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Guest editorial: How far are we from being Archie Bunkers? Not far.

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Posted on July 25, 2016 |
By Emerson Lynn



Whatever one person is capable of doing, any other person is capable of doing the same thing. That is the underbelly philosophy of Norman Lear, one of television’s all time great creators; the one who brought Archie Bunker to life in “All in the Family,” along with “The Jeffersons,” “One Day at a Time,” “Maude” and “Sanford and Son,” to name a few.

It is this understanding of us mortals that serves as the title of the documentary of his life: “Just Another Version of You.”

His moment of “enlightenment” came when he was a radio man on bomber missions over Germany during World War II. His job was to radio the pilot to let him know the payload had hit its target. He talks about wondering to himself whether the bombs would hit the bad guys, or whether they would also hit German families sitting around the dinner table. And he remembers thinking, “To hell with them.” That indiscriminating thought is what led him to understand that he was just as capable of hate as anyone else, and that he was just as capable of rationalizing the killing of others as anyone else.

Underscoring this message has been his life’s pursuit.

Archie Bunker was a racist. A complete bigot. The point-counterpoint between Archie and his far-left son-in-law Michael, or “Meathead,” was intended to show the extremes of both, and for us to empathize with both. We could see parts of Archie and Meathead in ourselves ... hence, as the story line goes, they are just another version of ourselves.

Drawing out these extremes is important if for no other reason than to remind us that we are not as advanced as we might think we are, and that we are not any more immune to abhorrent behavior than we’ve ever been.

We saw a small, but remarkable example of this earlier in the month when Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg departed from her usual court-like demeanor to suggest that the world would be a more dangerous place if Donald Trump were elected president of the United States.

It’s understood that justices are practically forbidden to enter the nasty intersections of American politics. They are to be above the fray and their integrity is supposed to be above reproach.

She has apologized since.

But it’s instructive that the prospect of a Trump presidency could force her out of her comportment bound shell — if but for a moment. She serves along with eight other justices (seven at the moment) whose job it is to ensure that we are a nation of laws not men. This is the august group that serves as a check and balance to extremes in either the legislative or executive branch.

Her deep concern is one reflected in Mr. Lear’s observation. It would be comforting to think we are above the sort of divisiveness that marks Mr. Trump’s campaign, but we’re not.

Where would we get the idea that we were?

The relationship between the police and African-Americans in our cities? The partisanship between the extremes in both political parties? The loss of the political middle? Congress, which operates with an approval rating of less than 10 percent of the American people? Brexit? Terrorists attacks in France? An increasingly aggressive Russia? How we talk to one another via social media channels?

How are we doing with our supposed sense of respect for one another and the civility that was to accompany our democratic process?

Justice Ginsburg’s worry is our worry. If we end up with Donald Trump as president (and he’s tied with Ms. Clinton in the most recent polls), will we resist his disdain for the process? Will we allow him to take small steps just because he’s the president and he represents the people’s will even though his actions reinforce his contempt for the law as we know it?

The answer isn’t as clear as we might hope.

Think about this. Mr. Trump’s behavior had the effect of changing Ms. Ginsburg’s behavior. Intuitively she knew it was wrong for her to publicly judge him. She made Mr. Lear’s point: She became another version of him. If only for a moment.

We’re human. We make these sorts of mistakes.

But the much larger point is that if we know what we are capable of isn’t it more important than ever to understand and accept our weaknesses and in so doing reject the call of the pied piper that promises to get rid of all the rats?

If Mr. Trump can draw out the nasty side of Justice Ginsburg, can the rest of us say we’re any better? Mr. Lear would say not.

By Emerson Lynn, St. Albans Messenger

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