• Entertainment
  • Michael Moore

Michael Moore on His Personal Experiences With Donald Trump: ‘I Got Played Like a Lot of People Got Played’

7 minute read

It’s been almost two years since Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to Donald Trump in a stunning upset. Director Michael Moore lays out his take on how Trump pulled off the surprise victory in his latest film, Fahrenheit 11/9, in theaters Friday. (The title is a riff on the day when the race was called for Trump and the title of his 2004 movie Fahrenheit 9/11).

In his new doc, the liberal Moore slams Republicans, showing footage of Adolf Hitler dubbed with Trump speeches. But he also criticizes Democrats, claiming that the party rigged the Democratic National Convention to give Clinton the nomination and that President Barack Obama offended residents in Moore’s hometown of Flint, Mich., by appearing to mock them during a visit in the middle of the water crisis. And yet, Moore has always called himself an optimist, so alongside biting political commentary, he features Americans who should make people feel more hopeful. He introduces April Cook Hawkins, who comes forward to allege in the film that there was a county health department scheme to falsify tests showing Flint children’s blood lead levels to make the crisis seem less dire (the county denies her allegations). And he highlights the students in Parkland, Fla., who organized the March for Our Lives movement after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. By releasing Fahrenheit 11/9 in the walkup to the midterm elections on Nov. 6, Moore aims to inspire people to take action, and most importantly, vote.

Moore spoke with TIME about the film and shared his thoughts on other hot button political issues.

How do you describe the link between the Flint water crisis and Clinton losing Michigan?

We got a peek at what Donald Trump would do to the country when we got Rick Snyder as [Michigan’s] Governor in 2011. He did many of the things Trump did when he got into office: a tax cut for the rich, stripping away Democratic rights from people and doing whatever would make money for the rich even if it meant poisoning the water. All of that was foreshadowing what we’re going through now with Trump. So looking back, you can see the writing was on the wall, and Clinton lost Michigan because two things happened: President Obama came and drank the water publicly and said it was safe when it wasn’t. It depressed the vote. And when they held the Democratic Party debate in Flint between Bernie [Sanders] and Clinton, Clinton got some questions in advance. When the people of Flint found out their questions were just props for the Clinton campaign, they just decided not to vote.

In the movie, you hose down the Michigan Governor’s house with Flint water. What was that like? How did you avoid getting caught?

My first thought while I was standing there was, there’s going to be a bullet entering my head any minute. It was scary actually, to tell you the truth. Somebody must have tipped them off. They know me in Michigan, and they’ve also learned that the best way to deal with me is to batten down the hatches and pretend I’m not there. If they had sent people out to arrest me or stop me, in their minds it would only be helping me.

You show scenes of super-delegates from states that voted for Sanders in the primary. Do you think Sanders could have beaten Trump?

Yes, absolutely. And I believe Sanders could beat Trump in 2020. But I don’t really talk about 2020 anyways, because the only election that’s important right now is Nov. 6.

In the film, there’s a clip of you and Trump on Roseanne Barr’s show in 1998. How does the Trump you met on that show compare with the Trump today?

When I first came to New York in 1990, the first time Trump and I were in the same room was at a Planned Parenthood benefit. He was always at Democratic Party things. He blew with the wind — whatever way it was blowing, that’s where he blew. Trump himself has no ideology — actually he does believe in one thing: Donald J. Trump. If it’s good for him, then he’s all for it.

[On Barr’s show] he was very skillful in getting me to feel sorry for him and not to pick on him. In the green room, they were so worried he was going to leave and I had to promise him I wouldn’t attack him, that I wouldn’t bring up any of his crazy business schemes. Basically I got played like a lot of people got played.

You’ve described yourself as a representative for the working class in the elite circles you travel in now. How can the 1% better understand the 99%?

The 1% understands the 99% very well. That’s how they’re able to make their lives so miserable — by not giving them any real increases in wages, by cutting their benefits and by making it difficult for them to vote through voter suppression and gerrymandering. The 99% is catching on now that the 1% is up to no good. And when the 99% rise up, the 1% knows they’re going to be in a lot of trouble.

Your satirical news show TV Nation is coming back. Since the mid-’90s, a lot more satirical news shows have come out. How will yours differ? What about the format of fake news shows do you think needs tweaking?

We’re going to produce a TV series that’s going to be fearless, that will inspire people to get involved. [Many TV hosts think] Trump is funny, but I don’t think he’s funny. I’m treating the show the same way I treat him — with a belief that he outsmarted everybody. I don’t think he’s an idiot. I don’t think he’s crazy. I think that he’s crazy like a fox. We need something on TV that’s going to rip the mask off that.

As a former Roman Catholic seminarian, what do you think about the latest Catholic Church scandal over the Pennsylvania grand jury report?

Speaking as a Catholic and former seminarian, I think the Catholic Church as a belief system of loving your enemy and neighbor and doing good for people — those are all wonderful lessons and the right way to live. The Catholic Church as a legal institution needs to be shut down. If Macy’s allowed its stores to be used for [sexually abusing] children, and not just in one store, but in a thousand stores, would not Macy’s be shut down? When it does stand up as it did against George W. Bush, against the Iraq War — that’s the Catholic Church that needs to exist. That’s only going to happen if the people make it happen.

You were the person who urged Al Franken to run for the Senate. How do you feel about his resignation in light of sexual harassment allegations?

All of it was a surprise. I had never seen or heard of anything regarding Al Franken or even Harvey Weinstein. But the actions of it, in terms of men behaving that way, that wasn’t surprising. This has been an incredible year, long overdue, where men who treat women in inappropriate and abusive ways are getting their comeuppance, and I’m happy to see it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Olivia B. Waxman at olivia.waxman@time.com