The Big Picture / February 20, 2024

Can We Afford to Sit Out the Fight Against Fascism?

Choosing the lesser evil is never inspiring. Still, it’s a choice all of us will have to face.

D.D. Guttenplan
Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca”

Rick Blaine picked a side.

(Getty Images)

For fans of Dashiell Hammett’s private eye, the new AMC series Monsieur Spade offers a chance to pick up where John Huston’s 1941 film leaves off. The year is 1963, the setting southern France, where the 60ish, retired Sam Spade—played by Clive Owen with a slightly broader American accent than he deployed in Inside Man—is supposed to have come to deliver the daughter of Brigid O’Shaughnessy (the femme fatale from The Maltese Falcon) to her grifter father. True to Hammett (and his rival, Raymond Chandler), the plot can be confusing. But the atmospherics of rural France—still reckoning with its Vichy past while its ongoing, and increasingly rancid, colonial war in Algeria also comes home—are superb.

However, there is one plot point I found particularly hard to swallow. The housekeeper’s grandson, Henri, a soldier, asks, “You were in the army, Mr. Spade?”

“No,” he replies. “I was a conscientious objector.” At first I assumed he was joking. Humphrey Bogart, a CO? But Spade’s lack of military experience is apparently well-known to his neighbors.

I didn’t realize why this bothered me so much until I remembered an earlier scene showing Owen in the rain, wearing a trench coat and a gray fedora and looking like he’s just put Ilsa and Victor Laszlo on their plane out of Casablanca. As with Hammett, who managed to reenlist in the US Army in 1942—no easy feat for a Communist who’d already served in the First World War, where he contracted the tuberculosis that would plague him until lung cancer finished him off—sitting out the fight against fascism was never an option for the owner of Rick’s Café.

Is it an option now? For many progressives, the scene in The Maltese Falcon where Spade (Bogart) tells O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) “I won’t play the sap for you” has a painful resonance in election years—especially the part where he adds, “You counted on that.” Taking the base for granted has become the Democratic Party’s habitual vice—to the point that, as Matt Karp notes in this issue, broad swaths of the working class are increasingly identifying with the other party.

And thanks to Joe Biden’s persistent embrace of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his enduring support for Israel’s unrestrained and criminal destruction of Gaza (see Dana Walrath’s “Dreaming of Never Again” in this issue), many Arab American voters, and increasing numbers of young voters and voters of color, have become bitterly alienated from the president and may well stay home in November.

Current Issue

Cover of April 2024 Issue

But disappointment with Biden and the Democratic Party extends beyond Israel and Gaza. On securing abortion rights, forgiving student debt, restoring voting rights, and a host of other issues, the president has talked a good game but failed to adequately deliver. While he has successfully steered the country from a serious pandemic recession to record lows in unemployment—and record highs for stock market indices—the benefits of Bidenomics remain unequally distributed, and have barely touched those at the bottom. Even Biden’s recent move to halt the approval of new liquid natural gas terminals—rightly hailed as a huge win for the environmental movement—is a pause, not a permanent commitment.

Speaking of commitment, Katha Pollitt and Elizabeth Gregory both take on the national embrace of pro­natalism, while elsewhere in this issue Mike Bonin and Peter Dreier report from Los Angeles, where corporate Democrats seem to regard tenant protection as a greater danger than Republican resurgence. Jeet Heer examines the desi diaspora (and the GOP’s appeal to some children of immigrants), and Jonathan Kozol details the slow strangulation of the country’s urban public schools.

Does any of this justify sitting out an election when the alternative is Donald Trump? When Casablanca’s Rick Blaine claims, “I stick my neck out for nobody,” we know he doesn’t mean it. He’s a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, and on the left, solidarity is perhaps the cardinal virtue. Choosing the lesser evil is never inspiring. Still, it’s a choice all of us will have to face. Will it be Monsieur Spade—or Monsieur Blaine?

D.D. Guttenplan
Editor

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read. It’s just one of many examples of incisive, deeply-reported journalism we publish—journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media. For nearly 160 years, The Nation has spoken truth to power and shone a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug.

In a critical election year as well as a time of media austerity, independent journalism needs your continued support. The best way to do this is with a recurring donation. This month, we are asking readers like you who value truth and democracy to step up and support The Nation with a monthly contribution. We call these monthly donors Sustainers, a small but mighty group of supporters who ensure our team of writers, editors, and fact-checkers have the resources they need to report on breaking news, investigative feature stories that often take weeks or months to report, and much more.

There’s a lot to talk about in the coming months, from the presidential election and Supreme Court battles to the fight for bodily autonomy. We’ll cover all these issues and more, but this is only made possible with support from sustaining donors. Donate today—any amount you can spare each month is appreciated, even just the price of a cup of coffee.

The Nation does not bow to the interests of a corporate owner or advertisers—we answer only to readers like you who make our work possible. Set up a recurring donation today and ensure we can continue to hold the powerful accountable.

Thank you for your generosity.

D.D. Guttenplan

D.D. Guttenplan is editor of The Nation.

More from The Nation

This Supreme Court Case Could Worsen Maternal Health Nationwide

This Supreme Court Case Could Worsen Maternal Health Nationwide This Supreme Court Case Could Worsen Maternal Health Nationwide

The state of Idaho wants the court to ban abortions permitted under the Civil Rights–era Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.

Karen Thompson

The Use of “Attention Capture” Technologies in Our Classrooms Has Created a Crisis 

The Use of “Attention Capture” Technologies in Our Classrooms Has Created a Crisis  The Use of “Attention Capture” Technologies in Our Classrooms Has Created a Crisis 

We have a choice: We can allow Big Tech to solve the problem with invasive brain technology. Or we can let educators teach students how to pay attention. 

Jac Mullen

Dr. Hilary Cass in London

What the Cass Review Means for Trans Kids in Britain—and Beyond What the Cass Review Means for Trans Kids in Britain—and Beyond

A new review of gender-affirming healthcare in England could change the way gender-questioning children and young everywhere people receive care.

Natasha Hakimi Zapata

NPR

NPR’s Problems Won’t Be Solved by “Viewpoint Diversity” NPR’s Problems Won’t Be Solved by “Viewpoint Diversity”

Society / February 20, 2024 Can We Afford to Sit Out the Fight Against Fascism? An embattled NPR editor denouncing the network’s practices fails to understand them—or the pract…

Chris Lehmann

US Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito.

Samuel Alito Can’t Tell the Difference Between Sex Discrimination and Peanut Butter Samuel Alito Can’t Tell the Difference Between Sex Discrimination and Peanut Butter

A unanimous Supreme Court ruling on sex discrimination hides serious ideological differences, beginning with Alito’s long-standing hostility to women’s rights.

Elie Mystal

ROTC division march

As the Threat of War Looms, Some Students Regret Joining ROTC As the Threat of War Looms, Some Students Regret Joining ROTC

Often priced out of college, those in the Army ROTC can earn hefty scholarships. But reservists can’t always be guaranteed safety. “I don’t think I would’ve made the same decision...

StudentNation / Gabe Levin