The issue of civil rights has gotten a lot of play of late in the media. Police behaving like thugs, the TSA practicing "risk-based security," the right of the LGBT community to marry, the NSA listening in – all of these issues raise legitimate concerns about our relationship with authority.
It has always been a push-pull with us; there are always “bad guys” looking for an unfair advantage. On the other hand, we are a nation of iconoclasts. "Don't Tread On Me," a slogan from the Revolutionary War, still resonates: I'm entitled to own guns! Don't tell me how to raise my children! You can't make me buy insurance! The list goes on.
But I think we can all agree that, in a country of 320 million people, without authority there would be anarchy. The question is, how much is enough? The African-American community has become energized over the most recent killings of unarmed black men by the police – the most recent of which led to rioting in Baltimore. I am a white male of a certain age. The police are always courteous to me, even when I've been caught speeding, but much less so to a black male of any age. The TSA sees me as a low risk. But, some years ago, my scruffy nephews would be routinely searched thoroughly by airport security (and, they were red heads). The NSA was recently criticized for collecting terabytes of data on all of our communications. Has this kept the terrorists at bay, or is it simply Big Brother watching you?
A few years ago, the acronym LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) was unknown outside of a small circle. Now, there is a strong feeling in the country that alternative sexuality is not only not aberrant, but normal. We have “outted” gays in the family who are lovely, productive citizens. Most of us not only know members of the LGBT community, but have several in our circle of close friends.
The country continues to change. Ferguson, Mo. – and now Baltimore – are just a couple of stops on a long continuum that passed through the struggles for emancipation and women's suffrage, the fight against discrimination against the Irish, Jews, Italians, Asians, Latinos and, now the LGBT community.
It's a process that moves in fits and start – usually two steps forward, one step back. Shakespeare wrote, "The time is out of joint." And, to quote my mother-in-law, "There are a lot of things wrong with this country, but thank God my parents came here. It's the best place in the world."