The biggest news last week—besides the exhortations about wiping out North Korea with the biggest fire and fury attack the world has ever seen, or the encirclement of Guam to drive out the American fleet with smoke—was the news about Taylor Swift‘s butt.
Several years ago, at a meet and greet before a concert in Denver, Taylor Swift stood up to have her picture taken next to a local radio host by the name of David Mueller, and afterwards she claimed he had grabbed her butt cheek from behind.
Mueller was escorted from Swift’s concert, her team gave a photo of the alleged incident to the radio station (it doesn’t show him touching her, though it does show his hand behind her, just below her waist), and two days later he was fired.
It’s big news because this event went to trial last week. Mueller claimed the allegations were false and was suing her, her mother and her management team for $3 million for damaging his career. She countersued, accusing him of assault and battery and wanting the case to serve “as an example to other women who may resist publicly reliving similar outrageous and humiliating acts.” Her lawyers submitted 17 articles, university studies and academic papers to the court on sexual harassment and violence. The judge, showing a surprisingly level head, threw out the case against Swift last week, awarded her a dollar, but did allow lawyers to continue to lock horns in the case against her mother and management team.
I expect that as much as a million dollars will be spent on these lawyers. Years ago, a woman would turn around and slap a man who did that. And a man facing such allegations would walk away and, if he actually did it, learn from the experience.
Also in the news this week is word that Trump wants to cut back on the help provided to save the sage grouse (the bird); and that in Illinois, officials are considering a quarter-billion-dollar plan to keep Asian carp (a fish) from getting into Lake Michigan. It will include underwater noises to scare the carp, great underwater gates that can open and close, water jets and an electric barrier.
I bring this all up because the whole issue of “rights” and “freedoms” are in the news these days. Some of them are good for us. Some of them are way over the top. Someday soon someone will shout fire in a crowded theater (freedom of speech), causing a frightened person to sue the builder of the movie theatre for pain and suffering and win millions of dollars.
Interestingly, this morning I received an email from one of my old high school classmates quoting an essay about what things were like when we were little kids growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.
We didn’t have much in the way of “rights” then. But we had a good time anyway.
“First, we survived being born to mothers who may have smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can and didn’t get tested for diabetes. Then, after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-based paint. We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, locks on doors or cabinets, and when we rode our bikes, we had baseball caps on our heads, not helmets.
“As infants and children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, no booster seas, no seat belts, no air bags, bald tires and sometimes no brakes. Riding in the back of a pickup truck on a warm day was always a special treat.
“We drank water from the garden hose, and not from a bottle. We ate cupcakes, white bread, real butter and bacon. We drank Kool-Aid made with real sugar. And we weren’t overweight. Why?
“Because we were always outside playing, that’s why. We did not have PlayStations, Nintendos and Xboxes. There were no video games, no 150 channels on cable, no cell phones, no personal computers, no internet and no chat rooms.
“We had friends, and we went outside and found them. We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from those accidents.
“We would get spankings with wooden spoons, switches, ping pong paddles or just a bare hand, and no one would call child services to report abuse.
“We rode bikes, or walked to a friend’s house and knocked on the door or rang the bell or just walked in and talked to them. Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn’t had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!
“These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility and we learned how to deal with it.”
I am not flaunting what went on back then. I think most of what’s been regulated is a good thing. Certainly many of the changes contributed to the seven-year increase in the average expected life span of an American over these years. But some of it just goes too far.
I’ve been reading books about the Civil War. Not much has changed in terms of the push and pull of civic affairs. Some people want more regulation. Some people want less regulation.
As the war was winding down, President Lincoln suggested that those on both sides wanted liberty.
“The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat,” he wrote, “for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty.”
He said there was negative liberty and positive liberty.
The South said the federal government was stealing their liberty. They wanted to be free of the feds. Just leave us alone. They would fight for that.
The North wanted liberty, but positive liberty, such as a regulation to keep the country from having a “right” to continue slavery.
President Trump has an obnoxious and unrelenting ability to tell lies, but this is not to be confused with his leading us down the road to the removal of many new regulations President Obama put into place. I think in many ways we will be returning to what it was like when I was growing up. We could see prejudice and injustice in the world back then, and we would sit in coffee houses and talk softly about it or, later on, demonstrate to put these new rights into place. But even without these rights, we were proud to live in the land of the free.
What we did not want back then was vast sums of money to be spent to scare fish, enforce good manners or award a $2 million payout to someone who claimed to have tripped over a crack in the sidewalk. Nurses in schools actually gave out aspirin and put on bandages instead of letting fear of lawsuits override proper medical care in our day.
More or less, “rights” is a pendulum within the framework of the Constitution and the country holds together as a democracy. It may not go the way you want, but you have to live with it.
My big fear is that this framework, under pressure from an unrepentant liar, will give way to dictatorship. We are heading in that direction. It is worth noting that in Russia, it took Putin five years chipping away at the democracy in place when he took office to become the dictator who jails and murders whoever he likes.
God willing, though, we will survive with the democracy intact and then swing it back at least some of the other way again.