A REASON TO HOPE

There is a vicious, agonizing irony in the fact that the founders of the United States announced an ideal of human equality and inherent human rights while at the same time denying that equality and those rights to the vast majority of the country’s residents. Granting full rights only to white male landowners, the founders saddled future generations with the onerous burden of struggling to allow the true meaning of the founding ideal to reach its fruition. American soil has absorbed the blood of thousands of its occupants in the course of that struggle. The genocide of native Americans, the slaughter of Americans by Americans in the Civil War, the beatings and lynchings and rape and violence against women and minorities of every stripe — all these stand as gruesome evidence of the nightmarish birth pangs of true human equality.
That struggle has, seemingly by necessity, always followed the pattern of taking two steps forward and one step back. Lincoln declared the abolition of slavery, and steps were taken to assure the freedom of those formerly enslaved. Yet within a short time, those steps were taken back and generations of oppression ensued before another forward step was taken, beginning in the late fifties, and culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Women suffered endless indignities in their effort to achieve full citizenship, yet after it was granted they would have still to suffer generations of financial and political discrimination, so that it is only now that women are approaching parity in wages and political power with males.
We have, recently, been in a backward stage with respect to human rights. Those who would refuse full rights to certain groups, particularly minoriites, have eaten away at the accomplishments of the past with laws restricting voting, denying marital rights, refusing affirmative action to the disadvantaged and even imposing religious beliefs on the entire body politic. What was, just a few years previously, considered extreme right wing fanaticism has recently been promoted as mainstream orthodoxy.
The hope, however, lies in the fact that, if we are taking one step back, it means that eventually we will begin the two steps forward. Those steps were evidenced most recently by the United States Supreme Court in refusing to approve discrimination against gays and also in suspending the actions of the radical right in Wisconsin to restrict the right to vote. Most heartening of all were the comments of the brilliant and much respected Justice Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. It was Justic Posner who had previously approved the voter restriction laws passed in Indiana. In his most recent opinion, Justice Posner announced that he had come to realize that such laws were no more than thinly veiled attempts by those in power to suppress the votes of those who opposed them. Justice Posner went so far as to say that the allegations of fraud used to justify such legislation was so bad as to be “goofy.”
As Chief Justice Roberts asserted in the othewise unfortunate Citizens United decision, the single most fundamental right of the people in a democracy is the right to vote. The reassertion of that right, and the recognition of the full political rights of those with gender preferences different than those of the radical right, presage the end of our drift backward in the struggle to recognize the American ideal. We can only hope that the American people will elect representatives of both parties who will end the politics of “no” and work together to provide the basic rights and services that we need to bring us closer to making the American ideal a reality.

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