Compromise where you can. And where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right, even if the whole world is telling you to move. It is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye and say, no. You move.” Sharon Carter (movie)/ Captain America (comics).
It’s a great speech, isn’t it? It’s the moral core of Captain America’s argument of why he refuses to go along with government regulation of the Avengers. I’ve heard many people quote it, and I can understand why.
But now imagine those words spoken by President George W. Bush.
At the heart of Captain America: Civil War is a difficult question- What, if any, regulation should there be over people who use super powers to fight for their understanding of justice?
There are many reasons I loved this movie, but top of the list is that it raised that question without definitively answering it. In the week since I saw the movie I’ve listened to or taken part in numerous discussions, team Cap or Team Tony? The very fact that so many people could walk out of the movie and not be on the same side shows what a great job it did in raising the question. That matters, not simply because it makes it an interesting movie, but because it is a question with so much relevance for our world today.
I understand why so many people are Team Cap- he’s making a bold stand for an individual’s ability, and responsibility, to stand up for what they think is right no matter how many others tell them they are wrong. In essence he’s saying that he will always trust his own instincts and beliefs rather than those of a government, an institution, or an agency that is overseeing him. And in this particular instance he’s right to do so- the regulations and the people enforcing them in the movie are deeply flawed, and I can respect why he doesn’t trust them. But in rejecting the very idea of oversight and regulation, by saying that he will trust his own sense of right and wrong as he uses his super powers, he’s asking us to put the same trust in him.
And we can trust Captain America. But could we trust President Bush?
It may seem a facile example, but think it out for a moment. Here was a person who had no personal superpowers, but could use the American military, the foreign aid budget, and all other manner of levers to exert influence over the world in ways that few others could match. And he used those powers in pursuit of his vision of justice, and the defeat of ‘evil’ in the world. His world view was biased by his family history, by his own economic self-interest, and by many other things, but he wasn’t Cheney. He truly believed he was doing what was right, and good- that he was using the power he had to do what was right.
And time and again, when voices called out for him to stop- from the United Nations, from other world leaders, from the leadership of his own church, from his own people in protests across the nation, his response was always the same- I am doing what I know to be right, and I can’t let myself be swayed by public opinion. Time and again, President Bush planted himself like a tree and refused to move- and look where it got us.
It’s far from a perfect metaphor, and my point is not to try and definitively prove that Iron Man was right and Captain America was wrong. As I said above, the beauty of the movie is how well it gives voice to both sides, and as the more general philosophical debate narrows into the specifics of the situation in the movie, it becomes harder and harder to do anything but side with Captain America. And while my bureaucratic little heart would have fanboy’d all over 90 minutes of the Avengers around a table negotiating a fairer version of the Sokovia Accords, or choosing a better person to enforce them, I recognize that’s not a recipe for box office success.
So by the end of the movie, even I’m on Team Cap. But for all the flaws of the Sokovia Accords and the man chosen to enforce it, for all of Tony’s brokenness and projection of his own guilt and need for restraint onto the rest of them, I still think he has a point. Because while government agencies and institutions can stumble, they can be corrupt or ignorant or just plain stupid, they are least on some level accountable to the people they represent. At the end of the day, Captain America is accountable only to his own internal moral compass. I may trust him, but I’ve seen too many times the damage that can be done by someone who trusts their own moral compass to the exclusion of anyone else.
That’s why I want some accountability. That’s why I’m Team Tony.