If you don’t know who Ed Asner is, then you don’t know much about television.
Even die-hard Republicans have laughed at and been entertained by Lou Grant, the newspaper editor and longtime Democrat brought to life on the classic comedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and later in the hour-long spinoff series. Besides being one of only two actors to win an Emmy for portraying the same character in a sitcom and a drama, the extremely affable Asner has earned more Emmys for his performances—seven total in four different shows—than any male actor in the history of television. And to millennials, he’s best known for playing Santa Claus in the Christmas classic Elf, and as the voice of crotchety Carl Frederickson in Pixar’s Up.
At 88, Asner, along with co-author Ed Weinberger, whose numerous credits include being a writer and producer for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, have written an excellent book titled The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs, about how he feels the GOP exploits our country’s Constitution. Both authors—including Asner, a longtime liberal activist—have clearly done their homework.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Asner opened up about his new book and life under President Trump.
What made you pen your book The Grouchy Historian now?
I thought of doing it for a long time. As a progressive, it’s a story I believe and believe in. If right-wingers truly understood what the Constitution meant they wouldn’t use it as a crutch every time they screw over the poor and the disenfranchised.
What group of people do you think misinterpret our Constitution the most?
The NRA is the worst offender. The Republican Party basically uses it to advance their own agenda, often at the expense of their own members. For example: a government needs to collect taxes in order to survive, but the recently passed tax bill in the Senate is so tilted towards the rich and corporations that some industry leaders, like the head of the largest coal company in America, predict it will bankrupt them.
Do you think President Trump could be impeached?
There’s the possibility certainly but it won’t happen until after Robert Mueller makes his final report. Let’s face it: Trump supporters like his jack-booted style. Teachers, low-paid wage earners and environmentalists—he doesn’t care about them unless Putin tells him to. I’ve never met Trump and I’m not eager to. Like many Republicans through the years he probably hates the fact I’ve made him laugh on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But if you didn’t love our beloved Mary and laughed at her sitcom, that’s just plain un-American.
As a World War II veteran, what do you think of President Trump dodging the Vietnam draft?
[Laughs] He has his hand on the nuclear button and I don’t!
Do you believe Trump is an anti-Semite?
No. He might be, but how can he be because he counts on the Jews to lead Wall Street.
Are you afraid that Trump’s taunting of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un could lead to nuclear war?
I don’t think so. With Trump it’s theatrics, being a bully and a my-missile-is-bigger than-yours bravado. Trump will mouth off and provoke North Korea but he won’t be the first to fire.
As a former president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, do you think the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which recently expelled accused serial rapist Harvey Weinstein, should do the same to another alleged serial rapist in Bill Cosby as well as convicted teenage rapist Roman Polanski?
Cosby hasn’t been tried yet in court for his alleged sexual misconduct—but neither has Weinstein or President Trump. The Academy voted Polanski a best directing Oscar for a film he made overseas after he was convicted and fled the country. How to handle sexual harassment in any form now and in the future is an area, it seems, that demands our attention but has no easy legal or moral solution. Anybody can accuse a celebrity or politician of sexual misconduct and even if it didn’t happen, the damage has been done to their careers. This issue will soon affect all aspects of the workplace worldwide, if it hasn’t already. Let’s not adopt a witch-hunt mentality or use your power to take advantage of people trying to raise a family and pursue their dreams. After almost seven decades in show business, I can tell you nobody should have a naked audition alone with a member of the opposite sex in their hotel room.
What are your thoughts on the Republican Party endorsing and financing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore after several women alleged that he assaulted them as teenagers?
Moore had been discredited by judges from his own party up to that point.
What do you think the Democratic Party needs to do to take back Congress?
It needs to draw more attention to Republican discrepancies: what Republicans are doing to hurt anyone who isn’t rich, and emphasize how the laws they’re proposing are actually meant to destroy the middle class!
How do you feel about NFL players taking a knee during the pre-game National Anthem?
I applaud it. I was a tackle when I played football back then. Today’s NFL doesn’t care about—nor does it want to help—the players after they suffer a violent, life-altering injury. Do any players really think the NFL cares about their civil rights as opposed to the league’s sagging television ratings? The “Star-Spangled Banner” is a military drinking song that’s hard to sing. It should be replaced by “America the Beautiful,” which is an inspiring tune and shows the greatness of our country.
What was your relationship with John Wayne, who you co-starred opposite in the western El Dorado?
I wasn’t intimidated by him but he tested me during the filming. Even though he was amused by me in his later years, The Duke always greeted me with a friendly smile. I didn’t like his politics, but he was one of the most prepared, professional genuine movie stars I ever worked with. I suspect if he read that The Duke would be grinning and spinning in his grave at the same time!