Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, directed by Frank Capra in 1939, is about a young Senator who stands up to corruption. At its heart, the film is a Catholic proclamation, focusing on American generosity and justice. As for Mr. Smith, he is an example of how idealistic and enthusiastic young people often chose to protect their country through thick and thin, embracing sacrfice and even death.
A Battle in Washington
Mr. Smith, played by James Stewart, confronts a hidden plot to legislate in the Senate to build a dam which would destroy the beautiful countryside of Mr. Smith’s state and his dream to establish an educational camp for American schoolboys and schoolgirls.
The iniquitous plot is carried through Senate by a much older Senator. Originally a sentimental encourager and educator of naïve Mr. Smith, this veteran Senator is now attempting to destroy him for good, using brutal tricks of his important co-plotters. After a falsely accusing Mr. Smith of criminal acts, a dozen bags of letters fill the Senate’s floor from ordinary citizens from their state violently protesting Mr. Smith’s behavior.
The film’s final scene is a dramatic, personal, 24 hours filibuster to postpone the appropriations bill and prove his innocence on the Senate floor before the other Senators vote to expel him. Mr. Smith talks non-stop for about 25 hours, reaffirming the American ideals of freedom and exposing the true motives behind the dam scheme.
The filibuster ends dramatically with Mr. Smith’s loss of consciousness — after not sleeping and talking for 24 hours while facing a sea of cunningly invented hate.
All is lost then ?!
Not at all, Franc Capra assures us. Before passing out, Mr. Smith turns to his apparently wicked expert colleague whom he admired before this scandal, to remind him the personal credo of his father “You have to love your neighbor … Mine is the lost cause, but only the lost causes need to be dealt with.” Now Mr. Smith can peacefully black out.
The corrupt, older colleague was an honest man before becoming Senator and a close friend of Mr. Smith’s father, was shocked by this heroism and confessed his and his friend’s scheme.
Today’s Senate Impeachment Trial
The reader has already recognized the actual political context behind our interest to Frank Capra’s Senate interpretation: today’s Senate impeachment trial. With seven House managers, named by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., playing the rôle of Mr. Smith and trying to convince (Republican) Senators that President Trump’s mismanagements are really demanding his impeachment. Still, our motives and purposes here are not political, but strictly moral and, in a sense, pure Catholic.
Before entering (in a Catholic way, we repeat) this current American presidential drama, we need to agree that Frank Capra’s Senate presentation ninety years ago was far from a political reality. Thus, a Democrat and then Senate Majority Leader, Alben W. Barkley, said about the film that it “makes the Senate look like a bunch of crooks.” (Some Democrats and Independents characterize today the current Republican majority in Senate by very similar formules.)
Trump’s impeachment trial initiative has been invoked by Nancy Pelosi, the most successful, today and historically, American stateswoman and believing Catholic lady of an extremely liberal understanding of the rationals and forms of social and human compassion and solidarity. However, the fight for impeachment of the President Donald Truman is a political drama with no serious Catholic involvement. For example, Catholics have many reasons to sympathise with Trump’s motivations and legal initiatives to defend Life against American abortion legalization and proliferation. Many rebuke “Democrats in the House of Representatives [who] moved too fast in the impeachment process, voting before they could hear from key witnesses.” (New York Times, February 1)
Still, the Senate’s lack of any rigor in current public disclosure of the President’s questionable actions is more than regrettable: “the Senate abandoning its role as the ultimate guard against a dangerous president” (ibid.) There is no doubt that “Trump’s impeachment defense is designed to destroy guardrails on presidential power.” (Washington Post, January 22)
In other words, are Presidents of the U.S. on the road to become American Emperors?
The first three hundred years the Catholic Church witnessed the martyrdom of millions of Christians who preferred to die for their faith rather than submit to the pagan practice of the Emperor-worship.
A Real Catholic Hero Today
On May 13, 2007, a brave and intelligent young man from Massachusetts, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Andrew John Bacevich Jr., was killed in a military action in Iraq. His parents have received hundreds of messages of compassion, with their state’s senators, Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, telephoned to express their condolences. Stephen F. Lynch, their congressman, attended their son’s wake. Kerry was present for the funeral Mass.
Who are the parents and the family of Andrew John? His father is a retired Army colonel, Andrew J. Bacevich . He fought in Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars and is an American historian, author of dozen books, specializing in international relations, security studies, American foreign policy, and American diplomatic and military history. (Wikipedia). He is a Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History at the Boston University Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies and the co-founder and president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Bacevich and his spouse Nancy have three daughters.
Two weeks after his son’s death, Andrew Bacevich wrote about his and his spouses grief and the compassion of their friends, connections and strangers. He also mentioned two letters that found him personally culpable, insisting that his public opposition to the war had provided aid and comfort to the enemy. Each said that his son’s death came as a direct result of his antiwar writings.
“Among the many ways to answer that [accusation], mine was this one, writes Becevich: As my son was doing his utmost to be a good soldier, I strove to be a good citizen.” As to the high Congressmen and Senators who visited him, Bacevich writes: “But when I suggested to each of them the necessity of ending the war, I got the brushoff” (We Who Dared to Say No to War: American Antiwar Writing from 1812 to Now).
In fact, starting from Sept. 11, 2001, Bacevich has analyzed the external, economical, and military policies of the U.S. with its “government, transformed by an imperial presidency, [being] a democracy in form only” (The Limits of Power: The end of American Exceptionalism). Bacevich has been “a persistent, vocal critic of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, calling the conflict a catastrophic failure.” In March 2007, two months before the death of his son, he described George W. Bush’s endorsement of such “preventive wars” as “immoral, illicit, and imprudent.”
Here is the modern Catholic man of “deeply felt religious convictions” whose initial political conservatism was disenchanted because of the Presidents Bush, Obama (The Boston Globe, October 11, 2009), and Trump “fiscal irresponsibility, a buccaneering foreign policy, a disregard for the Constitution, the barest lip service as a response to profound moral controversies.” (The New American Militarism: How Americans are seduced by war, 2005)
This is our real Catholic hero who somehow surpasses in justice, generosity, and professionalism Capra’s Mr. Smith ! The father of a martyr killed by the President-Emperor’s international gambles, the son of the Church true to his religious calling.
To the memory of Frank Capra, the creator of “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” (1939). And with our greatest respect and brotherly compassion to Professor Andrew John Bacevich.