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Hillary, Trump, & the Politics of Frank Capra

Annie in front of the capital

As election season crescendos to its appointed climax, many Americans are anxiously preparing for apocalypse. With passports in hand and “Oh Canada!” on their lips, both liberals and conservatives have suggested that a mass exodus is imminent. Idol threats, perhaps. But the underlying sentiment is very real: we’re disillusioned, disgusted, and hopelessly divided.

We have imbued our elected officials with so much power that I believe that many of us (including myself) have forgotten our own agency. We have forgotten, for instance, that the impetus for hope and change does not lie exclusively with our president. We have forgotten that making America great is not contingent upon the primacy of a particular political party. We have forgotten, in effect, the politics of Frank Capra.

Frank Capra, of course, was not a politician but a filmmaker. Nevertheless, several film critics and scholars have written prolifically about the political commentary represented in movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and It’s a Wonderful Life. 

Claude Rains and Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Claude Rains and Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

A self-proclaimed conservative Republican, Capra opposed FDR’s New Deal and rallied against the corrupting influence of “big government.” But unlike some modern-day manifestations of conservative Republicanism, Capra was critical of unbridled capitalism and corporate greed. His heroes were socially conscious, humble, generous, and idealistic. But perhaps most significantly, Capra’s protagonists illustrated the influential power of the individual–no matter how insignificant they were.

In many ways, Capra’s characters elucidate the nuances of Gandhi’s Paradox: the notion that nothing we do as individuals matters, but it is vital that we do it anyway. When we begin to feel despondent; when we begin to think that any hope for change lies exclusively in the hands of our elected officials, we need to remind ourselves that we have an important role to play on the world’s stage.

Gandhi’s Paradox:

Nothing you do as an individual matters, but it is vital that you do it anyway.

Just as individual leaves are seemingly extraneous to the growth of a tree, they are nonetheless responsible for photosynthesizing the sugar that feeds it. In the same way, while our efforts as individual citizens are ostensibly trivial, collectively we sustain and influence our communities, our nation, and our world (See The Gender Knot by Allan Johnson).

The work we do as individuals often produces a domino effect; it is impossible to calculate its ultimate significance. Moreover, when we are willing to organize and address local problems, we exercise a formidable brand of political power.  We do have the ability to affect positive change–regardless of who occupies the Oval Office.

Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

It’s a Wonderful Life

So when November rolls around, and you’re tempted to flee North, I encourage you instead to watch a Capra film and see if you’re not inspired to stick around and make your leaf count here. And if Capra is a bit too saccharine for your taste, perhaps you’ll find the following poem more palatable:

Stubborn Ounces

(To one who doubts the worth of doing anything if you can’t do everything)

You say the little efforts that I make
will do no good; they will never prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where Justice hangs in the balance.
I don’t think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favor of my right to choose which side
shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.
-Bonaro Overstreet

 Look! The Capitol Dress!Eagle Brooch

Dress: Glamour Bunny (similar blue dress) (similar red dress)

Shoes: Miss L Fire (similar)

Brooch: Ertstwilder

Glamour Bunny is a lovely, UK-based clothing line which specializes in retro fashion. They replicate many of the iconic dresses worn by sirens like Marilyn Monroe and Bridgette Bardot. This particular style that I’m modeling is currently out of stock, but you can find similar dresses on Glamour Bunny’s website. The sizes range from XS-4X and I find they run true to size. My measurements are 36-25-36, and I took a size small.

The stunning eagle brooch is one of my favorite designs from Erstwilder. Their attention to detail is unparalleled; I’m always impressed with the quality of their work.