Well, I did. I am 100 years old today. I wake up every morning grateful to be alive.
Reaching my personal centenary is cause for reflection on my first century – and what the next century will bring to the people and country I love. To be honest, I’m a little scared that I’m in better shape than our democracy.
I was deeply disturbed by the attack on Congress on January 6, 2021 – by supporters of former President Donald Trump who were trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. Those concerns have only grown with each revelation about how far Mr Trump was willing to go to stay in power after being voted out by voters – and about his continued efforts to install loyalists in positions of power. influence future elections.
I don’t take the threat of authoritarianism lightly. As a young man, I dropped out of college when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and joined the US Army Air Force. I flew over 50 missions in a B-17 bomber to defeat the fascism that is devouring Europe. I am a staunch supporter of truth, justice, and the American way, and I fail to understand how so many people who call themselves patriots can support efforts to undermine our democracy and our Constitution. It is alarming.
At the same time, I was moved by the courage of the handful of conservative Republican lawmakers, lawyers and former White House staffers who stood up to Mr. Trump’s bullying. They give me hope that Americans can find unexpected common ground with friends and family whose politics differ but who are unwilling to sacrifice basic democratic principles.
Encouraging this kind of conversation was one of my goals when we started airing “All in the Family” in 1971. The kinds of topics Archie Bunker and his family argued over – issues that divided Americans others, such as racism, feminism, homosexuality, the Vietnam War and Watergate – have certainly been discussed in homes and families. They just weren’t recognized on TV.
Despite all his faults, Archie loved his country and he loved his family, even when they called him out for his ignorance and bigotry. If Archie had been around 50 years later, he probably would have been watching Fox News. He probably would have been a Trump voter. But I think the sight of the American flag being used to attack the Capitol police would have made him sick. I hope the determination shown by Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, and their commitment to exposing the truth, would have earned his respect.
It’s remarkable to consider that television – the medium I’m best known for – didn’t even exist when I was born in 1922. The internet came decades later, and then social media. We have seen that each of these technologies can be used for destructive purposes, spreading lies, sowing hatred and creating the conditions for authoritarianism to take root. But that’s not the whole story. Innovative technologies are creating new ways for us to express ourselves and, I hope, will allow humanity to know more about itself and better understand the ideas, failures and achievements of others. These technologies were also used to create connection, community, and platforms for the kind of ideological fight that might have drawn Archie to a keyboard. I can only imagine the creative and constructive possibilities that technological innovation could offer us to solve some of our most intractable problems.
I often feel discouraged by the direction our politics, our courts and our culture are taking. But I do not lose faith in our country or in its future. I remember all the way. I think of the brilliantly creative people I’ve had the pleasure of working with in entertainment and politics, and People for the American Way, a progressive group I co-founded to defend our freedoms and build a country in which all people enjoy the blessings of freedom. These meetings renew my conviction that Americans will find ways to build solidarity in the name of our values, our country and our fragile planet.
My loved ones know that I try to stay focused on the future. Two of my favorite words are “done” and “next”. It’s an attitude that has served me well through a long life of ups and downs, with a deeply felt appreciation for the absurdity of the human condition.
Reaching this anniversary with my health and spirit virtually intact is a privilege. Approaching it with loving family, friends and creative collaborators to share my days filled me with a gratitude that I can hardly express.
This is our century, dear reader, yours and mine. Let’s encourage each other with visions of a shared future. And let’s bring all the courage, openness and creative spirit we can muster to come together and build that future.
Norman Lear produced “All in the Family”, “Maude”, “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times”, among other groundbreaking television shows. He is a member of the Television Academy Hall of Fame and a recipient of the National Medal of Arts and Kennedy Center Honors. An activist and philanthropist, he co-founded and sits on the board of the advocacy organization People for the American Way.
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