Michael Moore: Are We Going to Be Like the “Good Germans” Who Let Hitler Rise to Power?

StorySeptember 21, 2018
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In his new documentary “Fahrenheit 11/9,” filmmaker Michael Moore interviews the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor, Ben Ferencz, who describes President Trump’s policy of family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border and the large-scale detention of immigrant children as a “crime against humanity.” Moore also looks at the rise of Hitler in Nazi Germany and compares it to the rise of Trump in the United States.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We return now to our conversation with Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore. His new film, Fahrenheit 11/9, opens today around the country. This is a clip from the film about the recent wave of teacher strikes that began in West Virginia.

REPORTER: This was the chilly scene outside Point Harmony Elementary Friday morning: upwards of 50 teachers lining the sidewalk, all on a mission.

MICHAEL MOORE: The teachers decided on their own to go out on strike and do it by themselves, one school district at a time.

JUSTIN ENDICOTT: All of Mingo County is on the courthouse steps.

UNKNOWN: People are chanting. We’re Facebook Live-streaming that. And other counties are commenting on there and saying, “I wish I was there.” It escalated really quickly. So, four go out. Then seven go out. And then—

NICOLE PORTER: Fifty-five of 55 counties. The strike will go on in all of them tomorrow.

STRIKING TEACHERS: Fifty-five strong!

AMY GOODMAN: That’s from Fahrenheit 11/9, Michael Moore, the Oscar-winning filmmaker. It’s his latest film. These teacher strikes, Michael, and teachers in this country, what they’re going through?

MICHAEL MOORE: Well, there’s an uprising going on right now with teachers all over the country. And it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time. These teachers in West Virginia, they’re fighters. Their union, their own union, their leadership tried to discourage them from going out on strike. They wouldn’t listen to them. They went out on strike. They got all 55 counties to go out on strike.

STRIKING TEACHERS: Fifty-five united! Fifty-five united! Fifty-five united!

MICHAEL MOORE: And then, when they finally got the governor to give them what they wanted—

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Justice.

MICHAEL MOORE: Governor Jim Justice—I know. You can’t write this stuff, right? The bus drivers and the lunch ladies and everybody else were also on strike with the teachers. He would only give the raise to the teachers. And they said, “No, you’ve got to give it to the bus drivers and the cooks and the janitors and everybody else.” And he wouldn’t do it, so they wouldn’t go back to school. They stayed out on strike until there was justice for the custodians and the people in the lunchroom and the bus drivers. That kind of solidarity, if we all ever get together and support each other, and not cross each other’s picket lines, that is the scariest thing for these people, because they won’t know what to do. They won’t be able to run their businesses. They won’t be able to run their schools. They won’t be able to do anything.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of running, talk about Fitbits.

MICHAEL MOORE: Well, this was the crazy thing, that this governor, they were trying to think of ways to reduce the healthcare costs. So, the first idea was, “Well, let’s charge the teachers more for their healthcare. Like let’s double what they’ve got to contribute. And then let’s make them wear Fitbits,” where they’d have to buy their own Fitbits, and the Fitbit would send how many steps they’re taking, what physical activity they’re doing—

AMY GOODMAN: This is a little watch, like a bracelet.

MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, it’s like a little bracelet, but it records what you’re doing. And in this case, in West Virginia, it would send to a central computer at the Board of Education just how active you were being. If you—by the end of the month or the end of the year or whatever, if you didn’t take enough steps, if you didn’t do enough physical activity, you were fined something like $500. And they knew everything you were doing from this Fitbit. So that was the other part of the negotiations: The Fitbits had to go. And they were successful in getting rid of them.

AMY GOODMAN: And teachers selling their blood?

ANDREA THOMAS: My husband, he even sells plasma, you know, his own plasma, when things get super tough. It’s caused us—

AMY GOODMAN: He sells his blood?

ANDREA THOMAS: Yes.

MICHAEL MOORE: Yes. Well, this is—I mean, boy, this is a scene I had in Roger & Me 30 years ago, where the people of Flint were going to sell their plasma at the plasma center because either the job they had didn’t earn enough money to keep them above the poverty level, or they had lost their General Motors job. And so, you would walk into this plasma center, and you’d see all of these chairs, that were like medical chairs, with everybody, you know, being tapped.

