Nately: What are you talking about? America’s not going to be destroyed.
Old Italian Man: Never?
Old Italian Man: Rome was destroyed. Greece was destroyed. Persia was destroyed. Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you think your country will last? Forever?
Nately: Well…forever is a long time, I guess.
Old Italian Man: Very long.
Watching this scene resonates because it’s been 49 years since this scene was shot, and 74 years since the occupation of Italy by U.S. forces. And because the old man (i.e., Marcel Dalio, the croupier in Casablanca) is sounding wiser and wiser these days.
If Art Garfunkel‘s Nately could see into the future, the answer to the old man’s question would have been as follows: “Well, America will start to eat itself in 2016 with the election of a bestial authoritarian demagogue as President, and with subsequent polls showing that between 35% and 40% of registered voters actually support this animal, largely due to his having exploited racial paranoia and resentment over perceptions that America’s European Anglo-Saxon heritage is being flanked and overwhelmed by persons of African and Middle-Eastern ancestry. Along with their agreement with his view that climate change is fiction. And this will be the beginning of a period of crazed American xenophobia, and from this will come eventual destruction.”
Old Man: “Not so long then. Less than 100 years from now. And your country only became a great power starting around World War I. A blink of an eyelash from the perspective of world history.”
Mike Nichols‘ Catch 22 was shot in mid to late 1969. Think of everything that had just happened to this country over the previous 18 months or during 1968 — the most tumultuous, things-falling-apart year that the U.S. had ever experienced since the Civil War. And yet the country held together. The culture survived. There were persons of honor, decency and lofty principles trying to lead the way — Bobby Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy. Even the avaricious and deeply conflicted Richard Nixon was a half-decent, reasonably sane human being compared to Donald Trump.