Celine D Kart
It is not often a film changes your perspective on politics. However, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9 offers a refreshing and insightful take on the political landscape, drawing focus to faults in the political system and the arbitrary nature of government, in the US and beyond.
Moore begins by addressing allegations against Trump and his colleagues. What is somewhat disconcerting is the lack of accountability of, and explanation from, Trump. Denial seems sufficient to halt interrogation, and implies being untouchable. Perhaps the most effective way to understand this, and how those involved got there, is through an understanding of the legal, political and electoral system.
US elections are determined by the popular and Electoral College vote. Moore draws attention to West Virginia’s denial of Bernie Sanders, who, despite winning the popular vote of every 55 counties, lost the nomination to Clinton. The Electoral College can ignore the popular vote, though one may question upon what legitimate, democratic grounds. The popular vote is the closer of the two to direct democracy. Further, the fact that the Electoral College can surpass the popular vote suggests an intense lack of representation. It questions how many of these instances have gone unnoticed.
One may question the legitimacy of the England’s electoral system. First Past the Post has been criticised for a lack of democratic legitimacy when aligned with the popular vote. In 2015, UKIP received over 3 million votes yet only 12 seats. The SNP received 1.4 million, bagging 56 seats, demonstrating wholly disproportionate majorities. The disproportionality can aid the Prime Minister’s ability to command a majority in the Commons, surpassing sufficient Commons scrutiny. Blair’s majority of 179 seats received 4 defeats throughout his time in office. One struggles to see how this is representative of the will of the people.
If the only ones who can effectively question and scrutinise the President are the ones surrounding him, then why aren’t they? Primarily because they are right-hand (predominantly) men.
Moore suggests the lack of scrutiny of the President’s actions is due to insufficient review from government. If the only ones who can effectively question and scrutinise the President are the ones surrounding him, then why aren’t they? Primarily because they are right-hand (predominantly) men. Trump appoints the Supreme Court, the Senate and the House of Representatives. As evidenced by the Brett Kavanaugh allegations, and perspectives from surrounding politicians, these appointments can lead to arbitrary government. Some have blamed the Republicans.
One may seek solace in that this would not be identical in the UK. Unlike the US, the UK holds a clearer separation of powers, as, after all, ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. In their strive for power, individuals will criticise the power of others; which is reciprocated. The British separation of powers shows a distance between the legislature, executive and judiciary. Unlike the US, the PM cannot appoint the Supreme Court; this is completed by the Lord Chief Justice of the UK. Further, the UK Supreme Court is denounced of political affiliation, being a condition upon a Justice’s appointment. It seems arbitrary that the Supreme Court is to have any political affiliation. In its most simple analysis, it’s a conflict of interests.
Trump’s Executive Order, banning the travel of residents from predominantly Muslim countries, took effect immediately. Executive Orders are passed solely by the President and have the same legislative power as Federal law. How can one argue the legitimacy of executive orders without scrutiny from the government? There is no method to question such decisions; the President can, ultimately, veto a revocation of an executive order by the Supreme Court, and this remains so unless Congress can override the veto, which considering its political nature, is unlikely.
In the UK, PMQs ensure some degree of explanation from the PM. However, the PM has the opportunity to see the questions beforehand and prepare answers. It is often a political battleground within the Commons between the two leading parties; reminiscent of the US. Furthermore, a similarity is seen by the PM’s power to appoint members of the House of Lords. David Cameron was criticised for cronyism, appointing a significant number of Lords. If the Lords are affiliated with the same party as the PM, it will be much easier to avoid scrutiny. Moore utilises a water scandal by the Republican Governor of Flint, Snyder. He claims Trump learned from Snyder that it was simple to escape negligence, thanks to cronyism.
Passing with a 5-4 majority, Trump’s Executive Order was likened to the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War Two; which in itself is assimilated with the detention of Jewish citizens during the Holocaust. An article this week in The Guardian draws attention to the Texan detention camp for Hispanic immigrants. Moore parallels harrowing footage of the Holocaust whilst playing Trump’s speech introducing the ban in the background. What is more harrowing is the unnerving political similarities of the two.
Moore parallels harrowing footage of the Holocaust whilst playing Trump’s speech introducing the (immigration) ban in the background. What is more harrowing is the unnerving political similarities of the two.
Historians in Fahrenheit explain historical trends which result in political overhaul. The first stage is a crisis utilised by the government to justify declaring a state of emergency, resulting in an increase of power. Several examples include Nazi Germany, when the Reichstag was set on fire. The Nazis, who held 32 seats, blamed the liberals and banned the opposition. In an issue of the Jewish Chronicle during the 1940s, the author states the fear felt from the Nazis, yet a belief that the constitution would protect them from violations of fundamental rights.
In 2016, Turkey saw one of the closest modern-day examples of civil war, the military coup, where the army and civil service rebelled against Erdogan. Amongst several consequences, this resulted in the imprisonment of approximately 15,000 Turkish journalists and officials, limiting free press. Many believe Erdogan staged the coup as a justification for streamlining the Constitution to a Presidential system, removing the opposition. Historians in Fahrenheit explain how political leaders often ‘balloon’ ideas before acting upon them. Trump congratulated Erdogan, joking that he should do the same thing. Many thought ‘the wall’ was rhetoric. Yet, reminiscent of Berlin, the wall is well under construction as I write this article. Take this as you will.
So what is the solution to deficient democracy? Moore prompts us to act before it is too late. It is all too simple to claim I wouldn’t have stood for that in times of humanitarian crises or intense violations of autonomy. When an ideology feels threatened, it yearns for control. Far-right ideologies have always been present, now they are able to be voiced without fear of rejection. Define democracy as you wish, but in order to give power to the people, the people must first reclaim the power owed to them. Fahrenheit claims it is already too late.
Featured Image by Mathias Wasik