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Michael Moore presented the Italian premiere of his new film, Fahrenheit 11/9, about the current state of American politics, at the Rome Film Festival on Saturday. Earlier in the week, he met briefly with Pope Francis, at the Vatican’s weekly public address.
The Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker engaged in a “Close Encounter” conversation with the festival audience, where he compared Donald Trump’s America to the current government in Italy, which now has far-right, anti-immigration Lega Nord’s Matteo Salvini and the populist Five Star Movement’s Luigi Di Maio serving as deputy prime ministers.
Moore was surprised to be asked if having Trump as president makes him miss George W. Bush.
“We will always, always, always hold George W. Bush responsible for war crimes for invading Iraq, a country that did nothing to us,” said Moore. “He’s a criminal and I think there’s a reason why he and Cheney stay away from Europe because they’re afraid of being arrested.”
Referring to them as “these two disasters,” Moore spoke of the similarities of Bush and Trump coming to power. “Bush and Trump both lost the election. Both got the least number of votes. Al Gore won by a half a million votes. Hillary Clinton won by 3 million votes,” he said. “If we were a democracy, they should have been the presidents.”
“The left, the Democrats, the liberals after Gore was denied the White House, should have fought to remove that clause of the Constitution that allows the loser to sit in the White House,” he said. “We should have done that 16 years ago.”
Moore also said the popular narrative of Trump winning the working class vote in 2016 is wrong. “A better way to put it is he won the white vote,” he said.
“What you need to understand about the U.S. now, is that it is changing very quickly. Right now a little over two-thirds of the country who are eligible to vote, are either women, people of color, or young adults between 18-35. That’s the majority of America right now,” he said.
“And they will determine the direction of the country,” he continued, without referencing the fact that only a little more than half of eligible voters came out to polls in 2016. “These are the last days of the dying dinosaur, the old white man who has been making the decisions since the beginning of our time.”
Moore also blamed the media for “dumbing down” America by turning news into entertainment. “If you allow rich corporations to buy up and control most of the media, and then put things on the media that are intended to appeal to the stupidity that’s in all of us, you will have a dumbed-down nation,” he said.
He referenced schools and libraries in America closing, and said those who are lucky to get a college education most likely will be in debt until their 40s. “The more you dumb [America] down,” he said, “the more likely you are to end up with a Donald Trump.”
“I don’t know if that’s the explanation with how you ended up with [Former Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi, and now Salvini, but there must be an explanation here in Italy, because you can’t be that stupid,” said Moore.
“The dumb act that [Trump] puts on, a lot of that is a pretend thing that he’s doing,” he said. “I think that once the nation is already dumbed down, it’s easy for him to play the dumb act, and it’s entertaining.”
Moore said he could see the same thing in Italy after a few days of watching local television, even though he could not understand the language. “People seem to be entertained by Salvini and Di Maio,” he said. “There’s nothing entertaining about them. They are hoping that people don’t see through the con game that they’re perpetrating on the Italian people.”
“The left should not allow this to happen,” said Moore. “The left in America, and in [Italy] I presume, thought that the best way to win was ‘don’t sound too left.’ Try to sound more to the center, more to the right. ‘That’s how we’re going to win.'”
“They thought the way we’re going to win is ‘don’t sound too socialist,'” he said. “And I think that’s been part of the downfall. And compromise, compromise, compromise. That’s what the Democratic party does in the United States.”
Of Republican leaders, Moore said, “When they make an idiotic statement, they’re proud of themselves.” He also referenced George W. Bush bragging about being a “C” student to say to Americans, “I’m just like you.” Moore said his father, a factory worker, was proud of the fact that JFK was a smart man, that they could elect someone with a higher intellect who “could make the country better.”
“We need to get the party back in our hands, and away from the political hacks,” said Moore, saying that there is energy in both the U.S. and in Italy, but a lack of leadership to “fight the right wing.”
Moore applauded Italy’s tradition of satire and political humor and said it is a powerful weapon to show people “how ridiculous these individuals are.”
“Change can occur very quickly in a democracy,” he said, referencing Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, “because there is no self-correcting mechanism in democracy.”
“Literally, someone like Trump or Salvini can get behind the wheel of the car of democracy, and drive it right off the cliff, and that’s what I’m warning against here,” concluded Moore. “We could be in the last days of democracy as we know it, and we need to fight against that as much as possible.”
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