Robert Reich: What Casablanca Teaches Us – OpEd


A while back, I shared with you my love of Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” — the essential American fable about the generosity and goodness of Americans toward one another, as opposed to the greedy oligarchs at the top (such as Mr. Potter) who care only about building their own wealth and power.

In light of Putin’s war and the rise of authoritarianism around the world, including the United States, I’ve been thinking about another favorite of mine — Michael Kurtiz’s fabulous 1942 classic, “Casablanca.” Even now, 70 years after its release, it feels relevant and poignant.

In the first six decades after World War II, the number of countries considered democratic grew. But researchers have found that, starting five or six years ago, the number of democracies in the world began to shrink, and existing democracies have become less democratic. Consider the rise of strongman rule in Hungary, the Philippines, and Russia, attacks on the courts in Poland, Hindu extremism in India, fears of a power grab in Brazil, and, of course, Trump’s continuing attempted coup.

Which brings me back to Casablanca. Few movies have ever produced as many quotes — “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and “We’ll always have Paris,” and the song “As Time Goes By.” And can you think of any more enduring characters than those played by Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart?

But the core of Casablanca is a defense of democracy in the face of the rising specter of fascism. One of the most moving scenes to me is the dueling anthems — when the German occupants sing “Die Wacht am Rhein,” only to be drowned out by the French refugees singing “La Marseillaise.” I’m told that the tears in the eyes of several of the French actors and singers in this scene were unplanned and unrehearsed. Remember, this was filmed in 1942.

I’m curious about your take: What is it that makes this scene so powerful?

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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