From 1971 to 1976, TV's "All in the Family" ranked number one in the Nielsen ratings. Its lead character and likable curmudgeon, Archie Bunker, ranted weekly against minorities, homosexuals, women's lib and other facets of a rapidly changing society. But it was satire writ large, and by the end of each show he would usually get his comeuppance from another character. Regardless, Archie kept longing for the old days when he thought America was great. The opening theme song, sung by Archie and his wife Edith, said it all:
And you knew who you were then,
Girls were girls and men were men,
Mister we could use a man
Like Herbert Hoover again.
Didn't need no welfare state,
Everybody pulled his weight.
Gee our old LaSalle ran great.
Those were the days.
Forty years have gone by since that tune rang throughout America's living rooms, but the spirit of Archie Bunker lives on. Donald Trump's election campaign capitalized on this wistfulness for a bygone America. But he also encouraged the re-emergence of xenophobia, nativism and white supremacy with slogans like "Make America Great Again" and "America First," and by bashing Muslims and Mexicans.
Whenever voices of opposition turned up at his rallies, Trump made no attempt to engage them in conversation like Obama has sometimes done. Instead, he belittled the dissenting voices and then had the parties forcibly removed, all the while allowing his adoring crowd to rain down insults, threats and occasional physical violence.
Simply put, the long Trump campaign wasn't a well-wrought television satire about bigotry. It was the real thing, and instead of a comeuppance and a feel-good ending for viewers when it was over, we experienced 867 cases of harassment or intimidation in the 10 days after the election. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, these incidents included swastika graffiti, slogans like "Make America White Again," threats against mosques, name-calling and exhortations to "go back where you came from." Last year, New York state alone had a 35 percent increase in hate crimes over 2015.
None of this should be surprising. Trump's repulsive language earned him the endorsement of former KKK imperial wizard David Duke, who wrote, "Thank God Trump has emerged and embraced my issues."
Richard Spencer is the president of the National Policy Institute, which counts neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites among its members. In November, he gave a speech in which he addressed "racial consciousness" and a white "awakening," and he ended by raising his right hand and shouting, "Hail Trump." His audience returned the Nazi-like salute. Spencer also thinks words like "inclusion" and "diversity" are "word salad gobbledygook," and credits the present political climate for his newfound attraction.
Despite Trump's recent demand that this extremist behavior stop, it is too late. He's released the evil genie from the bottle, and it will be tough to lure it back in. Any other candidacy would have sunk under the weight of a KKK endorsement and the media's faithful reporting on each verbal transgression. But not Trump's. Voters' economic and cultural anxieties, as well as the demand for change, were too great.
The victors get to write their own history, and this is now true for Trump. At an early December meeting on election results at Harvard University, the Clinton campaign team accused Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, of giving a platform to white supremacists and using "dog whistles" to attract whites resentful of minorities.
Conway understandably rejected these claims and said the win was based on economic issues. What she didn't explain is why the team thought it important to hire alt-right proponent Steve Bannon to be their chief executive officer. The alt-right, or alternative right movement, is associated with Islamophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy. Conway also didn't identify who it was that they wanted "to take America back from."
Archie and Edith Bunker sang of the need to have "a man like Herbert Hoover again." Let's hope that Trump isn't the reincarnation of our 31st president, but there are some similarities. Hoover sat idly by while nativist forces smeared his Catholic opponent, Al Smith. Hoover had never been elected to political office before, was wealthy and refused a paycheck, supported tariffs, denounced big government, and was against financial regulations. Oh, he was also in office when the Great Depression hit and didn't have a clue what to do.
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Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears Fridays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.