Norman Lear’s work was an integral part of American life in the second half of the 20th Century. Television programs like Maude, Sanford and Son, and The Jeffersons dragged television out of the 1950s and into the real world. As Variety states: “Lear’s shows were the first to address the serious political, cultural and social flashpoints of the day – racism, abortion, feminism, homosexuality, the Vietnam war – by working pointed new wrinkles into the standard domestic comedy formula. No subject was taboo: Two 1977 episodes of All in the Family revolved around the attempted rape of lead character Archie Bunker’s wife Edith.”
All in the Family, which ran on CBS from 1971 to 1979, typified the clash of generations. Middle-aged bigot Archie Bunker – played by Carrol O’Connor – was a right-wing King Lear in Queens, raging at the radical changes in society. Archie didn’t let ignorance get in the way of his opinions; once he argued that people who lived in communes were communists. The thing is, the old dog was actually capable of learning new tricks. Archie never evolved into any kind of saint. But over the nine seasons "Family" aired, experience taught Archie the benefits of listening to (and respecting) viewpoints far different from his own.
All in the Family was the jewel in Lear’s crown, but don’t forget the highly popular shows One Day at a Time (which featured Bonnie Franklin as a divorcee raising two daughters in the Midwest) and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (with Louise Lasser as the titular figure in a parody of soap opera conventions). Good or bad, Lear’s work was never indifferent.
More recently, you may have heard about Lear’s lively activism. His TV shows were themselves arguments for free and unfettered speech, and Lear supported a slate of liberal causes. In 1981 he founded People for the American Way. The organization’s website describes the ways that PFAW has “engaged cultural and community leaders and individual activists in campaigns promoting freedom of expression, civic engagement, fair courts, and legal and lived equality for LGBTQ people.”
Lear’s life was a long and fulfilling one. In 1978 he was given the first of two Peabody Awards, the most prestigious award in television. “To Norman Lear,” it reads, “...for giving us comedy with a social conscience. He uses humor to give us a better understanding of social issues. He lets us laugh at our own shortcomings and prejudices, and while doing this, maintains the highest entertainment standards.”
A pioneer, a gadfly of the state, a mensch. To paraphrase a lyric from All in the Family’s theme song, “Mister, we could use a guy like Norman Lear again.”
Look on our works, ye mighty, and despair!
There is a saying that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.
Entrenched systems of power have established bulwarks against the kind of institutional reform that younger Americans have recently been pushing for. By controlling the political conversation through lobbying, control of mass media, regulatory capture, and authoring of legislation, the ultra-wealthy maintain the status quo in a way that makes changing it seem impossible. The problem is that change is desperately needed if we are going to maintain any semblance of civilization.
While political dynamics have become so rigid that the boundaries of what we can achieve begin to feel impenetrable, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that the vital structures of our society—a society that is superficially so robust—have been so weakened that a collapse in one form or another is inevitable. We are the world's superpower, yet faced with a slightly more contagious, slightly more lethal virus than the flu, we are powerless. How did it get to be this bad? How were we so blind to it?
To clarify, depending on the part of the country you live in, it could seem like I'm exaggerating. It may not seem "so bad," or like we're on the verge of collapse. Not long ago the president and many of his loyalists on Fox News and AM radio were still calling dire forecasts around the coronavirus a hoax. At the time it seemed reckless but not unhinged from current events—which were still largely unaffected. In much of the country there is little cause for alarm, so few people are doing much to change their behavior. That's about to change, and the areas hit worst will soon be making the dire choices that Italian hospitals were recently faced with—which patients are we going to hook up to ventilators, and which are we going to allow to die. We are already started on a path that leads to overflowing hospitals in every major city.
A makeshift testing facility in Seattle, Washington Getty Images
The problem is that our entire economy is set up around the same kind of short-term thinking that drive publicly traded corporations. The mentality that "government should be run like a business," leads to cost-cutting measures that only look to the current budget, with minimal consideration given to the kind of intermittent crises that we are bound to face—like a viral pandemic. If it's not particularly likely to happen before the next election cycle, it's better not to even worry about it. This is the kind of thinking that led Donald Trump's administration to push for cuts to the CDC and to disband their global health security team in 2018.
