Published in The Signal Newspaper - August 29, 2013
Once again a motion picture chronicling the history of the United States has reinforced the reality that our actions as a nation have not, to say the least, been perfect.
Lee Daniels’ “The Butler,” starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, parallels a man’s life as a White House butler with the oppression and injustices of the Civil Rights Movement.
While doing so, it reminds us how persecution was socially accepted and overlooked for decades.
As powerful art should, “The Butler” raises questions about how the future might view the history of today’s current events. What opinions, events, policies or laws will in 50 years be considered unjustified, inhumane or outright ridiculous?
Although it’s impossible for us to time travel and gauge society’s attitudes, perhaps we can examine current events and, combining them with historical insights, speculate on future opinions and conclusions.
Same-sex marriage: The history and persecution of the gay community is far too familiar. Gays have had to endure state and local laws enacted to discourage behavior; living in hateful environments; violently beaten and killed just because they were gay; and banned from some professions and ostracized from others.
When same-sex marriage is finally lawful, gay discrimination becomes unlawful. When there is a gay or lesbian president, will we look at the past 40 years with disgust over how the gay community was treated, or will we shrug and ask for forgiveness?
Gun control: Limiting access to weapons and ammunition has been a long-running debate. The Sandy Hook tragedy once again brought this to the forefront. But despite loud public outcry, meaningful legislation never manifested.
Will the future look back on the lack of action after the slaughter of 20 children and six adults as noble protection of a constitutional right or as another lost opportunity to save future lives?
Immigration: Even though a national treasure exclaims “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...,” and despite the fact most Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants, today’s illegal immigrants are treated as if they are still in a Third World country.
They are forced to live “under the radar,” perform hard, unsafe, low-paying jobs, live in poverty and forgo preventative health care for themselves and their families.
Currently we are once again debating and strongly considering immigration reform, but little resolution is visible.
In 50 years will this be resolved and perhaps create a faster and easier path to citizenship to allow those masses to breathe free? Or will the hypocrisy of xenophobia continue to reign?
Education: “The Great Recession” had a dramatic effect on public education, forcing major cutbacks and reducing investment in the future of education.
Experienced, valued teachers retired early or left for other opportunities, and jobs for graduates are few and far between.
Class sizes increased and site operation budgets were slashed, only allowing for minimum maintenance and little improvement.
In addition, college costs have dramatically increased. In California, state university costs for one year — including tuition, fees, books and supplies — is nearly $10,000. That doesn’t include room and board.
Most of those costs are covered by student loans, putting both the student and the student’s family in debt for decades.
Hopefully in 50 years we will have realized that indebted servitude isn’t the best course for our youth or for middle-class families, and we will come to the realization that public schools are one our nation’s most valuable public assets and require more than just a minimum investment.
Affordable Care Act: Certainly no legislation since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has caused as much controversy and division as the Affordable Care Act.
The opposition, for the most part Republicans, has been relentless and has voted nearly 40 times to repeal all or parts of the law. It is now threatening to de-fund the program or even shut down the government.
With still months to go until full enactment, the law has some growing pains. In July the government delayed the requirement that businesses with more than 50 employees provide health insurance to their workers without penalty until 2015.
Most likely there will be more hiccups, but in 50 years will Americans be celebrating the law’s enactment or still spending energy fighting against it and cursing its bureaucracy?
We study history so as not to repeat it. Usually we learn our lessons using hindsight combined with present-day mores — not the values being embraced when the events are occurring.
Let us learn from our history and make decisions considering the perspective of the future looking back at our actions today.
Brian Springer is a Canyon Country resident.