The Last Word: Michael Moore on Trump, Springsteen and Where We're Headed
On July 21st, 2016 – at a time when nearly every political pundit and member of the mainstream media thought that Donald Trump didn’t have even a chance of beating Hillary Clinton – Michael Moore went public with his belief that the Republican candidate was going to win. “You are living in a bubble that comes with an adjoining echo chamber where you and your friends are convinced the American people are not going to elect an idiot for president,” he wrote in a pleading messages to Americans, urging them to wake up to the danger. “You alternate between being appalled at him and laughing at him because of his latest crazy comment or his embarrassingly narcissistic stance on everything because everything is about him … You need to exit that bubble right now.”
Sitting at a booth at the midtown Manhattan restaurant Cafe Un Deux Trois one day after the final night of his Broadway play The Terms of My Surrender, Moore is no mood to gloat that he was right. “I never wanted to be more wrong about anything in my life,” he says. “I was trying to tell anybody who was connected to the Clinton campaign that she needed to get out to Michigan and Wisconsin. Days before the election, The New York Times said he had a 15 percent chance of winning. Why would you believe anything The New York Times says after that? This is a paper that, like much of the media, has been out of touch. They’re still distracted about all the wrong things about Trump, and they are in many ways contributing to his being in office until January 2025.”
Throughout a 40 minute conversation we spoke with Moore about Trump’s odds of reelection, Bob Dylan, George W. Bush, Stanley Kubrick and why he really wishes he never lost touch with one particular ex-girlfriend.
What’s the best part of success?
When I sold my first film [1989’s Roger & Me], I was still getting $98 a week in unemployment welfare checks. After that, I never again had to follow the orders of someone else. Now, everything I say and do is literally what I want it to be. The audience can trust that the invisible hand of authority, of the profit motive, is nowhere in the mix.
What’s the worst part of success?
Probably the attempts on my life. I have documented them. I’m not afraid. I don’t live in constant fear. I just would like to have a little more time on Earth.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I remember being in a church and listening to Jesse Jackson say that you can’t get into heaven without a permission slip from the poor. Your life should be evaluated by what you did for those who had less than you.
Who are your heroes?
Any of a number of artists that march to their own drummer: Salvador Dali, Bob Dylan, Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, the Marx Brothers, Kubrick. People who are willing to invent something, take it to the edge.
Dylan and Kubrick were both willing to create something totally perfect – and then never do anything else like it ever again.
Right. And they didn’t listen to what anybody was saying. Read some of the early reviews of Dylan preforming in the Village. Those reviews were meant to put him to rest. Read the reviews of Dr. Strangelove the day it came out, ripping it apart. They never listened to any of that stuff. They only listened to themselves and they trusted that enough people liked them that would probably like it.
I tell this to kids in film schools too. Make the film you want to make and then trust that out of a nation of 320 million, 319 million may hate what you have done. But if a million love it, just one million, and see it at your opening week at the box office, you will make $50 million. So fuck it. Just do what you want to do.
What music still moves you the most?
Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Motown, Iggy Pop, the Clash, Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy. Anything that tapped into the part of me that wanted to rebel and to stop the evil forces in front of us.
What drew you to Springsteen?
He really captured the voice of a white working-class experience. He’s somebody that didn’t go to college. We had a similar experience in the sense of growing up in that environment, and his music is extremely moving on that level.
What was your favorite book as a child and what does it say about you?
Well, in grade school my favorite books were all the Sherlock Holmes books. I loved the idea of a character who was a little deranged, but used his brain to solve a problem. In high school, I would say Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. It was really the definitive history of Native Americans. As a teenager not really having heard that before, not knowing that was so shocking, so mind-numbingly terrifying, that this country I live in was founded on this kind of genocide. And then built on the backs of slaves. They are the two original sins that we have yet to make amends for.
What’s your favorite movie?
A Clockwork Orange. It was bone-chilling. As a teenager sneaking into what was then an X-rated film, Kubrick’s vision of the future and the way fascism and how it was going to take place. it wasn’t going to happen with Storm Troopers. It was going to happen in a different way.
You’re from Flint, Michigan. What’s the most Flint thing about you?
Bad eating habits. You will never eat a better hot dog than in Flint. We call them Coney Islands. The absolute best bakery is in Davison, Michigan, just outside of Flint. It’s called Home Bakery. No doughnut anywhere can hold a candle to these doughnuts.
What I also love about Flint is the complete lack of pretension. I have been fortunate enough to see both a thriving middle class in Flint, as well as the exact opposite of that. The city that created the middle class is now treated like a Third World country.
“The Democratic Party is going to lead us to more losses. People reading this have to run for office.”
