TORONTO – Michael Moore was at a disadvantage at the premiere of his documentary Where to Invade Next at this year's Toronto International Film Festival. Which is to say: The audience knew what he was talking about.
Where to Invade Next is a kind of road trip of American left-wing envy, in which Moore goes from country to country picking out the policies that make each of them better than America. Unfortunately for him, the screening rooms at TIFF are some of the most cosmopolitan places on the planet, crammed with film critics and distributors from every corner of the earth. So when Moore got onto the subject of Italian work policies and mentioned that Italians take two-hour lunches every day, the Italian contingent in the audience couldn't hold back. A lone voice shouted at the screen, "It's not true!"
Of course, as a Canadian, I could have told them. In his breakout documentary Bowling for Columbine, Moore came to Toronto and "discovered" that nobody locks their doors. This was supposed to prove how much safer we were than people in American cities. Which is true to a certain extent. But everybody in Toronto, just to be clear, locks their doors. Security-alarm companies have no problem making sales here. Half of my closest friends have had break-ins in the past couple years alone. No one in Canada would disagree with Moore's fundamental political point in Bowling for Columbine: that Canadian gun control works and America's lack of gun control doesn't. His assertions about Canadian life were nonetheless weird.
Where to Invade Next extends Moore's Canada-love to the whole world.
"War is America's way of learning geography" is the old saying. Policy wonkery is, apparently, another educational method. The conceit of the film is that Moore goes through Europe, planting American flags at places from which he plans to take ideas. In Italy, the idea is the 35 days of paid vacation to which workers are entitled. In France, it's the four-course school lunches that teach children about food as culture. In Germany, it's the fact that corporate boards have 50 percent representation from workers. In Norway, it's a prison system so devoted to human dignity that even Anders Behring Breivik was sentenced only to 21 years in jail for the murder of 77 children. And so on. Slovenia has free post-secondary education. Portugal has completely decriminalized all drug use and therefore has no drug war and no crisis of mass incarceration.
At every point, Moore makes sure to contrast the virtues of European policies with the horrors of their American equivalents. Pictures of French school lunches are placed beside pictures of disgusting American school lunches. Interviews with the Norwegian prison guards, in all their bland sense of community, are interspersed with videos of American police brutality. The technique makes the U.S. look like a country in collapse while Europe, and everywhere else, look like Utopia.
Moore's sense of righteousness leads him into pure foolishness often, and not for the first time. He rehashes the victory of the women's movement in Tunisia during the aftermath of the Arab Spring and insists that America has much to learn from it, while failing to mention what happened to the other countries in the region after their revolutions. The point is so obvious, I can't believe I have to make it: If you think it's better to be a woman in Tunisia than in America, you simply do not know what you are talking about.
The policies that Moore brings up are great; they are often among the greatest political achievements of the countries he visits. But anybody who lives in them knows that the story is much more complicated than the best thing. France does have great school lunches; it also has a failure to integrate its massive immigrant population that threatens its most cherished liberal ideas. Italy does have very civilized worker leave policies; it also has been stuck in an economic quagmire for nearly a decade now. As for my own country, Canada has many wonderful advantages over America – health care and the education system – but only an idiot would think that the United States doesn't have its great strengths, too. It is by far the most innovative and open-minded country in the world, to start. There's a reason a million Canadians live there.
Where to Invade Next purports to be a corrective to American exceptionalism. It is good for America to know, I suppose, that there are countries in the world that sometimes possess better government policies. But I do really feel that if Michael Moore loves places like Canada so much, he should move to them. I'm not being facetious. My neighborhood is filled with Americans who came to Canada because they preferred the way of life here. They learn – as no doubt Moore would – that Canada has its own problems, its own historical crimes, its own messes that it's not sure how to clean up. When Americans become Canadian, they don't just shed old difficulties; they take on new ones.
Michael Moore hates the imperialist mode of American patriotism. Who can blame him? But he represents a different kind of political narcissism: He hates what has happened to his own country so much that he exports his hatred country by country. For him, the reality of Europe exists only to teach America things about itself. Meanwhile, Europeans still insist on believing they are their own countries, with their own struggles and their own destinies.
This article was originally published on Esquire.com