What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Ideas

Our Favorite Christmas Classic Is Really a Study in American Suicide

It’s a Wonderful Life Delivers a Haunting Treatise on the Religious, Legal, and Economic Implications of Taking One’s Life

By Richard Bell

Isn’t it a little odd that our most cherished Christmas film is about a man seeking to end his life by jumping off a bridge? Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is full of traditional holiday themes like romance, friendship, and family. It’s unabashedly sentimental too—“Capra-corn” in its purest form. But it’s also a film about suicide—its causes, costs, and consequences.

The movie’s dramatic arc is built around 40-year-old George Bailey’s attempt to kill himself. The film opens with prayers offered …

Conversations

Frederick Douglass’s Love-Hate Relationship With America

Historian David Blight Tackles the Great Abolitionist's Contradictions and His Enduring Legacy

by Reed Johnson

From his youth, as a slave growing up in antebellum Maryland, Frederick Douglass saw the double-ness of American life. He recognized the gulf between the nation’s enlightened principles and its racist policies, the fissure between the noble rhetoric of its white ruling class and the violence with which that same class bound African Americans in captivity.

And through the lenses of his formidable intellect and his flammable oratory, Douglass later would confront his own double-ness—his simultaneous love for, and rage …

Identities

Several years ago, a few colleagues and I discovered a well-kept secret about Mayo Clinic, where we all worked. We had …