I had a political science professor—a big Federalist—who liked to break the nature of politics down to its most basic.
The (abridged) version of his lecture went something like this: You have a small community of people living together. Traffic gets progressively worse at an intersection at the center of town. Half the community demands the city pitch in together to buy and install a traffic light at this intersection. The other half of the community doesn’t want, and doesn’t want to pay for, a stoplight. The division polarizes the town, launching two rival factions: the Red Lighters and the No Lighters.
Or take it further back: You have a tribe of cavemen who are forced to leave their mountain home. One half of the tribe wants to move down to the grassy plains to the south. The other half wants to head north, into the forest.
Now what makes more sense for our wandering tribe? The woods because of its natural shelter and robust game? Or the plains because that’s where their God told them to go? The divergence of opinion—and the discussion it gives birth to—is what we know as politics.
As I read—and watched—the back-and-forth over Indiana, I couldn’t help but think of these classroom examples and wonder how far we’ve strayed. As we all know by now, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence last month signed into law the “Indiana Religious Freedom and Restoration Act,” modelled after the similarly named federal law.
It’s worth pointing out that the other 19 states who have similar statutes also have laws protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. Indiana does not.
Make no mistake, religious persecution is alive and well in the world. Just ask Muslims in central Africa or Jews in an increasingly hostile Europe. But it’s insulting to all of them for worshippers here in the States to bemoan their suffering at the hands of homosexuals.
The one bright light of this story has been the political and corporate backlash. The response has almost been bipartisan, with the Republican CEO of Salesforce emerging as an early vocal opponent. And the backpedaling has been as frantic as Wile E. Coyote after he’s already left the cliff. It’s a textbook example of the market putting its weight to bear—with businesses and consumers alike raging against the Big Red Machine.
Malcolm X said it best when he warned, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
Damn if that doesn’t look a lot like what we’re seeing in Indiana.