Three years ago, Michael Moore wrapped up a TV interview about the Sandy Hook massacre and asked the producers to leave him alone.
“You guys call me every time there’s a school shooting,” he sighed. He had, after all, made Bowling for Columbine, which blasted the NRA and the nightly news for triggering a rise in gun purchases thanks to their messages of fear. In 2002, the year Bowling for Columbine won the Oscar for Best Documentary, he felt America might shift the tide. Then in the winter of 2012, with twenty murdered kindergartners on the front pages, change felt impossible. He needed a break.
“When Columbine happened, there wasn’t a school shooting happening every month — or every week,” Moore says today. “There’s just going to be another shooting next week. So until we address the issues I raised in the film, I’m no longer going to be your go-to school-shooting pundit.”
The next year, Moore’s father died, and the director and his wife divorced. Moore stopped doing TV altogether. He still had a lot to say, but he decided to say it on his Facebook and Twitter accounts and in Where to Invade Next — his first film in six years and, despite everything, his most optimistic ever.
Instead of railing against American sins, Where to Invade Next has an upbeat conceit. Moore accepts a furtive — and fictitious — mission from the CIA to scout Europe for ideas America can steal: the free college of Slovenia, the relaxed drug laws of Portugal, the decadent vacation time of Italy, the healthy work/life balance of Germany, the healthy and slender children of France. “My nickname in Michigan is ‘Twiggy,’ ” Moore jokes.
In the film, Moore lugs an American flag on his shoulder — “Our side needs to reclaim that flag” — and whenever he finds a law he likes, he clanks his pole on the ground to claim it for his homeland. It’s a challenge. With every clank, Moore is rattling American audiences to ask ourselves why we don’t demand more happiness at home.
Take free college. If voters pressed the U.S. government to add another $16 billion a year on top of what it already spends in grants and loans, every young adult could graduate debt-free. “We were spending $2 billion to $4 billion a week on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars,” notes Moore. “That’s a doable thing.” Slovenia did it, and Moore interviews American students surprised to learn that a round trip to Ljubljana costs less than one class at Kansas State. Meanwhile, the United States’ global student ranking has skidded down to No. 29, causing American educators to slam high-schoolers with homework and standardized tests (and parents to pray their children get into magnet programs). Yet here’s top-ranked Finland’s bold system: no homework, no standardized tests, and no private schools. So why are we still doing what doesn’t work? To paraphrase George W. Bush, who isn’t learning?
“I’ve lived long enough where I’m no longer out on some left limb,” Moore says. “Twice the country has voted for Obama. We have gay marriage. States are decriminalizing marijuana laws.” Currently, presidential contender Bernie Sanders claims he can offer free tuition at all public colleges and universities, with Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley also focusing on “debt free” plans. As our recent history proves, when Americans really want to make big changes happen, we can. Beams Moore, “Now I’m the majority.”
At the same time, as a middle-aged white man, he embraces being the minority. “September, for the first time, the majority of kindergartners were not white,” he says. “That’s the new America. This America that Trump and these guys keep talking to, statistically they’re smaller and smaller. And it’s not that I don’t care about them, but 81.5 percent of the country is either female, people of color, or young — between the ages of 18 to 35.” Only 18.5 percent of Americans are white males over the age of 35 — though you wouldn’t know that from looking at Congress, or even the Oscars. “They have the power they grabbed when they were more of the majority. They’re losing it. They’re like the dying dinosaurs emitting this sound — I’m sure the dinosaurs went through an awful extinction process.
“I think voting for a woman is a good idea,” says Moore. He’s stuck up for Clinton for decades, even titling a chapter in his 1996 book Downsize This! “My Forbidden Love for Hillary.”
“When Bill was first elected, people vilified her,” he says. “There were jokes like, ‘Have you tried the new Hillary combo at KFC? It’s two large thighs, two small breasts, and two left wings.’ ” He countered by writing, “Mmmmmm — that sounds good to me!” and stuffing his pages with good-looking pictures of the then first lady. “I wrote that I think she’s one hot, shit-kicking feminist babe.
“I don’t want her to show that she can be a man,” Moore says. “I want her to actually be a woman.” By “woman” he means less violent, or at least freer from thousands of years of hormonal and societal pressure to fight. “There are no female school shooters,” he notes. “Half a year after I finished Bowling for Columbine, I thought, ‘There’s a thread that I forgot, which is that half of the students will never do this.’ I think I’m more enlightened twelve years later than when I made that film. I hope so.”
So is America, at least according to our new laws. Moore hopes Where to Invade Next will inspire Americans to demand even more from our government. But that means demanding more from ourselves.
“If I could wave a magic wand, I would have us operate under the concept that we’re all in this together,” Moore says. “That’s how it is in these other countries. With us, it’s ‘me me me me me’ — ‘I’ll look out for me, you look out for yours.’ ” Can America change course? Of course, insists Moore. “It’s the very first word in our Constitution: ‘We the people’!”