Norman Lear

Norman Lear: Will Republican Leaders Show Decency and Stand Up to Trump?

This piece originally appeared as a guest column in The Hollywood Reporter.

Having just turned 94, I am aware that each day I spend as an American, in the company of loved ones, engaging with creative colleagues, and yes, swearing at the television news, is a gift. So maybe I owe Donald Trump, that human middle finger to the American Way, a bit of thanks for getting my heart pumping better than any exercise routine.

One benefit of having been around so long is that what may seem like ancient history is alive within me. Most of my fellow Americans do not personally remember World War II, in which the United States led the free world to defeat the forces of fascism in Europe and Asia. Like so many of my compatriots, I left college to enlist in that war. Unlike too many of them, I returned home safely after flying 52 combat missions. For that good fortune I can thank the Tuskegee airmen and others who flew escort and protected us during those bomb runs.

After the war, when I was a young writer hustling to make my way in show business, Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee were on a rampage, targeting political opponents, people in the arts, and ordinary Americans. One of the real American heroes, who stood up to those who were pretending to be, was Joseph Welch, chief counsel for the U.S. Army when it became a McCarthy target. After McCarthy used a public hearing to drag the name of a young lawyer through the mud, Welch challenged his cruelty and recklessness. And in words that expressed what so many felt but feared to say, Welch asked, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Those just might be the most famous words in American political history that were not uttered by a U.S. president. They didn’t change McCarthy, but they did help others find the strength to stand up to him.

The witch hunts and blacklists didn’t end overnight. One target was John Henry Faulk, a civil libertarian and folk humorist who fought a successful libel lawsuit that finally helped bring an end to blacklisting. In my recent memoir, written before Donald Trump had blessed us with his candidacy, I wrote of Faulk, “How do you not love a man who, in that East Texas drawl of his, says of some fatuous asshole in the news, ‘I’d like t’buy the somunabitch for what he’s worth and sell’m for what he thinks he’s worth!’”  That would translate to selling for a billion dollars today the Trump you payed a nickel for yesterday.

I have little to add to what has been said about Trump’s cruel treatment of immigrants and other political targets or his relentless demeaning of anyone who challenges him. As painful as it was to watch Trump’s attacks on the family of a soldier who sacrificed his life so that others might live, it was even more revolting to watch him suggest that maybe “the Second Amendment people” could do something about a President Clinton and her judicial nominees. Trump is making it clear to Americans who he is; we need to pay attention and avoid the horrific mistake of making him our leader. 

Trump is not the first demagogue we have faced; neither was McCarthy. One of the formative experiences of my youth was when, as a young child playing with my crystal radio set alone in my bedroom, I stumbled across Father Coughlin and learned that there were people in this country who hated Jews. But I also learned in civics classes that were held in grade school then (unfortunately not now) that people like Coughlin held ideas that were antithetical to those of our Founding Fathers and the Constitution they bequeathed us, ideas and ideals which we have strived to realize, and which have inspired so many generations of people from across the globe to make their way to our shores.

For all our continued flaws, we are a more decent nation than Donald Trump imagines. That’s why Joseph Welch’s words packed such a punch. And it is why Americans deserve more courage from their political leaders. As for Reince Priebus, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and others who have climbed on board the Trump train even though I have to believe their hearts knows better, it’s time they looked at themselves in the mirror and asked, “Have you left no sense of decency, Sirs, at long last?”

Norman Lear is a television and film producer and the founder of People For the American Way.


In Memory of Doris Roberts, Longtime People For Friend and Supporter

The People For family was saddened to learn of the passing of Doris Roberts, a longtime friend and a committed supporter of our work.

Doris Roberts hugs founder Norman Lear at PFAW Foundation’s 30th Anniversary Celebration in Los Angeles, December 2011.

For many years, Roberts was an active supporter of People For, speaking at and attending events, helping to spread the word about our work, even recording robo-calls for our campaigns. She was especially passionate about fighting for LGBT equality and acted as a strong advocate in the height of the AIDS crisis and beyond.

People For founder Norman Lear tweeted yesterday that he is “forever in her debt.”

