Norman Lear has seen a lot of presidents in his 93 years. He was born during the Warren G. Harding administration and, despite his lifelong liberal views, has expressed strong admiration for Dwight D. Eisenhower. And while he has had plenty of negative things to say about George W. Bush and the “long history of fools we’ve had running this country,” Lear thinks electing Donald Trump would represent a new low in American democracy.
“Donald Trump is a fool and an asshole,” Lear told The Daily Beast this week. “I don’t think people are backing him as much as he has become the middle finger of their right hand.”
“And it’s their way of saying to the establishment, ‘This is the kind of leadership you’re giving us? Take this!’” he adds. “It’s a ‘fuck you’ to the establishment. It isn’t a heartfelt belief in this guy.”
For decades Lear has divided his career between entertainment and politics and it all began with People for the American Way, an organization he co-founded in 1981 with the goal of countering the rise of the Christian right. This weekend, PFAW will hold its annual awards dinner, with honorees Judd Apatow and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
With massively popular sitcoms like All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Maude and more, Lear was known for pushing boundaries and tackling big issues like racism and abortion through comedic characters. Today, he sees that tradition being carried forward by artists like Transparent's Jill Soloway and South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone. “This year, the whole season is dedicated to political correctness and it’s hilarious and important,” Lear says of South Park, which ended its 19th season Wednesday night. He doesn’t watch much late-night TV anymore, but he “loves” Stephen Colbert.
As Lear explains, his beef was never with people who simply expressed their religious beliefs, it was the fact that they were “mixing politics with religion.” He didn’t like that groups like the Moral Majority were deeming people “good Christians” or “bad Christians” based on their political positions. “That is what was so totally un-American to me,” he says.
The whole thing started with a simple public service announcement created by Lear that featured an “average working stiff” in a factory, who speaks directly into the camera, pushing back on the idea that there can be “just one Christian position” on certain political issues. Under the framework put forward by preachers on the radio, he says his son is a “bad Christian” on some issues and his wife is a “bad Christian” on others. “Lucky me, I’m 100 percent Christian because I agree with the preacher on all of it,” he adds with a smile.
“My problem is, I know my boy is as good a Christian as me. My wife, she’s better,” the man says. “So maybe there’s something wrong with people, even preachers, who suggest that some people are good Christians or bad Christians, depending on their political views. That’s not the American way.”
While Lear just wanted to get the spot on TV, he had some concerns that he might be the wrong messenger. As a Jew and a member of the Hollywood community, he said, “you can’t have more strikes against you” in terms of credibility with your average Christian American. So he showed the spot to a friend of his, a priest at Notre Dame, who not only agreed with the message and gave him his blessing to move forward, but also urged him to focus on the way Evangelicals “torture scripture” to fit their own agendas.
But despite the organization’s tireless work over the past 35 years, Lear said that “torturing” of religious doctrine continues today, including in Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the United States, a policy that he says has “allusions to biblical reasons” behind it. “There’s a religious connotation in being anti-anybody’s religion,” Lear adds.
Shockingly, Lear admits no one has ever asked him if he thinks All in the Family’s infamously politically incorrect Archie Bunker would be a Trump supporter, were he around today to share his opinion on the 2016 election.
“Would Archie Bunker be a supporter?” Lear wonders. “Yes, he would be saying ‘take that.’” But according to Lear, Bunker would also believe that somehow Trump was a product of the liberals. “He’d find a way of blaming the Left for Donald Trump.”