Who Would Michael Moore Vote For? A Chat With the Left-Wing Provocateur

“It’s the first time I’ve done something on the stage on the West Coast in a number of years, so I’ve been writing a bunch of things,” Michael Moore says by phone. 

To promote Where to Invade Next? and discuss the presidential race now that Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, the filmmaker and left-wing provocateur is swinging through San Francisco this Sunday, May 15 for an engagement at the Warfield, An Afternoon With Michael Moore

SF Weekly spoke with Moore about the decriminalization of drugs, Bernie Sanders' stamina, and the (rather surprising) figures he hopes the Democrats run in 2020 in the event of a Trump presidency. This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

[jump] What are some topics that people can expect you to broach?
I’m going to talk about the election, about my ideas on how to beat Trump, that’s a lot of it. I’m going to talk about what’s happened in Flint, about what that means for the rest of the country, and I’m going to probably show some clips and some running commentary, give my own insights into what I’ve learned in making this most recent film.

With respect to Flint, is the moment over? Only mid-level heads are going to roll?
I think right now, it’s over. Once Obama drank the glass of water and said it was OK — people have already forgotten about Flint. It was a shameful thing that he did. And I really like him. I voted for him twice.

It provided cover for the Snyder Administration to weasel out of it?
Yes, absolutely.

What would be your no. 1 thing that we could do to stop Trump? Hillary’s leading, but she could really blow this thing.
Unlike the morning we got up to vote for Obama, or for Bernie, there’s not a lot of inspiration there that gets you excited and makes you want to believe she’s going to make this world a better place. And so that’s going to be the problem in terms of voter turnout. Look, this is going to be a very strange election. It’s going to be a lot about who you hate least. Or rather, are there more people who hate Trump or more people who hate Hillary? I think probably if Hillary changed her name to not-Trump in the voting booth…

…She’d already get 45 percent of the vote.
Exactly. Trump versus Not-Trump. But the good news is that 81 percent of the voting public is either female, people of color, or young adults between 18 and 35, and he has significantly pissed off all three of those groups. Mathematically, it doesn’t seem like there’s any way he can win, but a lot is going to come down between now and November. If we think it’s been weird to this point, it’s going to be even more so I think. Things that we can’t even imagine are going to take place in the next six months.
I think that both sides have things up their sleeves that we’re not even thinking about. It seems like it’s been crazy to this point, but the primaries were like Nick at Nite and now we’re at Adult Swim.

Do you think that a Hillary Clinton Administration would largely be a continuation of the Obama Administration, although incrementally more hawkish?

She’ll be to the right of Obama and more hawkish. First of all, it would be historic that we elect a woman. That can’t be overlooked, and the fact that she would be in office on the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote in this country. Symbolically, those are important things. Another positive is that she has moved further to the left thanks to Sanders being in the race. Now whether she’ll stick to the things he’s changed her mind on, we don’t know. The other way to look at this, too, is that she’s been really abused, mercilessly, for the last 20 or 25 years. If she gets in there she might just roll up her sleeves and do something things that — if people thought they were afraid of her before, she’s going to maybe end up doing a lot of good. That remains to be seen.

Let’s assume that Sanders does wind down his campaign, where do you see the movement that he’s stoked going in the future?
I think people hope that will continues. A lot of it is in Benie’s hands. I don’t know where he’s getting the energy to keep going the way he’s going. It’s amazing at his age.

But if the Democrats sweep 2016, the electoral map for 2018 is really grim, especially in the Senate. They have a lot of marginal seats in purple states that would be up for election in a midterm so the energy would need to be sustained to avoid a repeating 2010 or 2014 when the Democrats got walloped.
I think that’s a very important point, and it’s also important that Trump may cause the collapse of the Republican control of Congress this year. And if that’s the case, Hillary’s got to not do what Obama did those first two years and really move fast.

Let’s just say Trump won in 2016 and the Repubs maintained their majorities in both chambers but does what we expect him to do, which is collapse. The 2020 election is also a census year, and whoever controls Congress and the state governments then will be in charge of redistricting. Looking ahead, it seems 2020 is so much more important.
If we lose this year, then for 2020, we should probably start to take a page out of the other side’s book and run people that can win. Run the kind of people that they run. Donald Trump had a hugely popular television show, and he is essentially a performance artist. Why don’t we run our own beloved, well-known person and win? What is wrong with that? Why don’t we ever think like that? They run Reagan, they run Schwarzenegger, they run Trump. When are we going to convince Oprah or Tom Hanks to run?

Would you vote for Tom Hanks?
Absolutely! Everyone would vote for Tom Hanks! His politics are pretty good. And he’s beloved. Beloved! What’s wrong with winning?

Well, Oprah’s unimpeachable. I would definitely vote for Oprah in a heartbeat.

What is one feature of a genuinely advanced democracy that you would love to see imported to the U.S. For example, the drug decriminalization in Portugal.
That’s what I would say: End the war on drugs. Just end it and release from prison the people that we’ve locked up for drug possession. That would be one of the most human things we can do, and we should try to restructure our entire criminal justice and incarceration system. I think, though, the things in the film that we could see happen in the next few years are paid maternity leave, college being free or nearly free — at least tuition-wise. There are things that can happen very soon — and locally. Parents can do things that are very important, like getting the school boards to have healthier lunches for their children.

One of the points that we didn’t intend when we made the film — Bernie had not announced that he was running, probably if you polled the crew most people would have hoped Elizabeth Warren would run — but it’s a two-hour Exhibit A that Bernie’s ideas are not pie-in-the-sky. They exist, and they’ve existed for decades in other countries, and they work. And they cost less money. One of the biggest lies that Americans are told is that Europeans and Canadians pay more in taxes. No, they don’t. They may pay more in what’s called taxes — and it’s not a lot more — but we get away with making it look like we pay less in taxes by not calling things taxes. When they get to go to college for free, when day-care is free, when they have paid maternity leaves, and nursing homes for elderly parents — we have to shell out lots of money for these things.

Like when Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts he lowered “taxes” and raised fees?
I mean that in these other countries they’re not shelling out all this money to pay off student loans, or the crazy amount that parents have to pay in day care fees. When you add that all up, we’re shelling out a lot more from our pockets than the French are, than the Germans are, etc. One of the things that I think the film has done is bring a lot of truth to people and confronted a lot of the B.S.

An Afternoon With Michael Moore, Sunday, May 15, 3 p.m., $28-$48, at the Warfield, 982 Market St., thewarfieldtheatre.com.

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