Our thoughts today are with her family and friends. Doris Roberts’ commitment to making our country a stronger, more just place was inspiring – and she will be deeply missed.

PFAW Foundation

Norman Lear: Why I'm a Man for Choice

Norman Lear

More than forty years ago, the writers and I on our TV show "Maude" did something which apparently no one had done before on television: We showed our main character making the decision to have an abortion.

This was 1972, the year before the Supreme Court affirmed the right for all women to make their own reproductive health-care decisions. Back then, abortion wasn't something that was being discussed on television. But, of course, millions of women, and men, and families were discussing it in their own homes. So, we wrote some episodes that included Maude's discovery that, at age 47, after her daughter was grown, she found herself pregnant. We explored her conversations with friends and family about that pregnancy, and her ultimate decision with her husband to end that pregnancy. To no one's surprise, the world continued to turn on its axis.

As with our character, Maude Findlay, the majority of women who have an abortion today are already mothers, and don't make the decision lightly. At that time, a woman's ability to make the decision to create or expand her family was dependent on the state she lived in and how much money was in her bank account.

I never would have thought that, more than 40 years later, we would still be waging these same fights over women's reproductive rights that we were facing in the 1970s.

Yet, in June, the Supreme Court will decide the most consequential abortion case in decades involving a Texas law that could force the closure of abortion clinics in the state.

As America celebrates Women's History Month this March, we recognize the incredible strides our country has been able to make because of the hard work, creativity and resolve of American women. Our country is stronger when all Americans are empowered to make their own decisions about their health, their bodies and whether to start and grow their families.

It is unfortunate that, in this heated political season, we are still debating whether women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies. Seven in 10 Americans support a woman's right to an abortion. Congress and state legislatures should be following the will of the people and get out of the way.

Instead, states from Texas to Mississippi to Ohio are leaving millions of women without access to health-care clinics that provide the reproductive healthcare services they deserve. Women – particularly poor women, women of color, and those living in red states – are losing access to their constitutional right to abortion at a frightening pace.

The very same politicians who are closing clinics in the name of protecting women and families are actively harming them by cutting off funding for preventative health care, cancer screenings and HIV prevention as part of an ideological war against abortion. Putting up barriers to accessing health care is not the way to support and empower women in this country.

But really, this is not about abortion for the anti-choice movement. Cutting off access to health care is one tool in their playbook that pushes a worldview where women are kept out of positions of power.

We know that one in three women in the United States will have an abortion in their lifetime. Most women who choose to have an abortion are in their twenties — the same decade in which their careers are just starting to take off. By depriving a woman of her right to an abortion, we're boxing her into a world where she cannot choose her own destiny, take advantage of the career opportunities she wants, or simply live the life that's best for her and her family.

f we trust women to run businesses, fight for our country, raise children, and hold the highest political offices (and we all should), we need to also trust that they are capable of making their own decisions about what is best for their own body, family and future. When the anti-choice movement doesn't trust women to make these personal decisions, we can only assume they don't trust women to lead either.

I am proud to stand with NARAL Pro-Choice America and call myself a "Man for Choice" because I believe it is time for men to stop pretending that we know better what women's health-care needs are. Women have proven that they are up to any task set before them and are more than capable of deciding their own futures. We can't afford to wait another 40 years before politicians figure this out.

This post originally appeared on CNBC.


Thank You from PFAW Founder Norman Lear

Please take a moment to watch this end-of-the-year thank you message for you and all of PFAW's wonderful supporters around the world from PFAW founder Norman Lear:

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PFAW Foundation Celebrates Founder Norman Lear's 90th Birthday and the Young Elected Officials Network

Last week, People For the American Way Foundation hosted a gala at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to celebrate founder Norman Lear’s 90th birthday and the Young Elected Officials Network.

The event highlighted Lear’s legendary career as a television producer, and how in 1981, he turned to that medium to express his concern about the growing right-wing movement in America – and People For the American Way Foundation was born. 30 years later, PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network – consisting of nearly 700 progressive officeholders between 18 and 35 years of age – are at the forefront of change in their communities.

