Bette Davis had already played some pretty tough customers, including a couple of murderesses, by the time she started work on In This Our Life in 1941. The main story follows two sisters. Naturally, Davis plays the bad one, while Olivia de Havilland plays the good one. When Sister Davis runs off with Sister de Havilland’s husband and leaves George Brent at the altar (not the first time Brent got left at the altar by Bette Davis), we get one of the most ostentatious and flagrant betrayals in the movies.
Of course marital infidelities are rather commonplace, and overlapping adultery with family ties is not rare, as can be seen on The Jerry Springer Show. (Is that still on?) In corporate life, betrayal is fairly frequent and often considered part of the price of doing business. And who amongst us hasn’t experienced the hurt and disappointment of being betrayed by a friend or two over the years?
But in the bigger world of politics, it occurs to me that voters on both sides of the partisan divide either are or should start questioning what the devil is going on.
The most important legislative achievement of the current Republican administration could be described as its only legislative achievement. But at its core, is it just a bait-and-switch that provides long-term benefits to the top while throwing a temporary bone to the bottom? Would it qualify as betrayal of the working class Trump voters to distract them with a nominal increase in take-home pay while other citizens who don’t even have take-home pay—because they don’t work—make out like bandits?
And about that wall. Does it count as a betrayal now that no one even pretends that Mexico is going to pay for it? Are those same working-class Trump voters down with calling up the Republican congress to raise the limit on the Federal Master Card (otherwise known as increasing the debt limit) to pay for the wall?
Then there are the Democrats. Their leadership spent weeks promising DACA beneficiaries (specifically) and a whole wing of the party (writ large) that they would stand firm against the Republicans, forcing them to either support protection of that immigrant community or face a government shutdown. And they did—the shutdown lasted three whole days. Then the party leadership under Senator Chuck Schumer caved in to re-opening the government for the promise of a vote on immigration that would almost certainly not be taken up in the House.
And it’s a valid question: did the leadership put the interests of incumbent, vulnerable Senators up for re-election in November ahead of the immigrant community and its allies? If they did, was that the smart thing to do? I guess that depends on which side of the political trough you’re standing.
In his scathing piece recently published by The Root entitled “The Democratic Party Is Not Our Friend,” Michael Harriot asserts, “No Democrat could win a local, state or national election without the black vote.” As he points out, Doug Jones was elected by a record turnout of black voters in Alabama’s special election last December before he voted with the Republicans on the continuing resolution. Tone deaf? Bad optics? Betrayal? All in the eye (or ear) of the beholder.
But enough about betrayal—both real and perceived. Let’s go back to Bette Davis.
Perhaps the most notable thing about In This Our Life is that it includes a young African American male character who is intelligent, ambitious and on his way to being well educated. And then he comes up against Miss Davis. You see, the bad sister needs him to take the blame for her for having killed a young girl in a hit-and-run accident. The plot then hinges on the certainty that her word as a white woman will be believed over his word as a black man.
Now that was pretty forward for Hollywood in that time. So much so that the United States Office of Censorship, a wartime agency from 1941 to 1945, declined to allow the movie a foreign release on the basis that this plot point made it “abundantly clear that a Negro’s testimony in court is almost certain to be disregarded if [it is]in conflict with the testimony of a white person.”
And I think this is where I came in.