The Political Meaning of “Those Were the Days” (from “All in the Family”)
….a half-century memorial
- Boy, the way Glenn Miller played,
Songs that made the Hit Parade,
Guys like us, we had it made,
Those were the days.
2. Didn’t need no welfare state,
Everybody pulled his weight,
Gee, our old LaSalle ran great,
Those were the days.
And you knew who you were then
Girls were girls and men were men,
Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.
3. People seemed to be content.
Fifty dollars paid the rent.
Freaks were in a circus tent,
Those were the days.
Take a little Sunday spin
Go to watch the Dodgers win.
Have yourself a dandy day that cost you under a fin!
4. Hair was short and skirts were long.
Kate Smith really sold a song.
I don’t know just what went wrong.
Those were the days!
It’s hard to believe, but Norman Lear’s All in the Family debuted on CBS on January 12, 1971. Outrageously funny, provocative, touching all the hot-button issues of the day, who could imagine that the show was still as relevant today as it was 50 years ago?
Historically, the specifics have changed since 1971, and what we say to describe them has changed, too. Regardless, the cultural fault lines and hot-button topics all have modern equivalents. Racial, ethnic and sexual upheaval? Check. Inflation and unemployment? Double check. Liberal/conservative rancor? And how. Terrorism and war? You better believe it, buddy. (In a 1972 episode, Archie delivered a pro-gun TV editorial that sounded eerily like actual proposals made after 9/11. The solution to skyjackings, Archie told viewers, was to “arm all your passengers … Just pass out the pistols at the beginning of the trip and pick them up again at the end. Case closed.”)
Despite the superficial differences between then and now, the base of Trump voters is composed of millions of Archie Bunkers: bigoted, biased, and boorish, ready to vent their spleen at anyone who didn’t look, work, worship, or vote like them.
I was in my early-to-mid-20s when the show was broadcast. It was the beginnings of the widely-addressed culture wars that pervaded the ’70s and beyond. Has anything really changed since then?
Today, throughout America, we have the Bunker type: ignorant, biased against anyone not a straight, white, Christian conservative. Stylistically, the straight, white males tend to have long hair and beards, and they overwhelm-ingly wear blue jeans, but otherwise fit very nicely into the Bunker mould.
While Bunker was a WWII vet, the Trump base were veterans of Vietnam, as well as the original and subsequent Iraq wars. Most are in their ’50s, ’60s, and ‘70s.
If you talk to them, you pick up strong connections to the Archie Bunker mentality: keep it simple, stick with what you know, don’t get into any complicated debates about science, the environment, the economy, foreign relations, or anything else beyond the narrow confines of “our” (White, straight, Christian) culture.
The battles Archie had with his long-suffering, gentle-souled wife, Edith, were typical of the kinds of crap women had to put up with throughout all time. Yet, in his own way, Archie loved her, even though he called her a “dingbat” from time to time.
Was Archie a racist? Yes, by any objective standard, he was. Did he view Black people as inferior to Whites? I think his character thought of them as lazy and wanting things for free whenever and wherever possible. But Archie’s racism was based on ignorance, rather than the obsessively hostile attitudes found among the Trump base. Here is a dialogue involving Archie and his son-in-law, Mike “Meathead” Stivic:
“If your spics and your spades want their rightful share of the American dream, let ’em get out there and hustle for it, like I done,” Archie groused to Mike, who was agitating about civil rights yet again.
“So now you’re going to tell me the black man has just as must chance as the white man to get a job?” Mike demands.
“More,” Archie says. “He has more. I didn’t have no million people marchin’ and protestin’ to get me my job.”
“No,” Edith interrupts. “His uncle got it for him.”
(Edith’s quick, albeit naive, penetrations of Archie’s hypocrisy provided so much joy when watching the show.)
Another instance of Archie’s bias arose when he planned to sue a man who was an Arab. He and Mike argued:
“I’m gonna go into town and get me a good Jew lawyer,” Archie fumes.
“Do you always have to label people?” Mike asks. “Why can’t you just get a lawyer. Why does it have to be a Jewish lawyer?”
“Because if I’m going to sue an Ay-rab, I want a guy that’s full o’ hate!”
And, really, when his base listened to Trump speak/Tweet, it was as if he were channeling Archie and his attitudes. They could relate on a profound level, because he spoke their silent thoughts; he was their modern-day Archie Bunker.
My question is simple: if nothing has substantially changed in the last 50 years since Archie Bunker first came on the scene, what can be done to change his sympathizers, the 74 million people who voted for him last November, and who apparently are devoted to him to this moment? If we admit that they are a cult, what can we do to deprogram these folks and get them to the point where they can think clearly and agree on fundamental facts?
(Reasonable minds can differ, of course, but there has to be an agreement as to what constitutes reality. We’ve been having difficulty with the alt-right crowd and the other parts of the lunatic fringe who believe that the Democrats are cannibalistic, pizza-loving pedophiles; with them, I’m not sure it’s possible to have meaningful, real-world discussions with them without first getting them deprogrammed — if that’s even possible.)
There are many schools of thought about deprogramming the fringe parts of our country, but one thing is clear: we have to achieve ways for people to find common ground, to agree on the fundamentals, to come to terms with we all need. If we don’t reach that understanding, we’ll continue towards the abyss.