Members of Congress, celebrities, members of the board and community leaders were in attendance to celebrate Norman Lear, the YEO Network and the mission of People For the American Way Foundation.

From left: PFAW Foundation Founder Norman Lear, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan and board member Jane Lynch

From left: Board member Kathleen Turner and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison

From left: YEOs Kesha Ram, Melvin Carter and Angie Buhl

PFAW Foundation

Guest Post: YP4, Norman Lear, and a Movement Family

By Erik Lampmann

Norman Lear, more so than almost any other, understands the inspiration, joy, and revitalization to be had by bringing together a diverse and wide movement to share in moments of success -- large and small. This week, I was honored to attend Norman Lear’s 90th Birthday celebration and the kick-off to the Young Elected Officials Network’s national convening. An alum of the Young People For (YP4) millennial fellowship program, I was invited to the event to share my experience and represent young people active in the progressive movement. While being in the presence of celebrities, major donors, and political leaders would give any college student simultaneous sensations of absolute fear and overwhelming excitement, I think the most poignant emotion I felt during the night was a profound sense of purpose, of drive, of calling.

Of the activists and organizers I met Thursday, I was continually impressed not by their successes -- be they electoral, issue-based, or local -- but by their resounding human spirit. From Norman Lear’s keen ability to enrapture a crowd -- whisking them from applause line to somber reflection -- to the YEO members who not only envisioned change but came to embody it within themselves, I was humbled. From talking to students from different campuses about the wins and losses of their organizations this Spring semester to discussing the Presidential Medal Freedom with Dolores Huerta, to hearing Jane Lynch give an interview on the consequences of the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court case, I was astounded by the grace with which my peers in the movement campaigned for justice with compassion.

I will confess that I am, at times, disillusioned with the progressive movement, in general. As a campus organizer working on progressive public policy and LGBTQ justice in Richmond, VA, I am often disheartened at the gap between what we’ve currently achieved and the ideal that we continue to pursue. While everyday I see the stifling states’ rights conservatism of the former Capital of the Confederacy, local progressive wins seem much slower coming. For these reasons, the reinvigoration of the PFAW Foundation celebration of this past week could not have come at a better time. As I complete a summer research fellowship on political theory and strategize for next year’s mobilizations on-campus, I am reminded of the inclusive, accomplished, and intentional family of YP4 and the dedication of People For the American Way Foundation in the pursuit of justice, equality, and the American Way even despite the challenges ahead.

Indeed, our fight as a movement has never been more necessary or the challenges we face more dire. Most recently, conservative ad hominem attacks on Attorney General Eric Holder continue to distract Congress from meaningful action. Out-of-touch elected officials continue to hold hostage major pieces of policy legislation from confronting the student debt crisis to tackling the federal deficit. Voter suppression bills are -- this very minute -- actively disenfranchising the elderly, youth, and communities of color across the country. Reproductive justice continues to be vilified and erased from popular discourse by those who censure speeches in the Michigan State House, for example, or close all of the abortion clinics in Mississippi simply in order to devalue the personal autonomy of women. Racial profiling continues to make life for undocumented people in Arizona and Alabama that much more difficult. Queer folks continue to challenge a heterosexist culture that seeks to tokenize their experience while the elderly, young people, and the differently-abled are shunned to the margins of political discourse.

Reflecting on the significance of Thursday’s event as well as the struggles to come reminds me of a refrain within this piece, the need for solidarity and union within our movement family. I think my sentiment is expressed best by a quote I first heard at a YP4 training: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” -- Assata Shakur.

Erik Lampmann is a junior studying political theory and French at the University of Richmond (VA) and a 2011-2012 YP4 Fellow. 

PFAW Foundation

Help Celebrate PFAW Foundation Founder Norman Lear's 90th & the YEO Network!

DC's Kennedy Center will host national leaders in government, media & the arts to honor PFAWF co-founder & legendary TV producer Norman Lear's achievements & PFAWF's Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network.

1980 Norman Lear TV ad opposing the Religious Right

The 1980 Norman Lear TV ad opposing the Religious Right that started it all.
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