As I've considered the real lesson of January 6, I've been prompted to rewatch a movie that provides a hint of an answer Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," which was released 75 years ago this month.
When I first saw the movie in the late 1960s, I thought it pure hokum. America was coming apart over Vietnam and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and I remember thinking the movie could have been produced by some propaganda bureau of the government that had been told to create a white-washed (and white) version of the United States.
But in more recent years I've come around. As America has moved closer to being an oligarchy with staggering inequalities of income, wealth, and power not seen in over a century and closer to Trumpian neofascism (the two moves are connected), "It's a Wonderful Life" speaks to what's gone wrong and what must be done to make it right.
As you probably know (and if you don't, this weekend would be a good time to watch it), the movie's central conflict is between Mr. Potter (played by Lionel Barrymore) and George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart). Potter is a greedy and cruel banker. George is the generous and honorable head of Bedford Fall's building-and-loan the one entity standing in the way of Potter's total domination of the town. When George accidentally loses some deposits that fall into the hands of Potter, Potter sees an opportunity to ruin George. This brings George to the bridge where he contemplates suicide, thinking his life has been worthless before a guardian angel's counsel turns him homeward.
It's two radically opposed versions of America. In Potter's social-Darwinist view, people compete with one another for resources. Those who succeed deserve to win because they've outrun everyone else in that competitive race. After the death of George's father, who founded the building-and-loan, Potter moves to dissolve it claiming George's father "was not a businessman. He was a man of high ideals, so-called, but ideals without common sense can ruin a town." For Potter, common sense is not coddling the "discontented rabble."
Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
In George's view, Bedford Falls is a community whose members help each other. He tells Potter that the so-called "rabble do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community." His father helped them build homes on credit so they could afford a decent life. "People were human beings to him," George tells Potter, "but to you, they're cattle."
When George contemplates ending it all, his guardian angel shows him how bleak Bedford Falls would be had George never lived poor, fearful, and dependent on Potter. The movie ends when everyone George has helped (virtually the entire town) pitch in to bail out George and his building-and-loan.
It's a cartoon, of course but a cartoon that's fast becoming a reality in America.Do we join together or let the Potters of America own and run everything?
Soon after "It's a Wonderful Life" was released, the FBI considered it evidence of Communist Party infiltration of the film industry. The FBI's Los Angeles field office using a report by an ad-hoc group that included Fountainhead writer and future Trump pin-up girl Ayn Rand warnedthat the movie represented "rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a 'scrooge-type' so that he would be the most hated man in the picture." The movie "deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters. This is a common trick used by Communists."
The FBI report compared "It's a Wonderful Life" to a Soviet film, and alleged that Frank Capra was "associated with left-wing groups" and that screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett were "very close to known Communists."
RELATED:The harmful messaging of "It's a Wonderful Life"
This was all rubbish, of course and a prelude to the Red Scare led by Republican Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin, who launched a series of highly publicized probes into alleged Communist penetration of Hollywood, the State Department, and even the US Army.
The movie was also prelude to modern Republican ideology. Since Ronald Reagan, Republicans have used Potter-like social Darwinism to justify everything tax cuts for the wealthy, union-busting, and cutbacks in social safety nets. Rand herself became a hero to many in the Trump administration.
Above all, Reagan Republicans, CEOs, and Trumpers have used the strategy of "divide-and-conquer" to generate division among Americans (a kind ofpoliticalsocial-Darwinism). That way, Americans stay angry and suspicious of one another, and don't look upward to see where all the money and power have gone. And won't join together to claim it back.
What would Republicans say about "It's a Wonderful Life" if it were released today? They'd probably call it socialist rather than communist, but it would make them squirm all the same especially given the eery similarity between Lionel Barrymore's Mr. Potter and you know who.
