Thursday, December 11, 2014

Just who do you want to be?

Two pieces of news from earlier this week left me a bit discouraged.

As a liberal, I'm used to being discouraged by the pace of progress.  It's a hazard of the ideology.  Things never get better as quickly as I'd like.

But I've been particularly discouraged this week by the narrow victory of the bigoted campaign to repeal the Fayetteville civil rights ordinance that provided a small measure of protection to a greatly expanded range of disfavored minorities against discrimination in accommodations and commerce.

Some people don't like it when I call names, but I have to regard this campaign as being composed of bigots.  What else do we call it when a person--and I use that term loosely--wants to make it easier to deny people equal access to the marketplace solely because they are different from the majority?

The Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, led by Steve Clark, the disgraced former Arkansas attorney general whose political career ended when he was convicted of stealing money from the people of Arkansas by using his state credit card for personal expenses, was a staunch advocate for repeal.  The Chamber argued that regulations like this ordinance were burdensome to businesses and would make it less likely for new businesses to invest in Fayetteville.

The truth is that this sort of thing falls under what Lou Holtz referred to as the "do-right rule."  It's not burdensome to do the right thing by meeting your customers on their own terms.  To use one example, if you're a pastry chef who specializes in wedding cakes, and someone wants to buy one of your cakes, you sell them one of your cakes.  If they happen to be a gay couple, you sell them one of your cakes.  If your religious convictions are so significant to you that you feel compelled to try to control their behavior through not selling them a cake, you need to find a new line of work that doesn't involve discriminating against people because they don't fit your morality.

Of course, the Chamber wasn't the only group advancing bigotry.  Several conservative church groups went hysterical on the issue of bathroom access for transgendered people. 

Apparently these groups are concerned that people who are anatomically male but who dress or appear as female will use this ordinance gain access to female-only restrooms.  I have not spent much time in ladies' rooms, but the one thing that I perceive to differentiate ladies' rooms from men's rooms is that there don't seem to be many opportunities to inspect the genitals of people who visit ladies' rooms.  (Some, if not most, men's rooms include urinals that lack dividers between, so I suppose it's possible to sneak a peek if you're so motivated, but pretty much every ladies' room has stalls for privacy.)  In any event, I would expect that the authorities would have no problem addressing a situation in which someone wantonly displayed his/her naughty bits inappropriately.  Beyond that, how would you ever know what equipment a person in the restroom was sporting?

What this boils down to is a situation in which a narrow majority of voters thought it would be a good idea to leave disfavored minorities without any recourse against discrimination.  I can't imagine any motivation to take that position than that you want to be able to discriminate, and that makes you a bigot.

The other thing that disappointed me this week was the information released in the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA's so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques."  I will have more to say about that.  I'm still collecting my thoughts.  I will say that there is very little in the report that's qualitatively surprising (we knew they were doing this kind of thing, even if we didn't know how much or how bad).

These two things, which don't appear to have much to do with each other, really do force us to ask the same question.  Just who, exactly, do we want to be?  What kind of place do we want to live in?  What kind of country do we want?  We get to pick, which is a great thing, but boy, it's a scary thing when you see some of the choices we've made lately.

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