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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  • David R. Hill

    All in the Trump Family — now that’s good!

  • Queenie42

    Buckley, as much as I admired him, had it wrong in that case. All In The Family was not a liberal lie. It was satire. Archie was made to look so bigoted and downright wrong about just about everything that we laughed at him and commiserated with Edith because she had to live with him and just wanted to keep the peace. She grew as a person during the run of the series and turned out not to be as spineless as she seemed.
    Ben Bradlee said that Norman Lear was one of the nicest if not THE nicest person he knew. I think he was a genius the way he used comedy to force us to look at ourselves in the mirror. Unfortunately too many people never saw their true self, then or now. I also think that if the Trump Family saw their true reflection in the glass their true selves and their world view would shatter.

  • Ted Markow

    I haven’t posted here in a while, but here goes:

    Trump is a disaster, as is LePage, and they have both lifted the thin veil of civility and decency from our society. However, they are only symptoms of a larger problem – inequality. The notion of inequality is now dismissed by many (mostly on the Right), as being Marxist or Communist or some other “ist”, but in fact, it is a growing problem here in the USA and elsewhere. Global Capitalism has taken over and has siphoned resources from the poor to the rich. It’s still doing it and is escalating under Trump, LePage, etc.

    Ed, I don’t know if you ever check out links that people provide, but here is one of Jimmy Carter speaking, along with some guy’s commentary (I don’t know who he is, but Carter’s trenchant answer to a question on the rise of authoritarianism is worth the short time). Carter may not have been our best president, but he is unquestionably our best ex-president, and very wise.

    • EdBeem

      Will take a look. Thanks.

    • EdBeem

      Spot on!

      “I think the root of it is something that I haven’t heard discussed much,” Carter replied. “I believe the root of the downturn in human rights preceded 2016, it began earlier than that, and I think the reason was disparity in income which has been translated into the average person, you know good, decent, hard-working middle class people feeling that they are getting cheated by the government and by society and they don’t get the same element of health care, they don’t get the same quality education, they don’t get the same political rights.”

  • Chew H Bird

    The component of “Archie Bunker” that I loved was that despite his obviously enhanced bigotry is that when push came to shove and all that was left was reality, he came to grips with his humanity and either did the right thing or seriously regretted a wrong action. Sticks and Stones may be what current media pundits rave about but the proof, (or not) is the result.

    As for “…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.”

    The actual truth is that some people, such as Police, are allowed to carry guns on a campus or at a polling place. The reality is that guns are legal to carry if you have the proper government approved privilege.

  • poppypapa

    Hey, Eddie, you know the old saying, don’t keep complaining if you don’t have any alternative solutions.

    So here you go. I hereby pronounce you King for a Day. Now that you are in charge, please list your top 10 changes to make the US a better place, built in your image.

    Make sure you give specific details on how much you would increase property taxes, state taxes, and federal taxes. Use actual figures, not subjective terms.

    Include a bill that will memorialize your definition of “fair share” at all levels.

    BTW, don’t feel limited to 10; that number is just a ‘guide.’

    Better be quick; you only have one day, though if you act nicely, I might extend your reign until next week’s column runs.

  • jack bauer

    Beem – can’t stop himself from injecting racist remarks into his boring prose. I wonder if Forecaster advertisers realize they support this hate merchant.

  • Little crow

    By not allowing legally owned firearms on campus and at polling places, the legislature is making those places “gun free zones”, and therefore targets for the next crackpot who wants to kill a lot of people. Almost every mass shooting in recent years has been in a “gun free zone” (rules that don’t apply to crackpots and criminals). By contrast, studies have shown that concealed-carry permit holders are TEN TIMES more law abiding than policemen, and their presence would actually make campi and polling places safer. The adage bears repeating: the problem isn’t the guns, but who has them – take the guns away from the good guys, and only the bad guys will have guns. Does that make you feel safer?