If you think Donald Trump and Archie Bunker are very much alike, wait until you read about the differences. Fact is, the President doesn’t have any of Archie’s virtues.
America elected Donald Trump. We ended up with Archie Bunker.
So it seems.
Last week, the president blurted out yet another incendiary comment. He said nations filled with lots of brown-skinned people are “shitholes.” That sure sounded just like something Archie Bunker might have said back in his heyday. For those who don’t recall, a little over a generation ago Archie starred in the most popular television show in the country, which was called All in the Family. Chances are, if you were born anytime prior to the 1970’s, you tuned-in each and every Saturday night to the Norman Lear-produced sitcom which aired weekly on CBS.
All in the Family wasn’t just a television comedy. It was one of the most significant and influential television programs in history. The sit-com was a cultural breakthrough and for its day — a bold political statement that often generated controversy. Subjects thought to be taboo — including abortion, gay rights, race relations, breast cancer, divorce, infidelity, terrorism, and death — nothing was off the table. What was most amazing was the show took on so many politically divisive issues, but somehow managed to remain consistently funny, at least during the years 1971-1975, when it steadily ranked as the Number 1 television program. Just about everyone in America talked about All in the Family the following week. It was that popular.
Archie Bunker was played by Carroll O’Connor. Up until then, he’d been a little-known character actor mostly known for small bit parts in war films and instantly-forgettable made-for-TV movies. O’Connor fit the unprecedented role of a lifetime perfectly as the portly, balding, boorish working-class simpleton.
The show’s political slant was indisputable. Archie was a flag-waving patriot, a proud veteran, and an unabashed Republican. He loathed Democrats and hated liberals. But Archie, always one for malapropisms, also loved President “Richard E. Nixon,” who in a lucky strike of perfect timing igniting the show’s mass popularity, was about to get get caught up in the Watergate scandal. As it increasingly became apparent that Nixon was a crook, willfully ignorant Archie never lost faith. Turns out, the affection between the White House and CBS’ Television City where All in the Family episodes were filmed in front of a live studio audience, wasn’t mutual.
Many controversial topics brought up in episodes of All in the Family wouldn’t be touched by mainstream television networks today. Punch lines about Blacks, Jews, gays, women, hippies, and Archie’s other liberal targets wouldn’t just be considered too risky or politically incorrect. Such subject matter would likely be scandalous and might even lead to boycotts. Some activists, even those well-intended, would likely blast the show and call for its cancellation. That’s a deeply sad commentary on the sorry state of the limitations on artistic expression in entertainment today.
The wonderful irony of Archie’s pathological narrow-minded bigotry is that in real life the actor Carroll O’Connor wasn’t at all like the character he played. In fact, they were polar opposites. Like Lear, the show’s progressive creator and lead writer, O’Connor sympathized passionately with Leftist causes. Some years later, O’Connor even shocked most of America when he openly endorsed and campaigned for Jesse Jackson (who’s Black) when he ran for president.
O’Connor and Lear weren’t alone. Archie’s son-in-law, Mike Stivic, was played by Rob Reiner. He later became the famed movie director (This is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men, etc.) and an outspoken champion of liberal causes.
The show eventually declined in quality and tailed off in popularity. All in the Family finally ended with barely a whimper in 1979. Nonetheless, Archie Bunker has since become the embodiment traditional (White) working-class views in mainstream America. He was loud. He was bigoted. He was sexist. He was intolerant. But he was also lovable — even to the millions of viewers who vehemently disagreed with his bullheaded opinions. Perhaps that’s because so many of us saw our own families living inside the household at 704 Hauser Street, in Queens. Everyone knew an Archie, somewhere. We worked with Archie. We drank beer with Archie. Archie was our father.
What’s the point of all this and what makes Archie still relevant today? Well, the similarities between Archie and Donald Trump are striking. But then, so too are the differences.
