Michael Moore: 'Ireland should arrest Donald Trump when he gets here'
He might be America's foremost firebrand documentarian, but Michael Moore is a gentle soul who is proud of his Irish heritage, writes Ed Power. Just don't get him started on the remaining candidates for the White House...
Published 11/06/2016 | 02:30
Michael Moore has a suggestion for Irish politicians agonising over Donald Trump's visit to Clare this month. They should receive the tangerine tyrant off the plane, clap him in handcuffs and haul him away.
"I do think you ought to send officials to meet him - such as your Attorney General," says the Oscar-winning documentarian and thorn in the flank of conservative America.
"I believe Ireland has strong laws regarding hate crimes. Do you let people into your country that propose racism as public policy?"
He was among the earliest to predict Trump's emergence as a mainstream politician, a stunning rise that has seen the reality TV personality wrest the Republican nomination for president from the cold, dead grip of party elites.
Moore watched aghast as the establishment in the United States dismissed the mogul and reality TV star as a carnival distraction. Trump was ludicrous, yes - but he had looked into the hearts of poor white Americans and was telling them what they wanted to hear.
"I was one of the first to say he would win the Republican nomination," nods Moore. "People laughed at me. But I insisted: this guy is manipulating the ignorant and it's easy to fool the ignorant. He doesn't believe half of what he says - and it doesn't matter. With Trump, you never know what he believes and what he doesn't."
Moore will be in Dublin on Monday to promote his latest documentary, 'Where To Invade Next'. As a proud Irish-American, going back to the old country means a great deal.
"My Irish heritage influences not just my work but my whole life. It has everything to do with how I was raised, what I believe. I know the stories from my grandparents who came to America about 'No Irish need apply'. I was raised with this attitude of standing up for the little guy."
Ireland doesn't feature in 'Where To Invade Next', a surprisingly jaunty travelogue in which Moore traverses the globe, highlighting ways in which sundry countries are superior to the United States (school dinners are better in France, young Slovenians aren't crippled with college debt, etc). He also skipped the UK, feeling its Conservative government too harsh on the poor (Moore spoke passionately against Britain leaving the European Union at a press conference in London this week).
However, Ireland's absence should not be read as a similar slight against Enda Kenny. Rather, he believed going back to his roots would be perceived as biased.
"We didn't go to Ireland because I'm Irish-American," says Moore (62). "I didn't want people to think I was taking the easy way out. People already know what I feel about Ireland."
Moore stays abreast of politics in Ireland and is heartened by the rise of anti-austerity parties here, as he is by the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn at the head of a more militant Labour in the UK. It resonates with Bernie Sanders's run for the White House in the United States.
"I love how Corbyn parallels what has happened with Bernie Sanders and other democratic socialists. In the United States of all places, Sanders has 46pc of pledged delegates [for the Democratic Party nomination]. A socialist - in America. It is astonishing."
What of the argument that, having successfully articulated his vision of a fairer America, Sanders should gracefully drop out and allow his rival for the nomination, Hillary Clinton, concentrate her fire on Trump? With Barack Obama this week endorsing Hillary for president, Sanders is under pressure to stand aside. Moore, however, believes he should remain in the race.
"There is one more primary, in Washington DC. If it was a state, it would be our only black state. Why would you send a message that the only black majority state doesn't have the right to have its voice heard? He is doing absolutely the right thing. We need to take his message - our message - to the convention and fight for these things."
He is, it is obvious, no Hillary fan. "She's a hawk. We are well aware she is to the right of Obama. The chance of there being a war? We are concerned about these things. Her vote for the Iraq war is something we swore we would never forget. That's why we need Bernie's strong voice."
Moore is a surprise, if you know him only from his movies. In films such as 'Roger and Me' and 'Bowling for Columbine' (the 2002 rumination on American gun culture for which he won an Oscar), he can come across as grandstanding and even self-satisfied. In person, though, he's a teddy bear, with a soft speaking voice and a gentle manner. If you didn't know, you would never guess you were talking to one of America's foremost firebrands.
Critics will point out that his work can be simplistic - that Moore is furnishing his base with the same comforting bromides Trump is accused of peddling. Certainly 'Where To Invade Next' is not a nuanced work: it extols the upsides of Europe's cradle-to-grave social welfare model without dwelling on high unemployment or the rise of right-wing anti-immigrant parties.
Standing up for the little guy has also been exceedingly lucrative for Moore. When he divorced film-producer wife Kathleen Glynn in 2013, his net worth was estimated at $50m. He is a signed-up member of the same one percent super-rich his movies have cheerfully pummelled.
Yet speaking to him, it is clear his heart is in the right place and that he is absolutely sincere in his beliefs. Under its breezy exterior, for instance, 'Where To Invade Next' has a powerful message, for Europeans as well as Americans. The movie is a valentine to the Continent's gentler strand of capitalism - our rejection of America's tooth and claw economics.
He hopes people will watch it and remember that being European means believing in something beyond the jungle law of the markets.
"I wanted Americans to see some of the good ideas Europeans live by and practise. I also wanted Europeans to be reminded that they actually have some very good ideas and should not give up or cut back. You need to think twice before you spend any more time trying to be like America."
The Irish Film and Television Academy welcomes Michael Moore to Dublin on Monday for a Q and A followed by a screening of 'Where To Invade Next' at the Irish Film Institute. He will give a master class for filmmakers in association with the IFTA and Screen Training Ireland on Tuesday morning.