Captain America & the Privilege of Compromise

The movieplex near my house employs a “voice of the theater,” who gives a series of announcements (in a pleasing tenor) before each feature. It being a holiday weekend, the Voice played a segment of the Gettysburg Address as I sat with my family waiting for Captain America: Civil War to start. I’ll admit, I felt a little stirring in the breast. And why shouldn’t I? President Lincoln’s words were both moving and timeless.

This speech in the picture, given by Steve to Spider-man in the comic but placed in Agent Carter’s mouth (by proxy) in the film, falls far short of that memorable eulogy, in my opinion. It does, however, have quite the following in some comic circles. Lately, I’ve been seeing a pretty strong reaction against it, as happens anytime anything becomes popular. It seems we hate nothing so much as what others love.

Cap’s stance is, we’re told, dogmatically intransigent. Unrealistic. Self-righteous. Even draconian. The thing is, it certainly can be.

But tell that to Rosa Parks.

Tell that to the unnamed Chinese martyr who stopped a column of tanks in Tienanmen Square by — yes — simply refusing to move.

Cap’s speech IS intransigent. Decidedly so. And most of the time, most of us should heed no such advice. Compromise is often necessary, particularly in a multicultural society. It is not a dirty word.

But compromise is also not a virtue. It’s a privilege. Or rather it’s born of privilege. The powerless cannot compromise; they have no stake with which to barter. Princes compromise. Burghers compromise. If you’re an educated, well-employed white person living in the democratic West, you’re probably so steeped in “compromise” that your skin wilts like leaves left in the teapot overnight! It’s what my grandfather called eating crow, and sometimes there’s so much of it that it’s easy to think the world is after YOU.

I hope it continues for you just so. I hope you never have to face a situation, as we did in the war, where there was no compromise. For that is when your privilege has vanished and your real virtues are tested.