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Why are the billionaires laughing?

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A new film by Michael Moore explores the circumstances that led to President Donald Trump's 2016 election victory. (Photo: screenshot/"Fahrenheit 11/9")

'The Symptom, Not the Disease:' Michael Moore's New Film Shows How Deep Political Dysfunction—and Failure of Democrats—Set Stage for Trump

"Donald J. Trump did not just fall from the sky. His rise to the presidency was not an aberration and should not have come as a shock."

Julia Conley

With the premiere of his latest documentary film, "Fahrenheit 11/9," receiving a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, filmmaker and activist Michael Moore issued a plea to audiences to come away from the movie with an understanding that simply removing President Donald Trump from office won't do away with the circumstances which led to him being there.

"Donald J. Trump did not just fall from the sky," wrote Moore in a statement on his website. "His rise to the presidency was not an aberration and should not have come as a shock."

The feature-length documentary will be released in theaters nationwide on September 21, with the message, as Sophia McClennen wrote at Salon, that Trump is "the symptom" of deep dysfunction within U.S. democracy—"not the disease."

Notably, that very same message was echoed by Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, in a speech on Friday in Illinois.

The nation's current crisis "did not start with Donald Trump," Obama said. "He is a symptom, not the cause."

The film examines some of the undercurrents of American culture which Moore has explored in his previous films: the unchecked corporate greed which has led to the decimation of whole communities and the 2008 financial meltdown, the subject of his films "Roger and Me" and "Capitalism: A Love Story"; the immense power of private interest groups like the NRA and for-profit health insurance companies, as he explored in "Bowling for Columbine" and "Sicko."

All those dynamics helped to set the scene for November 9, 2016, when Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States.

"This is not a film telling you what a jerk Donald Trump is or what an [sic] buffoon Donald Trump is or what a liar Donald Trump is. You already know all that," wrote Moore. "[Trump's 2016 win] was the logical end result of a long, downward spiral in America that culminated in one of our most loathsome citizens conquering our most powerful office. One of our most deceptive minds, commanding the bully pulpit. One of our most fraudulent hucksters, armed with the powers of the presidency to protect him."

In addition to Trump, Moore takes aim at Obama for his administration's insufficient response to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, as well as Democratic establishment leaders including Nancy Pelosi and the Clintons for driving the party to become increasingly beholden to corporate interests while ignoring the needs of working class families and the common good.

As McClennen writes, Moore uses the Flint water crisis as a microcosm representing how politicians like Gov. Rick Snyder (R-Mich.), who made the decision to switch the city's water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River to save money, have come to willfully ignore the humanity of their constituents:

Moore makes the case that the story of Flint is not one of isolated corruption and greed; it is a story of a nation that has allowed this sort of criminal behavior to be more than acceptable, but routine...Moore works hard to drive home the point that the story of Flint is not an isolated incident or a tragic accident, but proof of the triumph of corporate capitalism over democratic ideals.

The film was well-received by the premiere audience.

"This film is the moment of truth we've all needed for some time," Moore wrote on his website, "and I believe its release in theaters nationwide on September 21 may well be the real beginning of the end for Donald J Trump (and perhaps, more importantly, the eventual end of the rotten, corrupt system that gave us Trump in the first place)."

"It's a story about hope—and what false hope has done to us. It's a story about deception and betrayal," he continued. "It's a story about what happens to a nation when it hits rock bottom. It's the story about who we are as a people and what it means to be an American in the era of Trump."


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