UNIDENTIFIED: I only do it with my right arm. It’s not so bad. They don’t track it up. They only do it in two places.

MICHAEL MOORE: I mean, it really looked like a scene from Soylent Green or some kind of weird sci-fi movie, where, in the future, everybody’s blood was being sucked from them. And the fact that 30 years later I would be dealing with the same thing is just—I can’t tell you how angry I am, frankly, that we’re still living in this kind of society.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that takes me to the last clip that we’re going to play from your film. We’re talking to Michael Moore, the Oscar-winning filmmaker, who won that Oscar for Bowling for Columbine, yet another school shooting. But this one is a clip that features 99-year-old Ben Ferencz, the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor.

DONALD TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.

REPORTER: Last week, ICE agents fanned out in raids like this one in every state.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY: Ripping children away from their families under this new policy.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] Where are you from?

CHILD 1: El Salvador.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] And you?

CHILD 2: Guatemala.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] Don’t cry.

CHILD 2: [translated] I want to go with my aunt and daddy.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] This lady is going to help you.

CHILD 2: Papa! Papa! Papa!

BEN FERENCZ: Taking babies away from their mother and locking up one or the other and separating them—because they did no harm to anybody, they just didn’t comply with the stupid regulations—that’s a crime against humanity, in my judgment.

AMY GOODMAN: Ben Ferencz, the last Nuremberg prosecutor. Explain, Michael Moore.

MICHAEL MOORE: Well, I wanted to go speak to him. I didn’t realize there was only one surviving Nuremberg prosecutor. He lives just outside the city here. He is 99. I think his wife is turning 100 in another month or so. And he is a witness from the past, a witness to what happens when you allow fascism to become the way of life and the law of the land. And he’s very powerful, the things he says in the film. At one point he says that Donald Trump, in doing some of these things that he’s done, is committing crimes against humanity. And he says, “You know, this is—I can’t deal with this, because I’m thinking, you know, we hung people for doing some of these things, for behaving like this.”

And one of the inspirations to make this film was a book I had read back in the 1980s by Bertram Gross called Friendly Fascism. And in the book, Gross says that the fascism of the 21st century will not come with concentration camps and swastikas; it will come with a smiley face and a TV show, that the fascism that will take hold in the 21st century, there won’t be a lot of guns fired, because the population will be brainwashed enough. First they’ll be dumbed down—you know, ruin their schools, reduce their press, put whistleblowers in jail. And then brand things—the smiley face. Don’t use swastikas. Just make it happy. “You’re going to be happier if you go my way, the Trump way.”

And this is what I find most frightening when I think about, and what I hope this film does in terms of ripping the mask off, what’s really going on here, that we are on—you used the word “precipice” earlier. We are on a precipice. We are on that edge. Democracy has no self-correcting mechanism. It’s a piece of paper, the Constitution. I know we like to get all teary-eyed and all goo-goo about, you know, our wonderful Constitution. It’s a piece of paper. And it’s the human beings in each era that decide exactly what’s going to go on, which part we’re going to listen to and which part we’re not, of this Constitution. And if we get too close to the edge, where we’ve given up too many of our rights, where we’ve allowed the democracy to be whittled down, where we’ve made voting a most difficult thing to do for people who have the right to vote and should be voting—if we do all of that, it could easily fall off that cliff. Before you know it, it could be gone. And you have to operate with that.

You know, you’ll hear from people on other networks or other shows I’ll be on, “Well, Mike, why are you making the comparisons between Hitler and Trump?” And I always say to them, “Well, that’s really not the movie.” The movie is more comparing us to the Germans, the “good Germans,” one of the most civilized, cultured, educated, liberal democracies on the planet Earth. And they went along. There was a national emergency. The Reichstag burned down—their parliament. And, you know, Hitler said, “The Communists did it. We’ve got to get rid of these Communists.”

And sure enough, you know, Hitler’s party won 32 percent of the parliament in 1932, 32 percent, which was the most. Nineteen percent went to the Communists, and then the others were mostly—mostly liberal, left parties, Social Democrats, etc. By Hitler getting rid of those 19 Communist seats or the 19 percent of the seats, all of a sudden, he had a chance to take those. Nineteen and 32 is 51. Now you’re the majority.

