I finally got around to watching Michael Moore’s two-hour documentary Where to Invade Next, and realized he had a better answer than did Donald Trump to the question of how we make America great.
And it’s not by dismantling “Obama Care,” or discriminating against Muslims, or building a wall to keep illegal immigrants out, or spending a lot more on the military and doing so by cutting back on social, environmental, and educational programs.
No instead, it’s about swallowing our excessive pride, forgoing insistence on American exceptionalism, renouncing ideological dogmatism, and becoming more humble and truth-seeking.
The basic premise of the Moore film is that we can learn from other countries, and it shows him interviewing people from Italy, France, Finland, Slovenia, Germany, Norway, Portugal, Tunisia and Iceland. What he learns is that compared to those of us in the USA (as of 2015), Italians receive more paid vacations and other days off including holidays and maternity leave; French children eat better school lunches; Finish students have less homework and standardized testing but seem better educated than American students; Slovenian college students receive free college tuition, which is also available to foreign students; German workers have shorter workweeks and receive more benefits than the average U.S. employee; Norway treats its prisoners better; in Portugal for “the last 15 years, no one was arrested . . . because they were caught using drugs”; Tunisia has “free government-funded women's health clinics and government-funded abortion”; Iceland treats its women better than does the USA—early this year Iceland “was officially proclaimed, for the second year in a row, the most feminist place in the world.” (Film quotes from script.)
Moore admits that his film intends to highlight what we can learn from these other countries and does not give equal time to their shortcomings. He intersperses his interviews, often humorous, with clips and comments that display negative U.S. behavior such as racism and mistreatment of blacks and prisoners. And he does not give many answers as to how all the foreign countries he visits can accomplish what they have, except to suggest that they emphasize more the “we” than the “me” and that their national budgets are more sensible—not spending, for example, the astronomical amounts we already are, which President Trump proposes greatly increasing, on military “needs.”
Recommended for You
The filmmaker also believes that we should practice humility by following Germany’s example in regard to admitting the sins of the past. Just as German students are taught about the Holocaust, so U.S. students, and the public in general, should be informed more about the evils the USA has perpetrated on Native Americans and slaves and their descendants.
But learning from other countries, especially European ones, is not something most of us, especially Trump followers, are willing to do—Bernie Sanders and his supporters (like Moore), however, were more open to the idea. In his July 2016 article in the New Yorker (“Who Are All These Trump Supporters?”), George Saunders writes that Trump supporters were suspicious of anything feelings-based, gauzy, liberal, or European; i.e., ‘socialist’.” He also remembers a Trump supporter in Wisconsin yelling at an anti-Trump protester, “Go to socialist Europe! Save your checks and move to a socialist country!”
Such unwillingness to consider rationally, and perhaps learn from, European practices is unfortunate. Political wisom demands both humility and truth-seeking. A Tunisian woman interviewed by Moore told him the following:
Americans are lucky. They are—they belong to the most powerful country in the world. But being the strongest one maybe stopped them from being just curious. I know a lot about you guys. . . . What do you know about my culture? Or Estonian culture? Or Zimbabwean culture? I read an interesting article about the average time an American spends watching the Kardashian show. Why do you spend your time for this? You invented the most powerful weapon in the world—it's Internet, guys. Use it the right way. Check, read, watch, and then come to visit us. . . . And I really think we deserve, as the other countries, your attention, because if you keep this way of thinking, that you are the best and you know everything, it won't work.
And she’s right. Having been in France for six months during the Kennedy years, having taught history to U. S. college students for over four decades, having many times taken students to Europe, Russia, and other parts of the former USSR, having lectured on cruise ships visiting foreign countries, and having talked to many citizens of foreign lands, I can attest that we Americans are more provincial and less interested in, or open to, foreign ways than are most of the foreigners I’ve met.
I’ll never forget the response of a young American soldier in 1961 when I asked him what the tavern was like he had just visited in a very small French town. “Forget it,” he said, “not one of them damn frogs speaks English.” Like, so many Americans, he was not embarrassed at not speaking the language of the country in which he found himself. No, he expected at least some Frenchmen in a small-town tavern to speak English.
Unfortunately, the Make-America-Great-Again cap that can be bought for $19.99 at trumpoutlet.com is promoted by a man who shows no signs of adopting the more humble, truth-seeking attitude we Americans need in order to become greater. If we are to become so, if we are going to learn from the good example of others, we will need to do so in spite of Donald Trump’s presidency, not because of it.
Walter G. Moss