In some ways, it seems like things are changing fast, and at the same time, it seems like it’s taken forever.
Fifty years have passed since the “Decade of Change,” which is how historians, social scientists and news commentators refer to the 1960s, and yet we still see many of the same issues at the forefront then trying to find traction today.
I grew up in Detroit, where we had riots in ’67. Despite the efforts of my teacher to explain the social and economic factors that were tied into it, to my young and frightened eyes it was black and white — a war between the cops, including 7,000 National Guardsmen and Army paratroopers, and African-Americans who lived in the inner city.
I watched the burning and the looting on TV news, and afterward saw thousands of people who were left homeless. I saw that same scene play out in Los Angeles in ’92, after the cops who beat Rodney King were acquitted, and again in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, after Michael Brown was shot. Recently, we’ve seen athletes kneeling, bringing attention to the fact that racial profiling and police brutality are still major issues.
We had “women’s lib” in the ’60s, and Title IX and Roe v. Wade and Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in the ’70s, and Sandra Day O’Connor and Geraldine Ferraro in the ’80s, and all the men and women who’ve stood up and spoken out and fought for women’s equality, yet we saw it kick into a whole new gear this past year with the #MeToo movement. For the first time, I saw a change take place in our thinking and awareness, and what we regard as acceptable language and behavior in the workplace and elsewhere.
Gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states, as a result of a Supreme Court ruling in 2015. Marijuana is now broadly legalized in 28 states, and more are sure to follow with each election. It seems like it’s happening fast, but for those who’ve been the outcasts, ostracized by the norms, it’s been a long time coming.
According to a study published in the recent issue of Science magazine, a social tipping point can occur when 25 percent of the population endorses, embraces or takes a stand on an issue, which is a far lesser percentage needed than had been previously thought.
It’s no surprise that things are changing, and will continue to do so.
Among the things previously frowned upon but now considered morally acceptable by the majority of Americans are gambling, stem-cell research, doctor-assisted suicide and having children out of wedlock. Not only are we going to see more unmarried couples having children, but more and more single women who just want to have a child.
Among things now at an all-time low in terms of moral acceptability are the death penalty, medical testing on animals and the buying and wearing of animal fur clothing.
Half of Americans think the present state of our moral values is poor, and 3 in 4 say it’s getting worse. I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but I also know it depends on the lens you’re looking through.
For instance, when Bill Clinton was in office, 86 percent of Republicans thought it was important for the president to be a moral leader, compared to only 62 percent who think it’s important in the age of Trump. Likewise, 63 percent of Democrats thought moral leadership was important under Clinton, compared to 77 percent under Trump. Not only is politics a partisan issue, so is morality.
Some people find the changes distressing, but if we are to remain committed to the fundamental principles upon which this nation was founded, which above all else are personal freedom and the pursuit of happiness, then the long-term arc will continue to bend in the direction of choice, diversity, self-improvement and self-expression.