As the weeks wind down until the elections, I see all the great divisions in this country and I hope that our country can come back together again. One of my biggest hopes is that a way is possible to bridge the divide between the white blue collar communities that support Trump and the minority communities that are threatened by Trump.
The popular arts has always provided a way for disparate groups to find areas of common ground. You’ll find progressive and conservative fans of Star Wars or the Beatles or Game of Thrones. If the sports team of your city wins a championships, everyone celebrates together, whether they are progressive or conservative, rich or poor, whatever their race or religion or sexual orientation. I remember when Michael Jackson’s Thriller came out, everyone was listening to it, whether they were nerds, the popular kids, jocks, the heavy metal fans, etc…
I had a talk yesterday with a good friend and we talked about the social novel of the 19th and early 20th century. The social novel was a work of literature that was popular and read by all segments of society and made important social commentary on the issues of society. Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, Leo Tolstoy, John Steinbeck and Mark Twain were examples of authors that produced social novels that described the plight of the poor, on racial and religious prejudice, on the struggles of peasants and migrant workers. These novels didn’t claim to have the solutions to the problems that they were highlighting, Instead these novels hoped to spark discussion among its readers so they could come up with solutions as a society.
Over the twentieth century, the art form that has had the most influence on popular society has shifted away from literature and painting and moved towards television, the movies and popular music. There are movies and television shows and music that tackle important issues that this country is dealing with today.
My one worry, though, is that as the political culture has become silos of progressive and conservative bubbles, our movies and television shows and popular singers become silos where everyone is preaching to the choir. How do we allow space for the clash of views that is vital to our democracy, see the humanity of those we disagree with, to be able to disagree without demonization?
I think Norman Mailer’s television show “All In The Family” in the 1970s is a great example of a popular art form that takes up the role of the great social novels of the 19th century. We see the heated arguments of Gloria and Mike Stivic and Archie Bunker about racism, the Vietnam War, the role of government, and all the issue that have divided the American Left and Right. And yet, in spite of all their disagreements, they still deeply love each other as a family.
Mike Stivic never stopped being a liberal. Archie Bunker never stopped being a conservative. Yet All in the Family taught that you can still deeply love someone even if you deeply disagree with that person’s politics. We have to see a person as more than just their political affiliation. We also have to see them as nuanced and complex human beings too. With all their good points and their flaws and their contradictions.
It’s a lesson that I take to heart. I’m a liberal Democrat. But I still have conservative friends, some Trump supporters and some anti-Trump conservatives. I still love and deeply care about them all, even if I think the Trump supporting friends are crazy. Caring for them has not stopped me from advocating and fighting for progressive causes that I believe in.
This is a clip from “Two’s A Crowd”, the 19th episode (176th overall) of the eighth season of the 1971-79 CBS landmark sitcom “All In The Family”. This episode aired Sunday, February 12, 1978.
Mike (Rob Reiner) and Archie (Carroll O’Connor) accidentally lock themselves in the storeroom of Archie’s Place. While trapped, they talk and Mike gains a sad, new insight and understanding of his father-in-law.