Yesterday, amid the last weeks of a election race chock full of big-top spectacle, Michael Moore revealed himself as a showman on the level of Donald Trump by premiering his unadvertised, hastily-cut film called TrumpLand at the IFC Center in New York. A carnival atmosphere prevailed outside the theater. Two hours from show time, the line stretched into the distance, a van owned by a local boxing gym registered voters while blasting Mexican pop music, and a Trump Zoltar machine foretold prophecies of America's despoliation.
Moore's trademark baseball cap eventually became visible over the mob of news reporters; in introducing the film, the Flint, Michigan-born documentarian assumed his trademark mix of dadishness, earnestness, and bitterness, as when he agreed with Trump's distrust of the polls, saying that the "end-zone celebrations" that have greeted the Republican candidate's plummeting odds are what will elect Trump. "We elected a man who starred in a movie with a chimpanzee president," he cautioned, referring to Ronald Reagan. "We sent Gopher from The Love Boat to the House of Representatives!" Switching to Trump's reality television vernacular, he added, "The Bachelorette never picks the person you think has it in the bag! American Idol picked Fantasia when we knew Jennifer Hudson deserved it."
He conceded that the film's title was a bit of a misnomer since there's no need to make a movie about Trump. Instead, TrumpLand is Moore's one-man show, basically a filmed comedy special. Although framed as a last-ditch appeal to the Trump voter, its real aim is to convince disgruntled Bernie Sanders voters and other Hillary Clinton's critics on the left to put patriotism over narcissism—suck it up, in other words, and vote for her even if you wish there were a better option.
Moore makes this case on the strength of his credentials: Before setting out to console the Democratic voter about going with their second choice, he had to convince himself—his performance is that of a reluctant convert reaching out to fellow cynics still waiting to see the light.
The titular "Trumpland" is Wilmington, Ohio ("Home of the banana split!" Moore exclaims before the locals assembled in a lovely regional theater), the filmmakers' second choice after Republicans threatened to cut funding to the theater in Newark where Moore was originally booked. The county went heavily for Trump in the primary, and Moore's producers recruited Trump-leaning voters to attend the filming. They make up about 30 percent of the audience and it's not hard to spot them, as the camera cuts from each punchline to a few stony-faced white men stoic as Easter Island heads in the crowd.
The crowd is often the joke, as Moore opens with Vegas lounge–esque comic witticisms that begin, "You, Sir! You look like a man who etc.," then falls back on lame comparative humor like, "Do you know the real difference between Republicans and Democrats?" (The answer, if you're curious, is that Democrats can't make up their soft liberal minds what to do with their evening while the Republican has the strength of conviction to say, "Get in the car, we're going to Outback!") Another gag seats all the Latino attendees in a balcony covered with a cardboard wall that they have to pay to get out from. There's also an ugly gimmick where the Muslims are seated with a drone directly overhead to, you know, keep an eye on them.
From a set made up as a homey living room flanked by blown-up images of a fetching young Hillary Clinton, Moore maintains he is an ideal messenger for the white working class. As one of the 19 percent of the country that is white, straight, male, and over 45, he understands the fear of being forgotten by the new biracial female millennial regime. He understands the working stiff ground down by corporations and the government, the type of voter who wants to use the ballot as "anger management" and Trump as "a human Molotov cocktail." His rejoinder is a tacky video segment that imagines an apocalyptic Inauguration Day, full of mass deportations and the suspension of the news media by the new Roger Ailes/Breitbart-helmed Trump News.
But the second, more interesting half of the film shelves the populist appeals and hokey doomsday gags for a misty-eyed paean to Clinton that eloquently—even reverently—re-frames the beleaguered candidate as a deserving, patient, ultra-competent politician whose election will empower women worldwide. And women, Moore says, flanked by giant photographs of young Clinton, "Ddn't generally shoot you unless you deserve it."
After puckishly recalling his blushing reception at the White House by the Clintons on the day Bill Clinton was impeached, he asserts that having Hillary as our consolation prize after the Sanders revolution should be treated as a gift. If the word hagiography can be used as a compliment, this is a terrific example of the genre: refreshing and invigorating, an unabashedly full-throated and heartfelt endorsement that cuts through the negativity surrounding this campaign.
Moore recognizes that both parties are voting out of fear and that "fear is not a good reason to vote." He wants us to look back on Clinton's election as a milestone in the triumph against misogyny and rape culture. Still, that Moore had to "get over himself" to get here is clear: When a member of the IFC audience shouted, "She'll be great!" Moore couldn't help but reply, "She'll be fine!" In the film, he hopes that Clinton will become our Pope Francis, an unexpectedly on-the-level advocate to minorities, atheists, and the poor.
It might be unlikely, he confesses, but "what if?"
Recent work by J. W. McCormack appears in Conjunctions, BOMB, and the New Republic. Read his other writing on VICE here.