The Universal Notebook: Those were the days

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In 1972, beloved television bigot Archie Bunker delivered a faux editorial on “All in the Family” arguing that the way to stop skyjackings, the forerunners of today’s terrorist attacks, was to arm all airline passengers.

“If he knows the passengers are armed and that he ain’t got no more superior-ority,” Archie reasoned, “then he ain’t gonna dare to pull a rod, and then you realize that they wouldn’t have to search passengers on the ground no more. They just pass out the pistols at the beginning of the trip, and then they pick them up again at the end. Case closed.”

Archie Bunker’s Guns for Everybody proposal was a joke accompanied by canned laugh track hilarity in 1972, but 45 years later it would likely be endorsed by the National Rifle Association, the Republican Party and members of the Maine Legislature who voted recently to allow guns on campus and at Election Day polling places.

Thankfully, both measures failed.

Archie Bunker, created by Norman Lear and played by Carroll O’Connor, was a caricature of a lunch-bucket conservative. He was funny because his sexism, racism, nationalism and simplistic thinking were so obviously exaggerated, not to mention wrong. Over the past decade, however, we have witnessed the triumph of Archie Bunkerism in Maine and in America.

Politicians like Paul LePage and Donald Trump encourage the same nostalgia for white male privilege that “All in the Family” satirized from 1971-1979.

“Guys like us we had it made,” Archie sang every week in the sitcom theme song. “Those were the days.”

“Guys like us” were working-class stiffs who worked paycheck to paycheck, blue-collar white males who were the worker bees in a white man’s world. They worked hard, paid the bills and were kings of their castles.

“Didn’t need no welfare states / Everybody pulled his weight / Gee, our old LaSalle ran great / Those were the days.”

Didn’t need no welfare state? This from a loading-dock foreman from Queens who was apparently pining for the Great Depression.

“And you knew who you were then / Girls were girls and men were men / Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.”

Herbert Hoover, of course, was the president who gave America “Hoovervilles,” shantytowns filled with the unemployed and the homeless in a country run by corporate robber barons and without a social safety net.

Still, as Archie and Edith Bunker sang, “People seemed to be content / $50 paid the rent / Freaks were in a circus tent / Those were the days.”

Minorities, immigrants, environmentalists, hippies, feminists and liberals of all stripes took their lumps from Archie Bunker.

“If you liberals keep getting’ your way,” Archie complained, “we’re all gonna hear one big, loud flush – the sound of the U.S. of A. goin’ straight down the terlet.”

Back in 2001, William F. Buckley Jr., my all-time favorite conservative, pilloried “All in the Family” as a great liberal media lie.

“The series starring Archie Bunker was the most devastating ideological scam in the cultural history of television,” wrote the erudite and pompous Yalie pundit. “Archie Bunker was the conservative. He was ignorant, semi-literate, racist, mean, cowardly and a sycophantic bully. Viewers were invited to assume that these were properties of everyone who resisted any civil-rights initiative, who thought favorable notice might be made of anything done by President Nixon, or who thought the Vietnam War defensible.”

Let’s see, “ignorant, semi-literate, racist, mean, cowardly and a sycophantic bully.” Sound like anyone we know? I’m sorry, Mr. Buckley, but your GOP has become a party of Archie Bunkers. Glad you didn’t live to see it, even though you did foresee it.

“If Donald Trump were shaped a little differently, he would compete for Miss America,” wrote Buckley in a 2000 column that pegged the Donald as a flaming narcissist. “But whatever the depths of self-enchantment, the demagogue has to say something. So what does Trump say? That he is a successful businessman and that that is what America needs in the Oval Office. There is some plausibility in this, though not much. The greatest deeds of American Presidents — midwifing the new republic; freeing the slaves; harnessing the energies and vision needed to win the Cold War — had little to do with a bottom line.”

I would argue, witness the unending self-dealing of the All in the Trump Family, that being a rich businessman is no qualification whatsoever for being president and that it was real-life Archie Bunkers – people like Paul LePage, Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Roger Ailes and Donald Trump – who flushed America down the terlet.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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