescient in the essay you wrote in July, which is sadly just getting even more traction now. I’m wondering what you think the Democratic Party and mainstream media missed.
I don’t know if you watch football, but how many times have you seen a player who thinks he’s made this run all the way down the field by himself, and he’s on the two-yard line, starts to do the end-zone dance, and gets tackled. The Hillary campaign and the DNC were doing the end-zone dance after the convention, and they were only on the 50-yard line. There’s still three months left before the election and they’re popping the corks. And I agree. It looked good. It was a great convention.
And then after the convention, Trump starts imploding, attacking a family of a dead soldier. Right? Making fun of the Purple Heart. Yelling at a baby at a rally. Every time that happened, every liberal would go, Oh, thank God! This is so good! It’s over! And then she started winning the debates. One debate after another, she wins them. Look at the polls! Eleven points! 15 points!
When I first put that essay out there in July, it did — I can’t remember how many millions of views it got, but it got along. And if anything, it might have helped to stop some of the hemorrhaging, perhaps. It did make its contribution, but you’re right, now it’s just exploded because people are trying to figure it out … But I take no satisfaction from this. Never had I wanted to be more wrong than when I wrote that. And I said that in the essay: Prove me wrong.
Let’s talk about Trumpland. What were you hoping to accomplish with it?
I was hoping to try to reach out to my fellow Bernie voters, to the ones who were thinking of not voting, to the people thinking of voting third party, to the people I heard saying they were voting for Trump. They weren’t the crazies. They were people who usually voted for Democrats, union guys. I thought I could talk to them. Because they and me, we are Trump’s [people]. I am an over 35, white, angry male. I have a high-school education. But then I really wanted to reach the choir, the Hillary voter who was too complacent. I wanted to really reach out and shake them up a bit, have them not stop working until 8 in the evening on election day.
I was reading the New Yorker review and it was like, you know when you read a review and you actually learn things about your film that you didn’t know? The guy, Richard Brody, said Michael Moore in this film is attempting to speak to four different constituencies in that audience, all at the same time — and have none of them walk out. And none of them did. My happiness with the film is that it’s fired on all the cylinders it needed to fire on, and reached each of those groups. It’s why it’s still number one even after the election. It’s been number one on iTunes for three weeks.
Then I basically was on my own little mini-tour of Brexit states. Going to Ohio, going to Michigan; I said in that essay in the summer that it was going to come down to Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin.
Yeah, you nailed that.
Because I live there. I have an apartment in New York but I live and vote in Michigan. I knew what the situation was, and I knew how upset people were.
I don’t often see people trying to bring different groups with different experiences into the same space together to have a conversation. I’m wondering how you think that conversation needs to happen.
I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but I know how to conduct the conversation. I’ve had to live my life since I started making my first movies as Michael Moore. And when I watch myself being described on Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, I used to get upset: How could they just lie like this? And then I realized, there are two Michael Moores. There’s me, the nonfiction version. And there’s the fictional character that they’ve created.
So I had to learn that if I was going to talk to people who only listened to right-wing talk radio or Fox News, their brains are like they’ve been poisoned. What’s the antidote to that? I just have to educate people who are ignorant. When you give them information, the ignorance level goes down, and when that goes down, hate goes down.
Say I was stuck next to somebody on a plane who was like, I can’t [sit next to Michael Moore] and asked the flight attendant if they could move. I started a little exercise years ago. I take out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle and say, “Why don’t we make a list of the things we agree on and don’t agree on? And I’m going to predict that we agree on more things than not.” Maybe the way we remain strong is to work on the things that we agree on, and agree to disagree on the things we don’t agree on. Let’s have a great debate. Have the debates in the legislature and Congress. And on some of these I’m going to win, and on some of these you’re going to win. That’s the way it’s going to be. Let’s be adults.
That’s how I’ve been able to communicate in my movies. I reach deep into the mainstream of America in a way that somebody from the left usually doesn’t. Usually if you’re from the left like I am, you’re preaching just to the choir. Your movies are at Film Forum, which is a wonderful theater, but my movies play in shopping malls in Kansas City. So that’s the difference between me and most people on the left. My art reaches into a place the left doesn’t usually reach into.
This is something you’ve touched on, but when having these conversations, how you can honestly name things like racism and white supremacy without making white people in America defensive? Is that possible?
I think so. Maybe it’s because I’m one of them. Again, I’m from the Midwest. I have a high-school education. I grew up in an auto-worker family. I’m an Eagle Scout. So maybe when I say things like that, I’m not perceived as someone from the didactic left. I’m perceived, I think by most people — maybe not way over on the right — as someone who’s from Flint, Michigan. And sometimes I’m funny. That helps.
In the movie, I make a joke about dinging up Vince Foster and killing him again. That’s just so awful. But it’s so funny. Right?
I think enough time has passed for that joke.
But because [of that joke] the Clinton campaign could not tell people to watch this movie. Which was kind of good, because I’m not part of the campaign and I didn’t want to be part of it. I felt I was most successful because I was an unlikely messenger, someone who was a Bernie voter and not a longtime Clinton backer. The things I had to say about her, about what I admire about her and why I was excited to vote for her, had a little more credibility because I wasn’t tooting the horn of the campaign.
You were empathetic to her.
I know lots of women in my generation. Since I was a teenager, I’ve watched what they’ve had to go through. That’s a good word, empathy. Because what is so remarkable about Donald Trump is his utter lack of empathy. It’s so bizarre to watch it. Think of some of the worse people you know. They’re still capable of some empathy, at least even for their close friends and family. But he seems so devoid of empathy. It’s one of the things that separates us from the other species, that we’re capable of that. The fact that he’s incapable of it? That it’s all about him? That he has to look over at his wife’s ballot to see how she’s voting — that level of insecurity? It makes him a very, very dangerous man.
What do you think the left should do next? I read your to-do plan; do you think a new, better version of the Democratic Party is possible?
There’s going to be a mass opposition to Trump. It’s already started. I was with them last night, marching up Broadway to Trump Tower. And we will march on Washington on inauguration day. We will not accept this at all. Whatever people were worried about, Oh my God, what if Hillary gets elected? They’re going to have all these hearings. Yeah, well that’s going to look like kindergarten compared to what millions of people are going to be doing to try to stop him every inch of the way.
This interview has been condensed and edited.