Is it 2015 or 1984?

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Dr. Malcolm Cross
Dr. Malcolm Cross

What year is this?

Most of you might say this is 2015 and my question is even dumber than usual.  But I can’t help but wonder whether we’re living in 1984.

1984 is the title of George Orwell’s famous novel about life in a totalitarian political system, where the government may suddenly change its policies, erase any trace of the old discarded policies, and arrest, imprison, torture, and even execute those who question the changes, all while declaring those who resist to be enemies of the state.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I see some parallels between events in Orwell’s novel and the results of two recent changes in public policy.  No, nobody is being put to death for questioning the legalization of gay marriage or the removal of Confederate flags from public buildings, but some parallels with 1984 can still be seen.

Consider the treatment of some who oppose same sex marriage.  I personally don’t care too much about this issue one way or the other.  Gay marriage is far less a threat to traditional marriage than adultery, spousal abuse, and lax divorce laws which allow celebrity airheads to change their spouses more frequently than most drivers change their cars’ oil.  I don’t see how anyone will be hurt merely by gay couples presenting themselves as spouses.

Yet traditional marriage has been our model for centuries, while same sex marriage has been rejected by most votes in most elections on the subject.  In fact, Barack Obama opposed same sex marriage until 2012 and Hillary Clinton until 2013.  To vilify and, in a few cases, prosecute, those who can’t change their thinking on marriage as rapidly as Obama or Clinton can is not as bad as what’s done to those who don’t accept change in 1984, but it’s still a step in the wrong direction.  Public officials charged with issuing marriage licenses must, of course, do so for all couples—including, now, same sex couples—since same sex marriage is now the law of the land, and officials must either obey the law or give up their positions. But private citizens who decline to supply wedding cakes, or photographic services, to same sex weddings should be left alone. Not everyone can change his mind as rapidly as a politician can.  Besides, there are plenty of folks who will help produce same sex weddings, so those who want to enter into a same sex marriage should have no trouble finding the assistance they want.

Or consider the controversy over the Confederate flag. Removing it from official state office buildings reflects nothing more than common sense and common courtesy. It was initially flown by southern state governments to signify state opposition to equal civil and voting rights for African Americans. The extension of full citizenship to African Americans makes continued display of the flag pointless at best, as well as a gratuitous insult to those the states wanted to oppress. Down it should come.

Yet to millions of people, and not only in the South, the flag continues to signify “heritage, not hate,” or freedom, rebellion, courage, or other values, as an article in the Atlantic discussed (http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/06/confederate-flag-pop-culture-phenomenon/396596/). Private businesses, such as Amazon, eBay, Walmart, TV Land or Warner Brothers may have the right to withdraw Confederate-themed merchandise from their stores, to take The Dukes of Hazzard off the air, and to end the licensing and sale of program-related merchandise.  But in doing so they are seeking to erase as much as possible traces of an important symbol in American history as zealously as the government of 1984 worked to eliminate historical memory, and they’re setting a dangerous precedent by which other symbols and the ideas they represent may be suppressed in the future.  Liberty is better served if we recognize that symbols mean different things to different people, that symbols’ meanings change over time, and that  the rights to produce and display this particular symbol  should be retained, with the proviso that those who dislike it have as much right to protest it as those who revere it have to display it.

And by all means, let’s bring back Daisy Duke.  With the sole exception of Dana Scully, no TV character was more—oops!  I’ve run out of space.

 Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987.  His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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