First, the similarities:
- Archie Bunker and Donald Trump were both from the borough of Queens, in New York City. They were born as outsiders of the establishment and lived their early years in the shadows of New York’s powerful elite over in Manhattan.
- Archie Bunker and Donald Trump were both White Anglo-Saxon Protestants — otherwise known as WASPs. They shared common advantages as the final generation of those born into privileged ethnic and religious backgrounds before America began undergoing significant cultural diversity. Later, both came to rebel against these demographic trends.
- Archie Bunker and Donald Trump exhibited unflappable working-class personalities and tell-it-like it-is attitudes. They told you exactly what they thought, at all times. Their comments were unfiltered and often embarrassed those around them.
- Archie Bunker and Donald Trump were both uncomfortable around people considered to be different. Excluded groups included minorities, gays, nonconformists, radicals, and anyone that didn’t share their traditional values. Archie was horrified when a Black family moved in next door. Trump was guilty of racial discrimination against Blacks when he served as president of his real estate company and paid a hefty fine.
- Archie Bunker and Donald Trump were both deeply mistrustful of the mainstream media, academics, intellectuals, and cultural elites.
- Archie Bunker and Donald Trump were both stubbornly irreligious. They professed to be Christians, occasionally even misquoting The Holy Bible, but almost never attended religious services nor observed the typical rituals of faith. In fact, both often openly violated religious teachings.
- Archie Bunker and Donald Trump were both plainspoken. They weren’t readers. They spoke in common language. They didn’t know much about history or the rest of the world, nor were they particularly curious to learn about it. Both held the belief that most problems could be solved using good, old-fashioned common sense.
Now, the differences:
- Archie Bunker paid his bills. Donald Trump often lied, cheated, skipped out on paying taxes, and bankrupted himself and his investors, many times over. Those who trusted Trump became his victims.
- Archie Bunker was a proud military veteran who served in World War II. Donald Trump dodged military service five times, feigning a minor injury (bone spurs in his foot) which he claimed kept him from enlisting. Archie was brave. Trump was and is, a coward.
- Archie Bunker loved his wife Edith, his devoted companion of many years. From all outward appearances, Archie always remained faithful to her. Meanwhile, Donald Trump engaged in multiple elicit affairs and bragged about his sexual conquests. He went through two bitter divorces. He paid off at least one porn star to buy her silence. Trump even boasted he could touch women’s private parts and get away with it — something Archie would never do.
- Archie Bunker always told the truth. We might not have liked the things he said and what we we hearing. But Archie didn’t lie. Trump has lied so many times, he can’t be believed anymore — on anything. Trump is a pathological liar.
- Archie Bunker enjoyed the camaraderie of many close friends who were featured regularly on the show as repeat guests, and he stayed loyal to them through thick and thin. Archie never betrayed those around him. By contrast, Trump appears to have no real close friends, nor does he show any loyalty to those around him. He’s turned against just about everyone who’s departed his inner circle. Even with all his imperfections, Archie was beloved by just about everyone. Trump, far less so.
- Archie Bunker was a lower-middle-class working man who often struggled financially, but always somehow found a way to make ends meet. Donald Trump was born into great wealth, blew his vast fortune multiple times on idiotic business deals, and in the end was finally left with no other option than to hawk his name to try and sell products.
- Archie Bunker held onto many outdated opinions. But he also revealed tremendous empathy for everyone, even those he viewed with suspicion. Many episodes of All in the Family showed Archie’s softer side, usually after he was taught a lesson about the wrongs of bigotry and sexism. Meanwhile, Trump hasn’t learned any lessons at all. He appears to have no empathy for others, particularly those he views as his adversaries. Archie had and often showed compassion. Trump shows no compassion, especially towards those he considers weak.
My conclusion is as follows: While Archie Bunker and Donald Trump possess a number of similarities, there are just many stark differences. It’s an astonishing indictment of the President to say, but Trump lacks all of Archie virtues.
Indeed, Donald Trump can only wish he was more like Archie Bunker, who is a much better man.