Trump Tower is, in many ways, a 68-story monument to the hypocrisy of Donald Trump. The Midtown Manhattan monstrosity, whose gold entryway sign bearing his name screams off-Strip Vegas casino, used concrete from a firm owned by the Genovese and Gambino crime families. It was built by 200 undocumented Polish immigrants who claimed they were paid meager off-the-book wages. And if that weren’t enough, Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who massacred thousands of his people, used to be the proud owner of Apartment 54-K, while Prince Mutaib bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, a senior member of the Saudi royal family, owns an entire floor in the building.
Thus, it was the perfect setting for Michael Moore’s latest stunt: Yesterday, the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker/provocateur stood outside the tacky erection with a sign that read “We Are All Muslim.” The 61-year-old did so in order to protest the Republican presidential candidate’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting. One of the shooters, Tashfeen Malik, likely became radicalized in Saudi Arabia.
A day before, I sat down with Moore at a downtown office to discuss his Trump sneak attack, as well as his new documentary Where to Invade Next—a travelogue of sorts that follows Moore as he visits foreign countries like Italy, Finland, and Norway to observe their quality of life compared to ours. The film exudes Moore’s trademark humor, and has been shortlisted for the Best Documentary Oscar.
What convinced you to take the show on the road? Were you frustrated with the quality of living in America?
Why does Slovenia have things we don’t? We are the richest country. We have incredible resources at our disposal. So why don’t we have the things that these other countries have? I wanted to find out why. The things we think we should have—free universal health care, free university, a different attitude towards drugs—how’s it working in those places where they’re trying something different? It seems to be working pretty well. Pretty, pretty well.
Although some of the countries you visited in the film, like Italy, aren’t doing so well. Italy’s economy is in shambles.
Yeah, but we’re in the midst of… 320 mass shootings in the United States this year alone?
I believe San Bernardino was No. 353. The epidemic of mass shootings reminds me of your Bowling for Columbine, which was sadly quite—
—Prescient. I don’t take it as a compliment. I said it to the MPAA last week when I was appealing the R rating on this film, I said, “I came in here 13 years ago and you gave Bowling for Columbine an R rating because you didn’t want teenagers to look at a school shooting.” And back then it was once or twice a year, and now it’s once or twice a month. So how did that work out, not showing our kids all of these mass shootings?
I don’t understand why people are allowed to purchase assault rifles like the AR-15 that was used in the San Bernardino, Oregon, and Aurora shootings, or the Bushmaster that was used in Sandy Hook. These weapons are not for hunting or self-defense.
It’s to kill humans—that’s what they’re used for. The deer are not armed, so you do not need an assault rifle because the deer are not shooting back. There’s an absolute conspiracy among the gun manufacturers and the NRA to have this be the way it is. Everyone acknowledges that. It’s our job to get the debate focused on what it needs to be focused on. The other day was the three-year anniversary of Sandy Hook. At the time I said I wouldn’t want this to happen to the parents, but if they ever showed the crime scene photos of Sandy Hook, that would be the end of the NRA that night—to see the heads of 20 first-graders blown off.
Seriously, what would happen if they showed the security cam footage of 20 six-year-olds being mowed down? What do you think would happen? Because I’ll tell you something: That three-year-old that washed up on a beach in Turkey this summer? That was the end of that. Every country stopped prohibiting refugees from coming in, and welcomed them. They couldn’t take it. People respond to the visual image. What I do for a living has a huge impact.
In the wake of a mass shooting, the left tends to focus on guns while the right tends to try and steer the conversation away from guns by talking about mental health, even though in the wake of the Charleston shooting, the GOP shot down the Dems’ proposed amendment for the CDC to study the underlying causes of gun violence. The shooter at Sandy Hook’s dad was the vice president of GE. He had perfect health insurance. He was seeing two shrinks. So, it wasn’t that he was without mental health help. There’s a bigger problem here.
A typical argument on the right is, “Well, if they were armed the violence would have been prevented, or greatly diminished.” I know the answer to it, by the way—the question of, “What if they were armed?” See, life is not a movie. It’s very hard to hit somebody when you’re firing a gun and you’re an untrained civilian. If you’re a gun owner and you’re buying it for protection, you have to go to the range every Saturday, or every other Saturday. You have to be trained, and keep training yourself, to be able to use that gun properly. If you’re worried about an invader in your home in the middle of the night, to wake up out of a dead sleep, in the dark, grab a gun and think you’re going to hit something? It’s the nuttiest idea. It’s just plain nutty.
Or there’s the rhetoric of Donald Trump. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on Paris, he said he witnessed “thousands of Muslims” in New Jersey cheering as the Twin Towers fell. Of course, this is a bold-faced lie. The footage he saw came from Palestine. We all saw it.
Yeah. It was about 20 people in Palestine. I can see the footage in my head!
Then, in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting, he said all Muslims should be banned from entering the country. This type of rhetoric is not helping our cause, but instead pulling us ever closer to a global conflict between the West and the Muslim World, which is exactly what ISIS wants.
I wrote Trump a letter. I’m going to see what he does in the debate tonight. If he doesn’t walk it back, I’m going to post the letter. I’m also going to go down to one of his buildings, stand there with a sign outside—I can’t tell you what’s on it, but it will be good—and have myself photographed with it.
What are the contents of the letter?
I describe the first time we met in the ’90s. We were in a greenroom for Roseanne’s talk show, and Trump was afraid to go out on the sofa with me. And remember this is the ’90s, so I’m still very Michigan-based. The producer says, “Mr. Trump is very worried about going out there on the show with you, because he thinks you might rip him apart.” I said, “I’m from Michigan. All I know about him is his name is on a lot of things.” I said, “Do you want me to go talk to him just to calm him down a little bit?” She said, “Yeah, I’d really appreciate that.” So I go up to him and say, “Hey, I’m Michael Moore. She said you were a bit worried about me. You don’t have anything to worry about, we’re just going out to have some fun with Roseanne.” He goes, “Oh, well I just don’t want…” blah blah. I’m thinking, “Man, what a big wuss!”
For someone as allegedly self-confident as he, Trump does seem to be remarkably thin-skinned. Every time someone criticizes him he lashes out.
All men have estrogen in them. We all have a bit of estrogen in us. Sometimes, I’ve noticed in our gender the guys who have to do a lot of huffing and puffing, they may be better embracing the female side of themselves. They may be a little happier. He might be one of those people. So, you said you went to the MPAA to contest this film’s R rating and invoked Bowling for Columbine’s R rating. How did that go?
They also gave Roger & Me an R rating because a little bunny rabbit got clubbed. When you think of my films, it’s hard to think “R.” The first thing I said to them was, we know from our own research that the studio will make more money if this is an R-rated film, so I’m arguing against our own financial interests here by asking you to rate it PG-13. A teenager should not have to have their parents go with them to watch this. There are some F-bombs, which kids hear all the time, the nudity is a second and a half and it’s old people getting into a hot tub. The violence is Eric Garner being killed by the NYPD on the sidewalks of Staten Island, which has been on the news. And we show drug use in Portugal without consequences, or punishment.
Do you feel it’s the source—or message—that’s the issue? That you’re being targeted by the MPAA?
If this were released by the Baptist Church, it would get a PG-13. I’m held to a different standard because they’re smart enough to know that within the film—it’s not visible, but it’s there for the whole two hours—there’s a fuse, and the audience is getting angrier and angrier watching how people get to live in these other countries, and they know what I’m up to. I’m up to igniting the population to rise up and demand the American Dream—not a dream, but a reality.