See more here:
- The Philosophic Case for the Absolute Right to Abortion - New Ideal - June 26th, 2022
- R2AK: Will monohulls sweep the podium? - Scuttlebutt Sailing News - June 26th, 2022
- Bill Maher Addressed an Eventful Political Week on Real Time - InsideHook - June 26th, 2022
- Ayn Rand v Donald Trump? - Daily Kos - June 22nd, 2022
- Letter: The rules of life are very simple - Detroit Lakes Tribune - June 22nd, 2022
- The Banality of Putin and Xi | Yaron Brook and Elan Journo - IAI - June 22nd, 2022
- American culture is destroying itself, and the planet, says leading activist Bill McKibben - Yahoo Philippines News - June 22nd, 2022
- Is Discussing the Consequences of Anti-Vaccine Disinformation Fun? - Science Based Medicine - June 3rd, 2022
- O'Donnell: Will the NBA's new red-light camera calls ruin The Finals for ABC/ESPN? - Daily Herald - June 1st, 2022
- The Strange and Terrifying Ideas of Neoreactionaries Current Affairs - Current Affairs - June 1st, 2022
- Martin Scorsese, Objectivism, Relativism, and How We Read Cinema - No Film School - June 1st, 2022
- Ayn Rand, Objectivists, and COVID - Science Based Medicine - May 25th, 2022
- Ayn Rand vs. Classical Economists - The Objective Standard - May 25th, 2022
- Opinion | Demolishing the Demonic Plans of Our Enemy, and Can We Get An Amen - Common Dreams - May 20th, 2022
- Ayn Rand's We the Living: Back on the Silver Screenand Better Than Ever - The Objective Standard - May 17th, 2022
- Congress revival: Time to break free of family - The Hans India - May 17th, 2022
- The Financial Dark Ages Are Ending Thanks To Bitcoin - Bitcoin Magazine - May 17th, 2022
- Marital rape: How understanding context rather than just focusing on consent will help resolve the issue - Firstpost - May 13th, 2022
- Deadly Class Season 2: Is a Release Date or Rumor in the Offing on Netflix? - Federal Regulations Advisor - May 13th, 2022
- The Daily Cartoon and Live Briefing: Monday, May 9, 2022 - FlaglerLive.com - May 13th, 2022
- Victory at San Jacinto liberated the individual | Opinion | jacksonvilleprogress.com - Jacksonville Daily Progress - April 20th, 2022
- RUSH's GEDDY LEE Says NEIL PEART 'Didn't Want Anyone To Know' About His Illness: 'He Wanted To Keep It In The House' - BLABBERMOUTH.NET - April 20th, 2022
- The Alternative Meat Industry Wants Solar Power Style Mandates And Subsidies - Science 2.0 - April 20th, 2022
- diSConnected: Is Ayn Rand or Mother Teresa better for protecting South Carolinians with disabilities? - South Carolina Public Radio - April 15th, 2022
- Did the John Birch Society Win in the End? - The Bulwark - April 15th, 2022
- Boris Johnsons Covid bravado insults the NHS and the public - The Guardian - April 15th, 2022
- Science Fiction in a Time of Crisis - Filmmaker Magazine - April 15th, 2022
- The criticism facing Rishi Sunak has nothing to do with race, and all to do with greed - iNews - April 15th, 2022
- Zack Snyder's Star Wars-Themed Movie Recruits The Princess Bride Star - Giant Freakin Robot - April 11th, 2022
- Debate sparked after University of Bristol students try to 'cancel' controversial speaker - Bristol Live - April 11th, 2022
- Rishi Sunak is a terrible bloke, regardless of his wife's finances - JOE.co.uk - April 11th, 2022
- Understanding the Roots of the New Inflation: With Rob Tarr - New Ideal - April 6th, 2022
- First Wind Film Development To Adapt Rick Bleiweiss Blackstone Novel Pignon Scorbion And The Barbershop Detectives For TV - Deadline - April 6th, 2022
- 'My jagged path to cap and gown': Reflections from a 23-year-old expectant high school graduate - Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel - April 6th, 2022
- Don't Believe The Hype: The Left Wish They Ran Cancel Culture Like This - Above the Law - April 6th, 2022
- Who is John Malone, the 'Cable Cowboy' and GB News backer who could buy Channel 4? - Left Foot Forward - April 6th, 2022
- Frank Lloyd Wright Left 660 Unbuilt Designs And an Innovative New Project Brings Three of Those to Life - InsideHook - March 17th, 2022
- American Familia: David Morales on Grit, Self-Reliance, and the American Dream | Kerry McDonald - Foundation for Economic Education - March 17th, 2022
