Monday, September 19, 2016

Michael Moore's 'Where To Invade Next'

Michael Moore has decided that we Americans need a new foreign policy.  Rather than invade a country with our military and try to influence the people there only to lose the war, he's advocating that we invade countries with our open minds and take over their ideas.  Hence Where To Invade Next, Moore's most pointed documentary ever.  He "invades" various countries and takes back with him ideas for social programs, policies, and amenities that America is infamous for not having.  And if we do invade this way, as Moore demonstrates, this time we can win.

Moore travels to different nations to observe how they handles education, workers' rights, criminal justice, and other issues.  Although he admits that other countries have other problems like we do, he's not concerned with any of that; he prefers to pick the flowers rather than the weeds (his own phrase).  After watching Where To Invade Next, though, I was enraged to see how much of a field of crabgrass America is - and why we're not doing something about it by considering these better ideas that Moore found elsewhere.  Moore travels to Italy to find nationally mandated paid vacations and shows Italians more productive at their jobs and less stressed.  He goes to Finland and France to show how school students are respected; in Finland they're encouraged to learn through curiosity rather than through rote instruction, and in France they're served real food during lunch break - and in France's poorest communities as well.  From worker's rights in Germany, where a middle class still thrives, to free higher education in Slovenia, a country the size of New Jersey with one-fourth as many people, Moore shows more humane ways in which countries treat their citizens and how they can't imagine anyone being left to fend for themselves . . . as in the United States.
Some of Moore's discoveries are astonishing.  Norway's maximum-security prisons are laid out like country clubs with rehabilitation programs for even of its most dangerous murderers (who work freely with knives in the prison kitchen), and women's rights are constitutionally guaranteed in, of all places, Tunisia.  By the time he gets around to talking about how Iceland got out of the great financial crisis of 2008 by punishing errant bankers instead of bailing them out, you're left asking again and again and again: "Why can't we do this here??"   
The joke in Where To Invade Next is that many of these ideas actually did originate here.  Europeans may boast about having eliminated the death penalty while the U.S. government has not, but Moore notes that his home state of Michigan was the first English-speaking political entity to abolish capital punishment in the world - in 1846.  Workers' vacations, prison reform, some of the ideas the Finns used to make their children the best educated children in the world - all of those ideas were thought up in the United States but were either not implemented correctly (paid vacations are a privilege, not a right, in These States) or never implemented at all.  Moore makes no more than a passing reference to high-speed rail, but he could have also mentioned that magnetic levitation rail - the next big advancement in passenger trains - was invented in the United States but was never pursued here beyond some basic experiments.  (Why not?  Because the government apparently didn't want to fund any program that might produce a transportation system that would cut into the profits of auto companies or airlines.)  The biggest and best reason to watch this entertaining and enlightening movie is to see that Moore isn't invading anyone at all for their ingenuity; like Bob Dylan with rock and roll in Great Britain, Moore's taking a stand and bringing it all back home.
(Tellingly, Moore doesn't "invade" Great Britain for any ideas.  Perhaps that's appropriate; after nearly two decades of Conservative and centrist Labour rule, the British haven't given the world any new ideas, and, ironically, they're too busy trying to implement our bad ideas these days.)
This movie made me want to do something, and I hope more people see it and decide that they want to do something - anything - to, well, make America great again. But not through the two-party system.   Donald Trump may be correct in saying that America is no longer great, but he doesn't notice the real reasons for that and offers no real solutions; Hillary Clinton says that America never stopped being great, but she doesn't notice the low literacy rates and substandard infrastructure (among other things) that contradict her rebuttal to Trump's slogan.   Moore ends Where To Invade Next with a hopeful message that explains how Americans habituated to expecting no change have it in them to change something almost literally overnight (how? well, I don't want to spoil it for you), and if enough people do see this documentary, hope and change can be more than just a mantra.
Let's do more than just occupy a street in Lower Manhattan.

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