'Flag-waving' liberal Norman Lear, now 100, warns against the 'threat of authoritarianism' America faces
On July 27, 2022, long-time television producer, World War 2 veteran and liberal activist Norman Lear celebrated his 100th birthday.
Lear, over the years, has been a major thorn in the side of the Christian Right; he founded People For the American Way back in 1980 specifically to fight the influence of Christian fundamentalists like Pat Robertson and the late Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, Sr. in politics — and his organization, in recent years, has been a blistering critic of former President Donald Trump and the MAGA movement.
Lear looks back on his political activism and his television career in an essay/op-ed published by the New York Times on his 100th birthday, warning against the “threat of authoritarianism” the United States is facing in 2022.
Half a century ago, Lear dramatically changed the face of television comedy. The sitcoms of the 1960s were known for being cute and innocuous; Lear’s 1970s sitcoms — which included “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “Sanford and Son,” “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times” — were edgy, controversial and much more political. “All in the Family” was, above all else, about changing times; the Archie Bunker character (played by the late Carroll O’Connor) was a right-wing racist who hated President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal and had one heated debate after another with his liberal son-in-law Michael Stivic (played by Rob Reiner).
Although Lear is a liberal, he wasn’t shy about lampooning the left; on the “All in the Family” spinoff “Maude,” the late Bea Arthur played an upscale, educated White liberal feminist who had good intentions but could be patronizing with African-Americans. Archie Bunker and Maude Findlay had some intense political debates.
Lear has managed to find common ground with some conservatives along the way — Lear and the late conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater had a mutual disdain for the Christian Right — and in his Times op-ed, he applauds Rep. Liz Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, both right-wing Republicans, for their work on the January 6 select committee.
“For all his faults, Archie loved his country and he loved his family, even when they called him out on his ignorance and bigotries,” Lear explains. “If Archie had been around 50 years later, he probably would have watched Fox News. He probably would have been a Trump voter. But I think that the sight of the American flag being used to attack Capitol Police would have sickened him. I hope that the resolve shown by Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, and their commitment to exposing the truth, would have won his respect.”
Lear enlisted in the military during World War 2 to combat far-right authoritarianism, and is distressed by the far-right authoritarianism of the MAGA movement.
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“I was deeply troubled by the attack on Congress on January 6, 2021 — by supporters of former President Donald Trump attempting to prevent the peaceful transfer of power,” Lear writes. “Those concerns have only grown with every revelation about just how far Mr. Trump was willing to go to stay in office after being rejected by voters — and about his ongoing efforts to install loyalists in positions with the power to sway future elections.”
“I don’t take the threat of authoritarianism lightly," Lear continues. "As a young man, I dropped out of college when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and joined the U.S. Army Air Forces. I flew more than 50 missions in a B-17 bomber to defeat fascism consuming Europe. I am a flag-waving believer in truth, justice and the American way, and I don’t understand how so many people who call themselves patriots can support efforts to undermine our democracy and our Constitution. It is alarming.”
Lear stresses that conservative Republicans who have been willing to stand up to Trump should be applauded.
“I have been moved by the courage of the handful of conservative Republican lawmakers, lawyers and former White House staffers who resisted Mr. Trump’s bullying,” Lear notes. “They give me hope that Americans can find unexpected common ground with friends and family whose politics differ but who are not willing to sacrifice core democratic principles. Encouraging that kind of conversation was a goal of mine when we began broadcasting ‘All in the Family’ in 1971. The kinds of topics Archie Bunker and his family argued about — issues that were dividing Americans from one another, such as racism, feminism, homosexuality, the Vietnam War and Watergate — were certainly being talked about in homes and families. They just weren’t being acknowledged on television.”
But as troubled as Lear is by MAGA authoritarianism, the 100-year-old World War 2 veteran isn’t without optimism.
“I often feel disheartened by the direction that our politics, courts and culture are taking,” Lear writes. “But I do not lose faith in our country or its future. I remind myself how far we have come. I think of the brilliantly creative people I have had the pleasure to work with in entertainment and politics, and at People for the American Way, a progressive group I co-founded to defend our freedoms and build a country in which all people benefit from the blessings of liberty. Those encounters renew my belief that Americans will find ways to build solidarity on behalf of our values, our country and our fragile planet.”
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