- Top 10 buildings in fiction - The Guardian - February 17th, 2022
- Trump can now count on Thiel, the hi-tech billionaire who finances his revenge Corriere.it - D1SoftballNews.com - February 17th, 2022
- Objectivism Q&A with Ben Bayer and Mike Mazza - New Ideal - February 15th, 2022
- Leftists And So-Called Christian Leaders Embrace Abortion As 'Sacred' - The Federalist - February 15th, 2022
- A Companion to Ayn Rand Now in Paperback - New Ideal - February 11th, 2022
- Happy birthday to the great Ayn Rand Daily Breeze - February 7th, 2022
- The Fountainhead - AynRand.org - February 7th, 2022
- Randy Alcorn: Whats Wrong with America? - Noozhawk - February 7th, 2022
- Happy birthday to the great Ayn Rand - OCRegister - February 3rd, 2022
- Letter to the editor about Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. - Fillmore County Journal - February 3rd, 2022
- Why Are Members of Congress Allowed to Trade Stocks? - The Atlantic - February 3rd, 2022
- Anthem Quotes by Ayn Rand - Goodreads - January 19th, 2022
- The Fountainhead Reading Group with Andrew Bernstein - The Objective Standard - January 19th, 2022
- Bice: U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson blames LBJ and Great Society for high percentage of out-of-wedlock births - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - January 19th, 2022
- Who is Ray Epps? Who is John Galt? - Washington Times - January 19th, 2022
- Nancy Perkins to discuss: The British Mystery, 200 Years of Murder Most Foul - PenBayPilot.com - January 9th, 2022
- Advice: Im a woman of color often overlooked at work until people realize I outrank them - The Boston Globe - January 9th, 2022
- Seahawks vs Texans Week 14 Picks and Predictions: Learning To Fly Again - Covers - December 10th, 2021
- Philosophy - AynRand.org - December 7th, 2021
- Book Review | Peter Thiel, tech and power - newframe.com - December 7th, 2021
- The Remnant, The Parasite And The Masses - Bitcoin Magazine - December 7th, 2021
- Column: Infusion of Trillions in Funding Has Consequences - Southern Pines Pilot - December 3rd, 2021
- 15 Higher Education Stories Worth Investigating - Republic Report - December 3rd, 2021
- TCS country head: 'Ireland is a great place to do business' - Siliconrepublic.com - December 3rd, 2021
- Craig Wright, Satoshi Nakamoto and why people ridicule the greats in their lifetimes - CoinGeek - December 3rd, 2021
- Breaking News - A&E Delves Into the Psyche of Dennis Rader in "BTK: Confession of a Serial Killer" Featuring New Never-Before-Heard Conversations with... - December 3rd, 2021
- This Is How Amazon Is Fueling the Climate Crisis - City Watch - December 3rd, 2021
- Ideas and Dubious Consequences - Splice Today - November 17th, 2021
- Forza Horizon 5s amazing intro shows why its a huge hit on Game Pass - Polygon - November 17th, 2021
- Armstrong: Learning to live with Covid Complete Colorado Page Two - Complete Colorado - November 17th, 2021
- Celeb Shelf: Instead of scrolling through my phone I read a book, shares actor-turned-author Jugal Hansraj - Free Press Journal - November 9th, 2021
- Inside Final Days of Jane Fonda's Brother Peter Who Was Also an Actor & Suffered Tragedy at 10 - AmoMama - November 9th, 2021
- Jenny Turner We must think! Hannah Arendt's Islands LRB 4 November 2021 - London Review of Books - November 9th, 2021
- A Meditation on the Golden Rule | James Ford - Patheos - November 9th, 2021
- New from Ayn Rand University: Bacon's Philosophy of Science - New Ideal - November 5th, 2021
- Who Are Americas Billionaires, Anyway? - The New York Times - November 5th, 2021
- Its Time to Talk About Russell Westbrook (Again) - The Ringer - November 5th, 2021
- How racists and big money transformed the party of Abraham Lincoln into a modern-day Confederacy - Milwaukee Independent - November 5th, 2021
- Closing the barn door too late - FXStreet - October 26th, 2021
- Covid-19 Tracker: This is it? - Mission Local - October 26th, 2021
- BWW Review: Wall Street Takes Center Stage at Live Theatre Workshop - Broadway World - October 26th, 2021
- Letters to the editor, Oct. 23, 2021 | Opinion | rapidcityjournal.com - Rapid City Journal - October 26th, 2021