Archie Bunker in the White House

What does a democracy do when the man elected to head it obviously doesn’t have the minimal qualifications to run a state, and could cause it and the whole world to deteriorate into deep crises?

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The 'All In the Family' cast, 1973. Standing, from left: Jean Stapleton (Edith Bunker), Mike Evans (Lionel Jefferson), Carroll O'Connor (Archie Bunker). Seated: Sally Struthers (Gloria Bunker Stivic) and Rob Reiner (Mike Stivic).
The 'All In the Family' cast, 1973. Standing, from left: Jean Stapleton (Edith Bunker), Mike Evans (Lionel Jefferson), Carroll O'Connor (Archie Bunker). Seated: Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner.Credit: CBS Television, Wikimedia Commons

Archie Bunker was the hero of the popular American sitcom “All in the Family” in the ‘70s: a white, egocentric blue-collar worker who grumbles about blacks, Hispanics, homosexuals and hippies; not really anti-Semitic but not exactly a Jew-lover either; a chauvinist who bosses his submissive wife and feuds with his college-educated son-in-law.

Naturally, he’s never read a book in his life and his ideas of the world stem from television and peeking at the headlines of popular journalism. This doesn’t prevent him from expressing his opinions conclusively about everything in the world, sometimes with mispronunciations attesting to comic ignorance. He also knows how the world should be run better than the corrupt politicians he scoffs at. Apart from that he’s a nice, even cool guy, whose friends at work really love him.

Archie Bunker is of course a stereotype, whom the educated liberal American elite enjoyed laughing at. In retrospect he can be seen as an archetype of white working-class and middle-class men who helped Donald Trump win the election. The tragic irony is that today Archie Bunker is in the White House. Trump himself is not Archie Bunker, he’s rich as Croesus, but his knowledge of the world, his racist views and prejudices, his understanding of American and international reality are all certainly on Bunker’s level.

One day he’s no longer bound to the “one China” policy and sees China as a currency manipulator, and another day he sees the president of China as a man after his own heart; one day he believes NATO is anachronistic, another day he promises to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem (“on my first day in the White House”). But meanwhile this isn’t really happening. He has no idea of course about the real nature of the Middle East conflict, so he doesn’t really care if the solution is one or two states – that’s a minute detail, like the number of floors in one of the (“prestigious”) highrises he’s building somewhere in the world that he obviously cannot find on the map.

One day he seems to be threatening to attack North Korea and the next he announces he’d be honored to meet its president. One day his administration says toppling Bashar Assad isn’t a top priority, the next day he decides to bomb Syrian regime facilities and states that Assad must go. He called a federal judge who blocked his racist travel ban “a so-called judge,” and so on. I’m sure the two old guys from the Muppets would run the world in a more rational way.

It’s best not to say too much on the vicissitudes of Trump’s positions regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict, so as not to rub salt in the wounds of Benjamin Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and all the wacky right’s men. Apparently Trump’s best friend isn’t Israel but Saudi Arabia, with whose dark regime he can make gigantic deals that will enrich him and his family. Whoever hasn’t understood that yet had better learn this lesson quickly.

But the main difference between Trump and Archie Bunker is that the kind of sayings Archie uttered every night at the dinner table are now sent by Trump after midnight by Twitter to every corner of the earth. It’s best not to mention his and his family’s strange relations with Vladimir Putin – it could end with criminal charges, if not worse. What’s clear in the meantime is that the positions Trump expressed in Europe recently have weakened the cohesiveness of the West and the Trans-Atlantic alliance, which served as a foundation for Western democracy after 1945. His pulling out of the Paris agreement is an earthquake the likes of which we have rarely seen.

The gutter language Trump uses toward his rivals was probably unacceptable to TV producers in the ‘70s, who after all intended their shows “for the whole family.” Trump’s contribution to degrading the political discourse to cyber trolls’ vilifications is one of the most depressing traits that characterized his election campaign and now characterizes his presidency.

It also appears that Trump spends a considerable part of his days and nights watching television and tweeting responses. It’s hard to expect anything else from one whose claim to fame is being a reality show host. That is his real world, the one in which he lives.

All this would be funny if it were a fictional movie, but it’s the president of the strongest power in the world, who even without a reckless push on the nuclear button is undoubtedly a danger to American democracy and world peace.

Whoever thought Trump would moderate himself or that those around him would restrain him was of course wrong – this is the man. It may be possible in this way to make billions (bypassing laws and intimidating rivals and competitors) and even evade bankruptcy if you have friends (probably in the Kremlin). But putting the world’s management in the hands of Archie Bunker is a dangerous business.

American democracy is in a difficult situation. The problem isn’t Trump’s opinions – the United States has known conservative presidents like Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes. But they were standard, normal politicians. Even Reagan’s opponents said to his credit that he was aware of his limitations and surrounded himself with skilled economic and strategic advisers and listened to their advice. Without going into medical diagnoses, it is clear that Trump isn’t capable of listening to anyone. Everything is about his personality and his ego, and he sees his presidency as a sequel to his business career.

What does a democracy do when the man elected to head it obviously doesn’t have the minimal qualifications to run a state, and could cause it and the whole world to deteriorate into deep crises? Trump isn’t Hitler, but Germany’s great failure wasn’t in the Weimar constitution’s weakness but in the weakness of its leaders. These leaders – conservatives, liberals and even socialists, and military top brass – couldn’t find the legitimate way to mobilize a massive, democratic protest campaign to remove the man who was clearly a menace to the world, and first and foremost to Germany itself.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump doesn’t last four years in the White House. It’s hard to imagine four years similar to the last four months without something unravelling or exploding. One may only hope that his years in power pass without causing too much damage to America, the world and the future of liberal democracy.

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