But the systemic issues go much deeper than that and started long before Trump took office. Trump and his ilk can't be blamed for the fact that the US has two hospital beds for every 1,000 citizens. Nor are they responsible for the fact that almost every aspect of America's critical infrastructure receives a near-failing grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. This includes airport congestion—which has already become an issue with the current pandemic—and important shipping routes that we will rely on to maintain the movement of necessary goods as conditions around the country worsen.
Add to those issues the fact that we have a massive population of prisoners sharing tight quarters with poor sanitation, a substantial homeless population with no way to quarantine, a dearth of worker protections like paid sick leave, and it becomes hard to imagine how we'll get through this unscathed. And, of course, this is still ignoring the elephant in the room—a for-profit healthcare system that discourages millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans from seeking medical advice or treatment until it's too late.
Meanwhile, the economic hardships imposed by the necessity of social distancing are being exacerbated by an economy that is heavily reliant on the whims of financial speculators who create an echo chamber of divestment that heightens every crisis. The stock market, in other words, is going crazy in the worst possible way. It's too soon to say how thoroughly the weaknesses in our system will be tested by the developing pandemic, but even in the best case scenario they are going to be strained to a terrifying extent.
Fortunately, there are efforts underway to shore up some of the most obvious breaking points so we can avoid complete societal collapse. They may turn out to be too little too late, but even if they get us through this current disaster, how long will it be before the next one hits? The best models of climate change predict that we are nearing an era that will be ruled by powerful natural disasters and refugee crises that will threaten economic stability and critical infrastructure and may heighten the threat of infectious diseases. Temporary, reactive measures cannot save us if the next crisis hits a little harder or when multiple crises overlap.
A strong social safety net like the one the US tried to develop under FDR would serve to mitigate the damage from this kind of crisis. But modern American politics has worked for decades—in an effort that became an object of worship under Ronald Reagan—to whittle the welfare state of the New Deal and the Great Society down to a fragile bare minimum.
We need to take seriously the voices of politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who have called for the kind of broad, sweeping legislation that stands a chance of upending the rigid political dynamics that maintain the status quo. The Green New Deal would be a good start. The alternative, one way or another, is the end of our civilization and the world as we know it.
It's a cry for help?
Donald Trump once again confused all of Twitter on Tuesday when he ended a Tweet with "Impeach the Pres." After seeming to all-caps brag that "MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME IS AT THE HIGHEST POINT EVER, EVER, EVER!," he claimed there are "MORE PEOPLE WORKING TODAY IN THE USA THAN AT ANY TIME IN HISTORY!" Despite these putative wins for his administration, he did not use the popular hashtag #ImpeachthePres; rather he wrote out the full sentiment, begging the question: What did he mean?
Just out: MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME IS AT THE HIGHEST POINT EVER, EVER, EVER! How about saying it this way, IN THE HI… https://t.co/eeLFQHSr3z— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1571153525.0
1. He's mocking the Left without the literacy to do so effectively
2. It's his unconscious desire to be free
3. He believes Barack Obama is still president
4. He meant "Impeach the Press" but his little thumbs made a typo
5. He means, "I'm Peach, the Pres," perhaps in response to "Orange man bad"
6. He wanted to end with a question mark but ran out of characters
7. Seriously, maybe he just wants to go home
Donald Trump is the most innocent president of our time.
Amidst the House's mounting Trump impeachment inquiry, only one thing is 100% certain no matter what the facts end up being: Donald Trump is totally innocent.
We know this because he tells us on Twitter, and if there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that Donald Trump never lies (and even if he was pretty much lying 84% of the time, that's only to troll stupid people, and by that I mean college-educated democrats and people who can read).
