From top: Michael Moore promoting his documentary Farenheit 11/9 and protesting the poisoning of the privatised water supply in Flint, Michigan, USA last September; Eamonn Kelly
Someone I met recently dismissed privatisation as a dull non-issue, regarding it as a fait accompli and something that wasn’t really that serious in the long run.
Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9, is a stark reminder of what privatisation actually means as played out in the more “advanced” corporate structures of the United States, which are currently laying waste to all around them.
Privatisation in the United States is like a cancer eating up whole districts.
For instance, the so-called opioid crisis came about when pharmaceutical companies knowingly hooked people on opiate-laden painkillers in order to create a market. Like drug-pushers used to do, giving heroin to kids outside schools to create a “demand”.
With Moore’s documentary, what I imagined would be an attack on Trump is actually far more nuanced than anything so simple, turning out be as much an indictment of the Democratic Party as it is of Trump.
Or, more accurately, an indictment of the political elites of the United States, who are not unlike our own small political elites, characterised as they are by serving business, to the detriment of the people who elect them; while denigrating those who are poor in capital and in political representation.
This new breed of neo-liberal politician not only turns a blind eye to social injustice, but often actively and even knowingly, creates social injustice.
The deliberate lying that took place in the Democratic party to ensure that Hilary Clinton would get the nomination over Bernie Sanders, who actually had more support, was, according to the Moore film, morally sanctioned by the belief that a woman “deserved” to be president at last.
So, they cheated the system to promote Hilary at the expense, not only of Bernie Sanders and all his supporters, but also at the expense of the integrity of the democratic party and the integrity of the democratic process.
This deliberate deception, along with Obama’s visit to Flint, Michigan in early 2016 to address the problem of lead poisoning that came in the wake of the privatisation of the water supply, contributed to an increasing lack of faith among the electorate in the democratic process.
What happened in Flint was that after the water supply was privatised, a contract was then put out to build a new pipeline. A new pipeline wasn’t really needed, except to create a profit opportunity for a private contractor.
What this meant was that the Flint water supply, instead of being drawn from a clean lake, was instead drawn from a polluted river while the new pipeline was being built.
As well as poisoning 10,000 children with ingested lead, the river also, it turned out, was damaging components in the local General Motors car factory. Metal components. General Motors complained and were given access to the clean water supply.
The people of Flint however, were left to drink from the lead-polluted water source. The majority of these people, by the way, are African American.
A distress call was sent to the black president who arrived on Air Force one. Some people wept on seeing him. Everything would be okay now. He would stand with them surely against the Republican governor who had brought all this privatization misery and distress on the town. I was with them. I was a bit of a fan of Obama too and I totally expected some kind of happy ending.
What did Obama do? Standing at the dais to speak to and reassure the people of Flint, he asked for a glass of water. Not a bottle of water. By this time everyone in Flint was drinking bottled water. People yelled from the audience that he should drink bottled.
Obama took a sip from the glass of water brought to him. Not a big swallow, a careful sip. He minimized the issue. He said that he was sure that when he was a “kid” he might have picked at flakes of paint that contained lead, and eaten them.
He said in effect that there was no problem, and he flew away leaving behind an entire town totally disillusioned with politics and democracy and the political elite who appear to, no matter what they might say, serve business interests only and damn the ordinary people with neglect.
Weeks later, for reasons not fully explained by anyone, except one soldier who conjectured that Flint had a lot of empty and derelict buildings, the US army conducted training manoeuvres in Flint, using live ammunition, without having consulted the town of their intention to do so.
Helicopters flew low over the town firing guns. Mortars and rockets exploded into derelict buildings. The impression given was that the US government, even before Trump, was already gone rogue and was now a tool of corporate America, to the exclusion of all other considerations.
These two events, taken together, the side-lining of Bernie Sanders to promote Hilary Clinton’s presidential ambitions, and Obama’s betrayal of the people of Flint over the poisoning of their water supply, conspired to create an environment of political complacency among the electorate, combined with a more generalised anger at the political establishment, that had the effect of catapulting Trump into office, with perhaps some help from Russian hackers.
The documentary implies that Trump would never have been elected if the Democratic party hadn’t been so elitist as to alienate its own electoral base by placing feminist aspirations above democratic integrity. Cheating the democratic process in the name of a perceived good or righteous cause is still cheating.
Moore’s startling conclusion is that the Democratic party were the first to depart from democratic principles which gave rise to Trump.
Obama’s mockery of Trump’s presidential ambitions in the growing climate of political disillusion can’t have helped; while his downplaying of the polluted water supply in Flint would not have gone unnoticed by poor black communities across the country.
What Moore’s documentary showed was that the political establishment is already lost to corporate influence, as it is here and in most democratic countries, as detailed in Joeseph E. Stiglitz’s “The Price of Inequality”. In this case the price was Trump in the White House and all subsequent costs, including deliberate environmental devestation.
What Michael Moore’s disturbing documentary demonstrated was that the corporate overlords really don’t give a damn about the well-being of normal people or the environment. That there is no argument or revelation of injustice that will change their approach.
The chilling conclusion is that they know exactly what they are doing. It’s not a mistake or an oversight. They will kill to have their way. That, ultimately, is what privatisation truly means. It’s not a game. They’ll have our skins for lamp-shades if they believe there’s a market for them.
Eamonn Kelly is a freelance journalist, His column appears here monthly.