What advice do you wish you could give yourself at age 21?
Oh my God … um … Call Lynn Sharon and go out with her more. That’s spelled L-y-n-n S-h-a-r-o-n …
Publicist: Are you sure that’s not off the record?
No. I don’t care. What does it matter at this age?
Because she was a wonderful, wonderful person. On our first date she took me out to the Floyd McCree Theatre in Flint to a production of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. She won my heart at that moment.
When was the last time you spoke to her?
I just wished her a happy birthday on Facebook last week, but I haven’t seen her in um, jeez … the last time that I saw her was probably 1990. [Softly] So, that’s yeah that’s my advice. Follow your heart.
Is there anything about Donald Trump that you admire?
[Long Pause] I am pausing to think because he’s a human being and I am trying to see if there is some place where I can give him the benefit of the doubt. Every human deserves that. Having thought about it, no. I know what a lot of people do admire about him. They may not agree with his politics, but they love the fact that he can just say whatever is in his head. And who wishes that they couldn’t have that? Sitting in your cubicle wishing you could fucking say whatever was floating through your head.
Imagine you’re talking to an unemployed factory worker in Michigan and he says, “I love Trump. He speaks his mind. He understands my anger. He’s shaking things up. I don’t care things aren’t getting through Congress. My life didn’t get better under Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barack Obama. I wanted something completely different and I don’t regret it.”
Message delivered. You got your message through. Everybody has heard you loud and clear. You threw a Molotov Cocktail into the system and now he is in the process of blowing everything up. So congratulations, you have succeeded.
But now what are we going to do? Because you really don’t want him to take away your healthcare, do you? And you really don’t want him to take away your pension or your Medicare when you are old. You don’t want any of that to happen. So now everybody has got the message, let’s fix this. Let’s figure out what we can do because you know he’s not the answer. You know he’s not actually fixing anything. You have [been] done in by the system and you have a right to be angry.
You didn’t say the person was white, but it was implied. I’d also say that you have been abused by the system. You have a right to be angry. Do you think African Americans have also been abused by the system? Do you think Hispanics have been abused by the system? They don’t go in the voting booth and say, “I want to vote for the hater. I’m going to vote for the bigot, that’s how I am going to get my anger out.” They go in and in large number vote for the candidate that stands for love and peace and understanding and tolerance. They do that even though they have had the crap kicked out of them. You need to raise your bar and aspire to that level of what Blacks and Hispanics have been able to do. To say, “I’m still going to go in there and still going to try to vote for the right person even though the whole system is rigged against me.”
Do you view George W. Bush any differently when you compare him to Trump?
[Sternly] No. No. Not at all. No. And my condolences to the nearly 10,000 parents who lost a son or a daughter in the Iraq war and more in the never-ending war in Afghanistan. No, absolutely not. To those who died on 9/11, had he bothered during his vacation in August 2001 to read the report that Bin Laden was set to attack the United States possibly with planes, maybe, we don’t know now, but maybe it could have been prevented. No. He has forever those deaths from those wars on his conscience. That blood is on his hands and we haven’t recovered from it.
What are the percent odds that Trump gets reelected?
You’re asking me to be Nate Silver. I reject Nate Silver-ism. But I’d say there’s a 55% chance of Trump being reelected. Better than half. We will get more popular votes in the next election than we did the last one. Absolutely that I believe, but will he win the same states? As of now, yes.
How could Trump be so smart about tapping into the anger of the white working-class people that have nothing in common with him?
One of the things I do early on in my play is I tell the audience they are in a 12-step program with me. And I want them to repeat after me. Step one, “Donald Trump outsmarted us all.” I am being generous by including myself in the us because he didn’t outsmart me; I knew this was going to happen. Trump was smarter than the entire DNC. Smarter than the Clinton campaign. Smarter than Nate Silver. Smarter than all of them.
The Democratic Party establishment is going to lead us to more losses. People reading this need to understand that the only people who are going to save us are us. People reading this have to run for office. People reading this have to find someone to run in their district that is going to win. Run an Iraq War veteran who is a good progressive Democrat. Run a woman. Run a beloved government teacher. If you keep listening to the New York Times, if you keep listening to the DNC, we will get the same results. We have got to think way outside the box now. We have to think way way outside the box. Also, please tattoo on your forearm, “Bush got two terms.” Look at that every day. “Bush got two terms.”
When you look ahead 20 years do you think America will be better off or worse off than it is now?
In 20 years we will be better off.
Because we are going to end this. But you may have to scrape the bottom of the barrel I am sad to say. Two-term Trump is called the bottom of the barrel and then the country will respond to that.