The Mayans understood cycles, not doomsday prophecies. They understood that every era, each with its own characteristics, would come to an end as a new era was born. That is what we are witnessing now: the death of an old era and the birth of a new one. That means the old structures are being destroyed and, like phoenixes from the ashes, new ones are arising. Here is the evidence, the signs if you will, before our eyes:
1. Gun control is under discussion. One of the most taboo subjects on the American political scene is suddenly under serious consideration across the political spectrum. Unfortunately, this happened because of the massacre of innocents who were victims of rapid-fire assault weapons whose only purposes are to kill, and to make profits. The carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School is one of the most devastating examples in modern times of sacrificial lambs being laid at the alter of greed, but the event has moved an entire nation forward on a subject that had been completely obstructed by the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby.
2. Gay marriage is a fact of life. The turnaround on the issue of gay marriage in the United States has been one of the fastest in our history of the struggle over civil rights. Not only have nine states already legalized gay marriage, but the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases that will determine the constitutionality of prohibitions against it. The first takes up California’s Proposition 8, a voter-approved anti-gay marriage amendment to the state constitution. The second is a challenge to DOMA, the national Defense of Marriage Act, by a woman legally married to another woman. She was charged a huge estate tax when her partner died, which she would not have been charged had she been married to a man. One of the most significant developments in this arena, however, is the fact that polls show a majority of Americans now support the validity of gay marriages.
3. Religious affiliation is on the decline. For the first time in the history of polling, fewer than half of all Americans identify themselves as Protestants. One-fifth of Americans, and 30% of those under age 30, say they have no religious affiliation. WORLDWIDE, those who select ‘None’ as their religion are in third place behind Christians and Muslims.
4. Feminism has arrived at the Church of Latter Day Saints. Mormon women are wearing pants to church. On Sunday, Mormon women around the globe embraced a call put out on Facebook by a small group in Salt Lake City. They asked other women to make this symbolic gesture to call attention to their role in the church. And who says Mormons aren’t Christian? True to recent expressions of Christian faith, the move brought a backlash of criticism as well as death threats.
5. Doctors have fallen from their godly perch. Revelations of unseemly relationships between physicians and drug companies have made Americans realize that their doctors are not infallible. Information has come out about doctors receiving payoffs to promote lucrative drugs, about drug company personnel writing articles for medical journals, and about treatment guidelines being written by physicians with conflicts of interest–namely that they were on the payroll of a drug company. Therefore, the public is also hearing about reversals of what they thought was accepted wisdom, like that everyone should take statins for cholesterol, all menopausal women should be on hormone replacement therapy, and yearly physicals with blood tests and x-rays might not be so necessary after all. The result is more people taking charge of their own healthcare.
6. Education is moving online. Higher education, in particular, is in a mad rush to get as many courses online as possible. Is the reason because the quality of education increases? Doubtful. This is a huge change that has at least one foot in the old era: it’s all about money. Who can position themselves to make a profit? How can institutions best get around the fact that state legislatures are strangling their traditional source of funding? Nevertheless, perhaps a way will be found to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and deliver a truly quality education online. Only time will tell.
7. Health insurance will be available to all in the coming year. The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, finally reaches fruition, with changes continuing into 2014. While conservatives are in a froth about it, the benefits are becoming obvious as the American public becomes increasingly aware of the program’s benefits. There’s an especially strong push to educate the populations of the six states that are home to half of the country’s uninsured population: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York and Texas.
8. Prohibition is falling–once again–as legal marijuana use is on the rise. It started with the well-accepted fact that there are legitimate medical uses for marijuana. States began legalizing medical marijuana in spite of federal opposition. Then prominent Americans began speaking out in favor of legalizing the drug’s general use, people like Jimmy Carter and Pat Robertson. Recently, President Obama stated in an interview that it doesn’t make sense for the federal government to prosecute the recreational use of marijuana. The winds of change are about to sweep away the smoke from the controversy, removing the threat of imprisonment for this most victimless of ‘crimes.’
9. Banks are beginning to pay for their wrongdoing. In what’s at least a start, a global bank, UBS, has pled guilty to felonious rate-rigging and will pay a record $1.5 billion dollars in fines. While the company avoided criminal prosecution, some of its traders have not. The harshness of the settlement is seen as evidence that the U.S. Department of Justice, which arranged the deal, is cracking down on banks that are guilty of malfeasance.
10. Climate change, and violent weather patterns, are here for the foreseeable future. We can’t take for granted the safety of our coasts any longer. We didn’t get the message after Katrina, but Hurricane Sandy seems to have finally penetrated even the thickest heads of climate-change deniers. New York City is just one place that will continue to face the prospect of widespread destruction. Other parts of the country struggle with the opposite problem: extreme drought. The solutions lie with the future. Mother Nature has just finally gotten our attention.
11. Combat troops are becoming obsolete. Just as servicewomen are on the verge of gaining an equal role in combat, the concept is nearly outdated. At least on the surface, this is a good thing. I’d like to say war is outdated, but that’s a little too optimistic, even for me. Instead, wars will be fought by people sitting at computers, directing unmanned drones, or by specialists in cyber warfare, hacking systems and undermining both social and financial organizations. Since these operations tend to be covert, we’ll see less and less of what war actually does.
12. The electoral demographics of the country have changed. Not only do we have a black President for the first time in our history, but he has just won his second election by record numbers. He did this with the help of new demographics: women, youth, and ethnic minorities. Also, the U.S. House of Representatives will now be more female, more ethnically diverse, and more encompassing of different gender identities. That’s on the Democratic side of the aisle. Republican members of the House are still 90% white males. However, there will be fewer Republicans as the new Congress is seated in January.
Good, bad, or indifferent, America is experiencing the birth of a new era with all its challenges, and all its inherent hopefulness.