I couldn't help reading Clint Eastwood's recent pro-Donald Trump diatribe, in which he lectured the victims of political incorrectness, to "get over it," without flashing back in my mind to a different period in Eastwood's life and career. One in which he expressed profoundly different sentiments.
While Eastwood has always been right of center, although a libertarian more than anything else, he was at one point a very strong advocate for greater participation by African-Americans in the film industry. And his advocacy wasn't just rhetoric; he put meat on the bones of his words in his hiring practices on his film projects, including one project that celebrated the life of a major African-American artist, Charlie Parker ("Bird"). The NACCP honored Eastwood in 1989 with a special Image Award for his efforts and, in accepting it, he expressed his hope that, one day, the Image Awards would be "obsolete," because it would be "commonplace in the motion picture industry and other industries to never use minorities in stereotypical fashion, and to branch out." You can read more about this here.
So, what happened?
I don't think Eastwood's earlier advocacy was insincere. Whatever else I can say about him, I don't think insincerity is one of his liabilities. And, in more recent years, he's added to his past words of tolerance by extending them to those who support marriage eqaulity. And his praise for Trump was hardly unadulterated; he critized Putin's poodle for his comments about the "Mexican" judge he might be facing.
No, Eastwood's comments seemed to be less an endorsement of Trump and more of a screed against "political correctness," or what Eastwood sees as "political correctness."
But why is political correctness a bad thing? What others call political correctness is simply good manners, with the goal of not offening people for aspects of their lives beyond their control. And let's be real there was a time in our history in which a different sort of political correctness ruled the land, one in which the stereotyping Eastwood mentioned in 1989 at the Image Awards was an accepted part of our national culture. This does not constitute an endorsement on my part of every scenario in which someone claims offense. But, even in those cases, it's still worth having the discussion, if only becuase it ultimately leads to a better understanding of one another, and to a more perfect union. (And, if this is a democracy, we need to talk to each other more often in any case).
If, as a comedian, you're going to offend someone, do it the way Groucho Marx did it; be offensive about what people say and do, not about who they are. That takes a little more intelligence and effort, but it's why people still laugh at Groucho, long after they've forgotten the children's books of the early 20th century with their stereotypical black and Jewish characters.
I'd like to think that Clint made his comments when he was having a bad day. Maybe, however, part of where he was coming from was being in a world in which white male power is, in fact, becoming obsolete. Maybe seeing that is harder for him than he could have imagined back in 1989. Clearly, for most of Trump's supporters, that seems to be the case. I've always liked Eastwood, even when I have disagreed with his politics. I would hate to see him descent to the level of racial animosity that can be found at any of The Donald's rallies.
Perhaps this really is a job for Meryl Streep, after all. Give it a try, Meryl; I'll be rooting for you.