Cultural Whiplash

Who are we supposed to believe, our lying eyes or the polls?

On the one hand, efforts to marginalize gays—to label them as permanently “other,” as second or third-class citizens—have heated up since the advent of the Tea Party and the 2010 elections. Here in Indiana, we have seen the resurrection of efforts to constitutionalize a ban against same-sex marriage, an effort that has been dutifully endorsed by the majority party, and seems likely to pass during this legislative session.

Fortunately, the Indiana Constitution requires that proposed amendments be passed—in identical form—by two separately elected legislatures, so there’s hope it can still be defeated.  There is no similar roadblock to an equally hateful anti-immigration provision, modeled upon Arizona’s law, or to measures aimed at rolling back women’s right to control their own reproduction.

Other states seem fixated on efforts to exclude and demonize Muslims. The most ludicrous are measures passed by several states that outlaw the imposition of Sharia law—thus “solving” an absolutely non-existent problem.

In the U.S. Congress, a number of anti-woman measures are part of what appears to be a full-court press to repeal the 21st—and maybe the 20th—century. Newly elected ideologues are voting against science (the 31 Republican members of the House Energy Committee voted that global climate change doesn’t exist and besides, it isn’t caused by human activity) and economic reality (trying to reduce the deficit by refusing to raise taxes on even our richest citizens, and passing cuts likely to reduce revenues further by throwing the economy back into recession).

Looking at the news these days is a prescription for depression. Who are these people we’ve elected, and why are they actively trying to repeal the Enlightenment and destroy everything that makes America great? Are they insane, or just really, really ignorant?  What does it say about us that we elected these buffoons?

And yet.

Several recent surveys from respected pollsters have shown a slight majority of Americans in favor of same-sex marriage. An overwhelming majority favors legislation that would forbid employers from firing people simply because they are gay. The same Congress that seems to be trying to put women back in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, did repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The Department of Justice has confirmed what seemed pretty obvious to many of us—that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional—and consequently, announced that DOJ won’t defend it in court. Even Arizona appears to be backing off its hateful anti-immigration campaign—not because Arizona legislators have suddenly come to their senses, but because their bigotry has cost the state millions in lost business and tourism. Nice people decided to spend their money elsewhere—and it turned out there are a lot of nice people.

In short, the politics of equality is decidedly mixed. If we look for evidence of progress, there’s plenty to see. If we look for evidence that we are regressing, we’ll see that too. If we look at the whole picture, we get whiplash.

I cling to one amply documented bit of evidence: every poll, every survey, shows that the younger generation—those under 35 or so—are more tolerant, more accepting of difference, more at ease in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural world.

So when my generation is gone, things will improve. Unfortunately, a lot of people will be hurt while we’re waiting.


  1. Actually it was the previous lame duck Congress, with a Democratic majority in the House, that voted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

  2. It is normal for a progressive to watch polls – not to consider the reality or arguments of an issue. In this case, however, it is correct. In many countries, like Panama, acceptance is the norm without laws. The US is over burdened with English Law and has about a zillion too many laws. You simply can not correct prejudice with a law. Here in Panama, acceptance is a tradition and no one bothers with it. I, like Juan Williams, did originally feel a little bothered when cross dressers came to our boat to sell molas and flirt like the mola ladies in other anchorages. I finally have come to understand that flirtation is part of the Panama culture and there is no difference in cross dressers as well. It is all part of a traditional culture. Laws tend to be confrontational and can never solve a problem of acceptance. Admittedly, ethnic groups tend to form their own groups for support and to capitalize their ventures, but there is no prejudice that I can see. There are so many cross breeds here in Panama, they can not be identified. As I am a definite minority I find it has no meaning – I am not aware of it. Prejudice can only be eliminated by tradition of parents teaching their children – laws are meaningless. Polls can only be used to indicate progress.

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