So who cares if the Whistleblower's statement has been proven accurate in a line-by-line dissection? And who cares if the White House definitely tried to cover up the details of the Ukraine call. If Donald Trump says he didn't do anything wrong, well, he's the president so I believe him. So in celebration of how truthful and honest our President is, and how much I believe him no matter what he says or does, I've made a lot of 5 times that Donald Trump was completely innocent.
The Ukraine Call
If Donald Trump says he didn't pressure foreign governments into interfering with the 2020 election even though he admitted to pressuring foreign governments into interfering with the 2020 election, I believe him. He said it was a "perfect phone call" and I'm not 100% sure what that is but it definitely was.
Russia, Russia, Russia! That’s all you heard at the beginning of this Witch Hunt Hoax...And now Russia has disappea… https://t.co/fUbv2gPksj— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1559217467.0
In addition to Florida - South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harde… https://t.co/G9N3uqS9Pd— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1567349506.0
Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body! The so-called vote to be taken is a Democrat c… https://t.co/jAGPz1saBI— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1563285582.0
Donald Trump's 2020 campaign created a hotline that makes leaving a message for the sitting U.S. President as easy as voting for your favorite contestant on America's Got Talent.
If reports that Trump is expressing concerns to close associates that impeachment is "a real possibility" are true, there's now a hotline to provide him reassurance and support. But the 1-800 number isn't for him to call; it's for his supporters to leave him personal messages ending with "thank you, President Trump!"
The first re-election ad for 2020 aired on CNN this week, and it oddly features Trump's campaign manager, Brad Parscale. Dead-eyed, Parscale recites, "President Trump has achieved more during his time in office than any president in history." Of course, the timing of the ad begs a few questions about this assessment, as the Washington Post notes that every organization led by Trump over the last 10 years is currently under investigation.
Parscale continues, "We have a booming economy, historically low unemployment, including the lowest unemployment rate for minorities in history." At least this is a more grounded statement, considering unemployment rates reached a 50-year low in October due to the fact fewer people are participating in the workforce—due to lack of skills, opioid addiction, high college enrollment, and lower rates of female employment. To evince the viewers of this accomplishment, the 1-minute-long ad flashes some B-roll of smiling laborers at assembly lines.
"We need to let President Trump know that we appreciate what he's doing for America," Parscale says later in the ad. "That is why I need every Trump supporter to pick up a phone right now and deliver a personal thank you to your president." Closing the segment with a waving American flag, the instructions to "call 1-800-684-3043 and press 1" make leaving a message for the sitting U.S. President as easy as voting for your favorite contestant on America's Got Talent.
After the ad's first run, journalist Yashar Ali shared the video on Twitter, pointing out that calling the hotline leads to a brief recording service asking for your name and adoration for Trump's administration–promptly followed by an appeal for a campaign donation.
First 2020 ad? This Trump ad, featuring his campaign manager @parscale, just aired on CNN. It’s a minute long and a… https://t.co/zq4WTQoyRF— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@Yashar Ali 🐘) 1545098251.0
If callers are unsure if they want to contribute, Parscale's voice reminds them how much Trump needs their support. His crackling recording says, "But President Trump is under vicious, daily attacks from the fake news media and far-left Democrats who want to implement the radical socialist agenda." His appeals ends, "They will stop at nothing to overturn the election and remove your president from office."
So who's calling the hotline? Jimmy Kimmel called a mock number on his show Tuesday night, thanking Trump for "making it okay to use casual racism on Facebook." Twitter users shared the cutting messages they'd like the president to hear, including CNN analyst Renato Mariotti, who responded to the claim that "President Trump has achieved more in his time in office than any president in history" with sounder examples, "Lincoln freed the slaves. FDR led us to victory in World War II."
"President Trump has achieved more in his time in office than any president in history." - @parscale Lincoln free… https://t.co/E3KBoHiVLd— Renato Mariotti (@Renato Mariotti) 1545109311.0
At the very least, thank you, President Trump, for creating an excellent service to drunk dial.