But he was worried. Hitler was worried that, “Eh, this is a little—I’m pushing this a little here. The people—we’re a democracy. They aren’t going to like this.” So he holds a plebiscite, a number of months later. He holds a plebiscite and asks the people, “Yes or no? Are you OK with us, the Nazis, taking over here? And I’m going to be both president and chancellor.” Hindenburg had one of those jobs. He was an old man, and then he died. Not—he just died. He was old; he just died. Not trying to pin that on Hitler, OK? But he died, and Hitler said, “I should be—I should have his job. I should be president and chancellor. Can I?”

And they went and had an election, and the majority of Germans voted “yes.” And I show that, the ballot, in the movie. They voted “yes” for this. And the front-page editorial in the Jewish weekly of Frankfurt, Germany, said, “OK, everybody, fellow Jews, calm down. It’s OK. Yes, he’s crazy. Yes, his people are thugs. But, you know, it’s not going to be as bad as a lot of you are thinking. Come on. We’re Germans. This is a democracy. You know, we are not going to be rounded up and put into ghettos, because we have a Constitution.” This is the editorial in the Jewish weekly.

AMY GOODMAN: You held this up during your Broadway play.

MICHAEL MOORE: Yes, right. And it’s in the movie, because I want people—anybody who is still thinking, “Mike, Mike, calm down, Mike. I mean, Trump. I mean, yes, he’s cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, but come on! You know, don’t be scaring the people like this!” I’m not scaring anybody. If you are not already terrified by what he is doing, by what he is up to—I’m serious, and everybody else needs to get serious, too.

I took this man seriously from the beginning, and I’m here and I’m telling you now that he has his plans for the way he’d like things to be. He has no intention of leaving the White House. He knows he cannot be indicted. He knows the Constitution won’t allow Mueller to indict him. He can be an unindicted—not co-conspirator, but he’ll be an unindicted criminal. But he doesn’t think he’s going to be impeached. He’s going to call it all rigged. Even if he loses the 2020 election, he’ll say it’s rigged.

He has plans for calling off the election. Republicans last year were asked, “If he wanted to postpone the election because of all of these 'illegals' that are voting”—you know, if Hillary got those 3 million “illegal” votes—”would you support him postponing the election?” Fifty-two percent of Republicans said that they would support Trump postponing the 2020 election. We have to get serious about this, and we have to be real.

And if I could just tell you one last story, I tried to convince Steve Bannon to sit down in front of my camera so I could ask him some questions. He said, “Well, I’ll need to talk to you first. Let me come by, and we’ll see.” And he came over to my production office, and I sat there with him for two hours, talking to him. And I said, “Just tell us, really, how did you pull this off? How did you and Trump outsmart maybe the smartest candidate ever to run for office—just on pure IQ alone, perhaps, one of the smartest?”

And he said, “Well, I have a very easy answer for you. Our side, we go for the head wound. Your side, you like to have pillow fights. And that’s why we’ll win. Even though I agree with you”—as he says to me, and as I show in the film—there’s more of us than there are of them. He’s not afraid of that, because they’re fighters, and they will stand up, and they will fight for the things they believe in. And they know we will back down, and we will compromise, and we will say, “OK, Obamacare is OK, even though it’s not really universal healthcare. Yeah, we’ll go along with that. You know, we’re just happy that our kids can be covered until they’re 26.” And we just rationalize all this stuff.

And they know that about us, and they know how to defeat us with that. They have no intention of going away. And this is the angry white man party. And they know their days are numbered, because this nation right now is almost 70 percent either female, people of color or young adults between the ages of 18 and 35, or a combination of those three things. That’s America. They know it. They know their days are numbered, and they’re going to try to grab whatever they can, before—

AMY GOODMAN: And suppress the vote.

MICHAEL MOORE: And suppress the vote, and gerrymander it and do whatever they can—pack the Supreme Court—whatever it is, they’re going to try and do it, because they know we will not put our bodies on the line to stop them.

AMY GOODMAN: Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore. His new film Fahrenheit 11/9 opens in theaters today. Tune in Monday, when we’ll play more of the interview with Michael on Flint, Michigan, and the rise of progressive congressional candidates. And to hear him talk about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanuagh and the accusations against him, visit democracynow.org.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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