CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In last week's election, voters in three states approved same-sex weddings -- and two states approved recreational pot-puffing -- and several openly gay candidates were elected to Congress -- and America's first black president won strong reaffirmation. A Business Week columnist called the ballot returns a "liberal landslide."
Aging West Virginians who remember the 1950s must think that America has slipped into the Twilight Zone. U.S. society has turned upside down during the past six decades.
In the 1950s, it was a felony to be homosexual. Gays were convicted of "sodomy" and sent to the cavernous state prison at Moundsville. We recall one who jumped off the Dunbar toll bridge to escape that fate. But Legislature reforms in the 1970s decriminalized gay sex. Since then, equality among orientations slowly has advanced.
In the 1950s, blacks were banished from white West Virginia life. They couldn't live in white neighborhoods, or enter white hotels or restaurants or movie theaters or swimming pools. Most good-paying careers were barred to them. Their children couldn't attend white schools. But the historic civil rights struggle wiped out cruel segregation.
In the 1950s, it was a crime to look at the equivalent of a Playboy magazine or sexy R-rated movie -- or to buy a cocktail -- or to purchase a lottery ticket -- or for stores to open on the Sabbath. Jews were excluded from many West Virginia clubs. Now all those taboos have vanished.
In the 1950s, a desperate girl who terminated her pregnancy faced prison, and so did a doctor who helped her. But a woman's right to choose was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the 1950s, it was unthinkable for an unmarried couple to live together. It was a disgrace for a single young woman to have a baby. Divorce was hush-hush. Women weren't allowed into most jobs. They couldn't serve on West Virginia juries. Today, women are liberated -- and many surpass men in education, careers and earnings.
In the 1950s, WASPs (white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants) were the only Americans who mattered. Catholics, Hispanics, Asians, Mediterraneans and others of foreign ancestry were considered lesser outsiders. Today, minorities have proliferated so much that traditional whites soon will be less than half the U.S. population.
In the 1950s, only churchgoers were deemed respectable -- but about 50 million U.S. adults today are "secular," seldom attending worship. This group has progressive views and strongly votes Democratic.
The transformation of American culture occurred relentlessly, year after year, while most people were too busy to notice.
Here's the bottom line: The Republican Party seems rooted in the 1950s, dominated by conservative white males with traditional values -- while Democrats generally accept the remarkable hodgepodge of variety and diversity that America has become. This contrast, we think, was reflected in last week's "liberal landslide."