I saw Michael Moore’s new film on Friday. This is not a review (I liked this, didn’t like that, who cares?), but an extraction of two main points Moore makes in ways that set my heart pounding. See Fahrenheit 11/9 if you can (it’s playing in three different theaters here in Santa Fe, a small city, so I’m guessing you have the opportunity close to hand). But whether or not you do, I am urging—begging—you to consider and share these lessons. How we act on them will make the critical difference between life and death for democracy.
LESSON #1: THE EARLY-WARNING SIGNS OF IMPENDING FASCISM ARE EVERYWHERE. EVERYONE NEEDS TO SEE THEM AND RESPOND.
Moore calls on historians to draw the parallels between our own would-be king and prior aspiring dictators. They began to emerge during the 2016 campaign, when the candidate urged supporters to beat up dissenters at his mass rallies. The footage of white fists pummeling black bodies for the crime of being present is terrifying.
So is the footage of the White House’s Present Occupant floating trial balloons about being re-elected for 16 years or admiring China’s Xi for making it possible to serve as president-for-life. A familiar observation from Marx has history repeating itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Hitler footage is juxtaposed with Trump footage to make this point: his path to power used the same methods as Hitler’s: rigged elections, big lies, the mass hysteria of crowds, bigotry and chauvinism, scapegoating, media manipulation, and more.
My stomach turned at the passage in which Democratic delegates are shown handing their states—in some cases, states in which the Democratic primary in every single county was carried by Bernie Sanders—to Clinton, while delegates who believed in one person/one vote openly weep.
Many moments in this film illustrate inoculations in which a dose of fascism—bulldozing election results, falsifying public records, declaring emergencies to authorize extraordinary state powers, unannounced staging of public spectacles of military power, leaders vilifying scapegoated groups—is administered to the body politic, inuring people to democracy’s demise. It’s the titration of the dose, the gradual nature of the process, that normalizes dictatorship, cultivating adjustment to a social order in which might makes right and the un-mighty had better learn to like it.
There is ample evidence of corporate elites laboring for decades to prepare the ground for someone like the Present Occupant to take power and complete the coup. For background, I highly recommend the film Heist: Who Stole The American Dream.
Part of that process is always to ridicule those who call it out. Look at how much mud was flung at Representative Maxine Waters after she dared to speak out.
I am aware of the sinking feeling that spreads when one stands to speak truth and is treated as a lunatic. I have felt the power of ridicule to silence dissent. I have often said that the U.S. doesn’t need censorship laws, as the practice of self-censorship has made it the most decentralized public policy in this nation’s history. I am not an alarmist. I do not wish to frighten anyone. But I understand the deep truth expressed so well by James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
So this I must say: the time is here—the time is past due—to stand up to intense public pressure to silence oneself for fear of being derided. We are being afforded a glimpse of what is to come if this slow-motion coup remains unchecked. Pick your arena, pick your words, pick your method to suit yourself, but speak out now.
LESSON #2: THE PATH TO REAL DEMOCRACY REMAINS OPEN TO US, BUT THE PRACTICE HAS BEEN SABOTAGED BY GREED, DECEPTION, COLLUSION, INSTITUTIONALIZED BIGOTRY, AND SUBMISSION TO CORPORATOCRACY. LIFE-SAVING MEASURES ARE NEEDED.
Many of the mechanisms of electoral democracy remain intact, and in the current election season, they are being put to good use by candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Andrew Gillum, surprising the Democratic establishment by mobilizing voters who don’t respond to centrist, corporatist politicians.
To me, the present-day Democratic Party is the lesser of two evils—but most critically, the only one that can awaken from a money-induced trance to align with equity, justice, and love.
Democratic politicians have betrayed democracy (though not quite as often or as egregiously as their Republican counterparts), and that has not escaped notice by the electorate. A clear result has been the rejection of voting as a contest of elites by a large percentage of young people and people of color of all ages. Many non-voters are keenly aware of social and environmental injustice, but choose to apply their energies to forms of organizing other than elections.
In Moore’s film, we see then-President Obama fly to Flint, MI, to give a talk in which he stages a demonstration of the safety of local drinking water by taking a sip from a glass. The horrified faces of Flint activists whose children’s lives are being destroyed by ingested lead tell the story more powerfully than words could ever do. We see Flint residents coming to terms with the undeniable truth that to many elected officials and the people who paid for their campaigns, the health, living conditions, and economic status of black and low-income people—from infants to elders—are of no concern.
And yet, it is still essential to vote Democratic as a necessary first step to shift Congressional and local political power away from the right. I do not want to be the person standing on the sidelines as democracy elides to dictatorship, contributing to that disaster by my fastidious interest in the purity of only voting for truly good candidates. Do you want that to be your legacy?
Even more, it is critical to support the candidacies of people like Ocasio-Cortez, Gillum, Stacey Abrams, and Rashida Tlaib (and many others), who have the energy, vision, and values to redeem democracy from its captivity by corporatocracy. There is already a strong majority for progressive values in this country—Fahrenheit 11/9 lists solid polling majorities for gun control, women’s right to choose, and a long list of other progressive positions—as demonstrated by a three million popular-vote majority for Democrats in the last presidential election. The challenge is to turn opinion into action.
How the Present Occupant won that election turns on two things we have the power to change.
First, many states under the current system have “winner-take-all” elections in which minority votes don’t count; the National Popular Vote legislation, well on its way to passing, corrects for this by establishing victory for the winner of the popular vote in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. The Electoral College—which was created precisely to protect elites from direct democracy—should be abolished. But that is a longer-term project since it must not only be passed but ratified by the states as a constitutional amendment. In the meantime, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would produce the same result.
Second, far too many people declined to register and vote. It is incumbent on all of us who value true democracy to persuade those who’ve given up on elections (or never took part in the first place) to register and vote despite their reservations. Both voter registration and turnout in the U.S. are low. Failing to register and vote has clear impact: it cedes the election to those who benefit from suppression of voting by young people and people of color.
I’ve heard three main reasons for not voting. One has mostly come from people of color and poor people in communities under great stress, who say that neither party serves their interests, so why support either? The second has come from young activists who came up in alternative movements such as Occupy. Those who tucked away their skepticism and marshaled their hopes one more time to work for Bernie saw their votes dismissed by Democratic ruling elites (i.e., superdelegates); others were too repelled by the corruption of politics-as-usual even to try. The third is related and transcends demographics: without an inspiring candidate of good character to support, without a positive reason to vote, why bother?
It’s not that these points are untrue. It’s that not voting does nothing to change them.
If you didn’t vote in 2016, you voted for Trump. If you don’t vote in 2018 and 2020, you will be voting for fascism.
As I wrote back in July, “I’m not calling for party unity, not while corporate interests remain in control. What we need to do is change that. And to change that, the large number of people who are qualified to vote but never registered need to be brought into the process with massive voter registration campaigns followed by massive GOTV (get out the vote) organizing.” Click that link to find more links to some of the best voter registration and mobilization campaigns.
But don’t leave it all to the campaigns. Do you know someone who cares about liberty and justice but doesn’t vote? Make it your personal aim to persuade that individual otherwise—and beyond that, to persuade that non-voter to recruit friends and family who may feel the same.
Moore shares his hope in the vast outpouring of resistance and possibility since the election: the Parkland students organizing the March for Our Lives, the teacher’s strike in West Virginia, the progressive electoral victories.
He also shares his fear, suggesting that unchecked, the wicked egomaniac in the White House may be our last President. I wish I could say he was exaggerating.
The Chambers Brothers, “People Get Ready.”