A disclaimer: I am a conservative Republican who does not support Donald Trump. But this anti-Trump graphic, sent to me (from where I do not know) by a conservative friend, under the title “Donald’s Mentor,” makes me squirm—and I apologize in advance if you find its vulgarity offensive.
My correspondent is trying to tell me that he too doesn’t support Trumpery, but he is missing something important. Let me explain, with a little history for readers too young to remember the Norman Lear-produced TV sitcom All in the Family that ran weekly on CBS from 1971 through 1979. For its first five years, when network TV had no competition and formed a central pillar of the nation’s common culture, Nielson ranked it as the Number One television series. Nearly one American in five watched the series’ final episode. Even today, TV buffs rate it as the fourth best series of all time.
The graphic shows the program’s star, Carroll O’Connor, playing Archie Bunker, a cigar-chomping, blue-collar, white, Protestant, World War II vet who lived in the New York City borough of Queens with his dim-witted but good-hearted and therefore often clear-sighted wife, Edith; his bland, pretty, proto-feminist, college-student daughter, Gloria; and his self-righteous, combatively countercultural graduate-student son-in-law, Michael Stivic, played by ultra-liberal Rob Reiner and nicknamed “Meathead” by Archie. Archie’s views—racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, anti-homosexual, anti-women’s liberation—were almost all wrong, and the drama of each episode usually involved the young people setting him straight, with a heartfelt Amen from his wife. And with O’Connor’s talent for undercutting his bigoted remarks by making them so funny and ridiculous at once, the series was a wholesome force for tolerance and decency.
But if Archie’s views were mostly wrong (though perhaps his judgment that a monkey could paint a Jackson Pollock is at least arguable), his virtues were mostly right. He had served his country and remained a patriot, was a faithful if cantankerous family man, a dependable provider even for his adult children, a hard worker who believed in the virtue of work, a one-of-the-fellas member of the community, an occasional church-goer. The great flaw in the series is that it dramatized so effectively and entertainingly the superior enlightenment of the younger generation compared with their elders in all matters, and it implied the worth of their politically correct values over Archie’s traditional values every time. Popular culture is a potent force for cultural transformation, and All in the Family turned out to be at least as powerful a solvent of traditional culture as it was a herald of more humane tolerance.
So conservatives who try to undercut Trump by comparing him to Archie have things backward, since Archie embodied many of the values they want to conserve— if not the ideas. Trump, by contrast, makes conservatives’ real and justified concern with illegal immigration—and even with legal Muslim immigration in this age of the cyber-radicalization of Islamist terrorists—sound like bigotry. As for values: do Trump’s multiple marriages, multiple bankruptcies, shameless self-advertisement, worship of wealth and celebrity, involvement in gambling, brazenly vulgar buildings, along with his wallowing in the values-debasing world of reality TV, seem conservative to you?