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Monday, November 30, 2015

Why It's a Wonderful Life (Revisited)

As far as holiday traditions go, spending time with family and watching the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life” have got to be fairly ubiquitous; there’s nothing like kin in close quarters to inspire in us a need to be uplifted!  Ha.  My family, like many others I know, boasts a wide variety of political views, which makes for spicy conversation.  Personally, I think a wide variety of political views is a hallmark of great parenting; if all the kids grow up to have the exact same belief system, I think that’s something called “brainwashing”, right?  Anyhow, this Thanksgiving the “spicy” topic of Donald Trump came up, no surprise as there is no escaping the man, even at your own kitchen table. 

Turns out, the view that Donald Trump is nuts was the consensus from both sides of the aisle.  The possibility that it is actually his intention to undermine the Republican Party by making them look like a bunch of intolerant extremists was floated without argument.  The only point of contention that arose, in fact, was when the opinion that Bernie Sanders is also “crazy” was introduced.  My reaction was: when did having high-minded ideals and dreams of a strong and thriving middle class become a “pie-in-the-sky” proposition in this country?  With Donald Trump doing well in the polls, I have to ask:  when did the paradigm shift happen that allowed so many people to start rooting for Mr. Potter instead of George Bailey?

For those of you unfamiliar with the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” (????) George Bailey is the hero, a man who sacrifices his dreams to run a family building and loan company, the only thing standing between the middle class families of his town and a selfish, greedy miser named Mr. Potter.  Because Bailey Building & Loan is cutting into his bottom line, Mr. Potter tries to lure George away from his humble life with grandiose promises of wealth and freedom from the weight of what George sees as his moral responsibility to his fellow man. 

He tells George, “We’ll have so much winning, you’ll get bored with winning!”  Oh wait, no…Donald Trump said that.  What Mr. Potter said was, “You wouldn't mind living in the nicest house in town. Buying your wife a lot of fine clothes, going to New York on a business trip a couple of times a year. ..”  George’s response to this offer is unselfish and wise: “You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money.  Well, it doesn't, Mr. Potter!”  Donald Trump has said, “I’m really rich. And by the way, I’m not saying that in a bragging way, that’s the kind of mindset you need for this country.”  Lionel Barrymore, who plays Mr. Potter, even scrunches up his face into the same weird scowl Trump does.  Role model alert!
The crux of the conflict between Mr. Potter and George is that Mr. Potter believes that giving the middle class a break will result in “a discontented, lazy rabble”.  Donald Trump has said, “If you're interested in 'balancing' work and pleasure, stop trying to balance them. Instead make your work more pleasurable.”  But Americans work longer hours for lower wages, take less vacations and retire later than the citizens of any other developed country on earth.  Do you supposed the burn-out and discouragement the middle class is feeling right now might best be solved by “whistling while we work”?  Bernie Sanders thinks that raising the minimum wage might actually be somewhat more helpful.  He has said, “In the year 2015, no one who works 40 hours a week should be living in poverty.” 

Does that really seem like a crazy ideal?  In the movie, the first time Mr. Potter tries to shut down Bailey Building & Loan, George is incredulous that the man is actually against his Father’s goal of helping middle class families realize their dream of home ownership:  “Doesn't it make them better citizens? Doesn't it make them better customers?” he asks.  Donald Trump says “having a low minimum wage is not a bad thing for this country” and has no plans to raise it.  Do you want to know who having a low minimum wage is great for?  Corporations and businesspeople like Trump that can increase their wealth on the backs of men and women living in poverty.  Is this the wonderful life we dreamed of as Americans?

The climax of the clash between George’s high ideals and Mr. Potter’s self-interest comes when George’s forgetful Uncle Billy loses an $8,000 bank deposit, effectively destroying the business that both George and his Father fought so long and hard to maintain.  When Mr. Potter swoops in like the vulture that he is, the people of the community rally behind George; everyone contributes as they can to save the day.  Oooh, that sounds a little socialist, doesn’t it?  Bernie Sanders calls himself a “Democratic Socialist” saying that it means “We must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy”.  He proposes universal healthcare and free college tuition, things that are working in other thriving societies like Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. 

Here’s the question we should be asking ourselves:  if we have successful working models in wealthy countries of Democratic Socialism, what exactly is our objection to it?  Are we afraid we’ll have so much winning we’ll get bored with winning?  Why are we so moved when everyone contributes what they can to save George (and their town, btw) but so offended by the idea that the rich can afford to pitch in more to save their fellow citizens (and country, btw).  Perhaps you are saying to yourself, “Well, that is just a movie and this is real life!”  And I will say to you, why can’t real life be wonderful too?  Not just for those from privileged backgrounds, but for all of us?  Why is a man who keeps the $8,000 he doesn’t need that would save his neighbor a villain in a movie, but a contending Presidential candidate in real life? 

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1 comment:

  1. Duly liked. I'm guessing that paradigm shift happened about when mortgages became poker chips, and banks became too big to fail, and people like Donald Trump started bragging about making money off of bankruptcies.