Watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for maybe the millionth time I could not help but feel that America’s becoming more a Potterville and less a Bedford Falls.
You know the story: Bedford Falls, the friendly, caring town under the sway of the selfless George Bailey, becomes — in a world where he had never been born — Potterville, a dark, soulless town captive to the all-powerful Mr. Potter, a man whose greed is exceeded only by his cruelty.
Without the goodness of Bailey, the Rockwell Americana of Bedford Falls becomes a nightmarish scene of seedy bars and strip clubs. Not surprising, for when control is concentrated in the hands of the few, in this case the crotchety scrooge-like Potter, little remains for everyone else. Dog-eat-dog futility reigns; gin joints and casinos flourish.
Leaders shape a society’s moral character. Once Bailey saw how vital his existence was to the benevolent town he helped shape, he wanted nothing more than to return to the good ol’ Building & Loan.
Such noble leadership is about to get scarcer. The White House will soon be occupied by a man whose character would make even Henry Potter blush. Being the season of charity, we’ll leave it at that.
The sad fact is that many Americans joined ranks with a persona who is the polar opposite of Bailey, or more appropriately for the season, Jesus.
As Alexis de Tocqueville said, “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
Therein lies the danger, for the trend of a society’s character, and therefore its soul, tacks by degrees. Imperceptible at first, over time its downward bent becomes more obvious, little by little, until it is too late. Choosing as its leader a man with such demonstrated negative traits is a big step in the wrong direction.
Beyond presidential character deficits lie other signs of an emerging Potterville. The rich and powerful continue to dominate. The share of the wealth of the top one percent is approaching 50 percent, a level not seen since the 1920s.
Make no mistake, like Potter they rule for their own self-interest, not for the public good. Princeton and Northwestern researchers concluded that government policies reflect the will of the wealthy. The masses have a “minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy ... when a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose.”
And now we have a president-elect who is the poster child for that ruling elite.
If this continues, goodness will wane, and the foundation of greatness will have been ripped from under us by the very ones who pretend to save it. Plead we may with the ghost of Christmas future, “Can we yet avert this bleak end?”
Our nation should pray like George Bailey: “Oh God, dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show us the way, we’re nearly at the end of our rope, show us the way…”
Hark, all is not lost. As Dickens wrote in “A Christmas Carol:” “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead ... But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”
And so, in this blessed season, there is hope. Perhaps its holy light will redirect the hearts of leaders, setting them on a good, decent and compassionate course for us all to follow.
And if not, perhaps the reason for the season will lift the log from our eye and use it to burn a yule-fire of brotherhood deep within our breast. And from a people so positively convicted, will emerge a leader like George Bailey. Or even a reformed Scrooge.
Richard Dawahare is a Lexington attorney.