Archie Bunker, the anachronistical central character of the 1971 sitcom All in the Family, liked to talk about “Real Americans” and fancied himself one of them. To Archie, and those who he satirically represented, being a Real American centered around embracing the concept of white male Christian privilege.
The entire MAGA movement in 2016 to “Make America Great Again” was of course centered on the idea of resurrecting an America that echoed Archie Bunker’s sense of privilege, while simultaneously destroying the boundaries between the (fundamentalist Christian) church and State.
It was and remains an inclusive movement, in the sense that it warmly welcomes those who are not white, not male, and not Christian into its ranks as long as they also embrace and support those values.
Back in 1971, America was seven years past the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and two years past the first moon landing. While still quite imperfect, the 1971 America I grew up in was a country centered on a belief in science, technology, freedom and the progressive evolution of human rights. Archie Bunker gave us a way to laugh at the (often bigoted and dreadful) America we had once been, in stark contrast to his son-in-law and daughter, Mike and Gloria, who portrayed the Americans we could become.
Yet, somewhere between 1971 and 2016, significant parts of America took a drastic turn, leading to the rejection of democracy and traditional conservative values; the embrace of radical extremism; the election of Donald Trump; the insurrection and coup attempt of January 2020; the Christian fundamentalist radicalization of the US Supreme Court; and the ongoing and highly visible efforts to prepare for a successful coup in 2024, should a Democrat again win the US presidency.
In his recent column in The Atlantic, “Don’t Forget That 43 Senate Republicans Let Trump Get Away With It“, Adam Serwer provided a very perceptive explanation of the psychological “reasoning” process employed by Republicans who have gaslit, denied and provided cover regarding the attempted coup of January 2020:
“This is cowardice, but also ideology: Since liberals are not Real Americans, it is no sin to deprive them of power by undemocratic means. In this view, Trump’s behavior might be misguided, but his heart remains in the right place, in that his mob sought to ensure that only those worthy to participate in American democracy can hold the reins of power, regardless of whom the voters actually choose.”
Alas, there is credibility in Adam’s statement that a sizable segment of the American population truly believes that only those who embrace their brand of radical extremism are Real Americans, while everyone else is not worthy of participating in American democracy. This is, of course, a dreadfully un-American perspective to adopt. In a movement that brands real news as fake and fake news as real, one shouldn’t be terribly surprised.
The preamble to America’s Declaration of Independence notes that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” While progress in moving towards equality for those who are not white male Christians has generally been in a positive direction, American history is replete with instances where we have failed to live up to those principles or have taken steps backwards after periods of progress.
From the beginning, America failed to treat women and minorities with equality. Article one, section two of the Constitution of the United States supported slavery and declared that any person who was not free would be counted as three-fifths of a free individual for the purposes of determining congressional representation. The “Three-Fifths Clause” actually increased the political power of the white voting citizens of slaveholding states, compared to those in the non-slaveholding states, giving them enhanced representation, while at the same time giving no vote whatsoever to those actually enslaved. The Civil War and the 13th Amendment ended slavery and the 15th Amendment gave black Americans the right to vote. But this era of progress was quickly overshadowed by regressive Jim Crow laws legalizing racial segregation from 1877 to 1965.
In 2022 America, Archie Bunker no longer represents an anachronism. We are once again in a period of backward progress in America. Political scientist David Rothkopf has noted, “History may look back at the period in which we are living and call it The Great Regression.”
History may look back at the period in which we are living and call it The Great Regression. It is a time in which on issue after issue, we are seeing decades and sometimes centuries of progress reversed. We have never seen anything like this before in our history.
— David Rothkopf (@djrothkopf) June 25, 2022
But there are also aspects of this current period that are unique in American history. Not only are decades of progress disappearing and constitutional rights being eliminated, but we also face a real prospect that the American experiment in democracy could be brought to an end either through choice or coup.
By the end of 2024 it is possible that we will have some real insight into whether this period of regression in America will be brief, long lasting over decades, or if it will change America forever.
Will the Archie Bunker/MAGA stereotype represent “Real Americans” in America’s future, or will the majority of Americans unite once again to embrace a future centered on democracy, equality, justice, and separation of church and state?
For each and every one of us, our voices, our activism, our resources and our votes will continue to play a crucial role in determining the outcome.