Before Archie Bunker came along we Americans pretty much kept bigoted thoughts to ourselves. But in 1971 he entered our living rooms, and for twelve years viewers laughed at his diatribes against blacks, women, and foreigners. Were he on TV today he would surely vent about our mixed-race President and Mexicans illegally crossing the border. He was a man who had an opinion about everything, with little regard for the facts.
As negative and blustering as Archie was, the show’s mostly white audience came to love him. Maybe that was because, like many of us, outside his home he had little power or influence. In the 1970s women and blacks were challenging white male privilege. A new generation, represented by Archie’s son-in-law, was upsetting the old codes of morality. Archie wanted the world to be like the one he’d grown up in. Many white Americans felt the same way.
Now we hear of politicians who are admired because they “tell it like it is,” “say what needs to be said.” Sometimes, like when they support broad generalizations with pseudo-facts, they sound a lot like Archie. My concern, however, is not that they sound like him but that they’re using fear and a sense of powerlessness to turn decent hard-working Americans into clones of Archie Bunker.
This is an effective approach for reaching people like me, that is older white folks. The rapidly changing technology and shifting morals leave many of us feeling out of the American mainstream. Republicans have long exploited this discomfort and stoked the fires of fear—fear of gays, immigrants, blacks, Muslims. Especially fear of government, how big it is, how powerless the individual is by comparison. Yes, we potential Archie Bunkers stand before them, frightened of a future bearing little resemblance to the world we grew up in.
Instead of those who appeal to the Archie Bunker in us, we need leaders who nurture our noblest qualities: compassion, generosity, an openness to new ideas. Leaders who can unite young and old, black and white, foreign born and native born.
So that our decency might prevail.