Sir Anthony Hopkins, one of the most gifted actors of our day, was reported to have passed away recently. Fortunately it was a hoax and he is still very much with us; hopefully we can enjoy his fine work for years to come. Among his prolific contributions was an underrated film called “Instinct“, a movie lauded for its animal rights theme, but more properly viewed as an allegory on the nature of freedom. In one particularly poignant moment of the film (beginning around 1:40), Hopkins character, Dr. Ethan Powell, a primatologist who has devoted his life to the study of gorillas, bemoans the plight of a group of caged gorillas, and in particular one that he is responsible for having brought into captivity:
“…These are shadows of gorillas. Born in cages. Only the old male- he was free once. Still alive, Goliath? I named him that. I brought him here. This cage has broken him. Broken his heart, broken his mind. Made him insane. I did that.”
Powell opens the door to the old gorilla’s cage over the objection of his companion,
“…He won’t come out. You see? Even if he can. Not far from here is a fence, and on the other side of that fence is freedom, and he can smell it. He’ll never try to get there, ’cause he’s given up. By now he thinks freedom is something he dreamed…”
No, I’m not changing this to a movie blog, and I suppose I’ve taken the long way round to begin making my point, but Hopkins role fit perfectly the concept that we lose our freedom sometimes because it is taken from us, and sometimes because we fail to take it back.
Here in upstate New York, our local Community College baseball team recently fell short in its quest for the national championship and it’s season came to an end in defeat. The only reason that is significant to anyone beyond the team and its fans is because it makes moot the fact that they would never have been able to pursue the championship had they been victorious. You see, this year the championship was to be played in North Carolina, and our dear leader, Governor Cuomo, has issued an edict in protest of that state’s “bathroom law”, prohibiting non-essential travel to that state for our state’s employees. Of course, eager young college kids playing America’s sport are hardly state employees, but the college administration, apparently cut from the same cloth as the governor, opted to back up the policy and prohibit the boys from playing in the championship had they succeeded in attaining to that level. Whether having nothing to play for contributed to their ultimate defeat, we cannot know, but we do now know that the college is willing to sacrifice students’ dreams and potential lifelong memories for a political statement. God forbid that the school might have afforded the team the freedom to decide for itself.
Up the ladder of government to the Whitehouse and we find the Obama administration releasing a letter to school districts “suggesting” that they tow the line on Title Nine, and interpret it to include gender identification as a protected class, making no prohibitions to who can try out for athletic teams or use specific restrooms, locker rooms, or showers on the basis of their supposed sex (the one they were born with), or their outward (or inward I guess!) sexual organs. Posed as a helpful suggestion for how to interpret title 9, the administration saw fit to include an unveiled threat concerning the loss of federal funding for districts who fail to comply. While this whole discussion, at the moment, is rightly referred to as a solution in search of a problem, it takes little precognition to recognize our destination from the direction this road is heading. Beyond our schools, the logic of carving out a protected status for gender identification will, to be logically consistent, need to eventually extend to women’s colleges, men’s clubs, girl scouts, boy scouts, our prison system, and beyond.
But something more basic is in play here than what makes a man a man or a woman a woman. Though such a controversy would have seemed absurd to all people who have lived before this decade; we have always had, and will always have, disagreements about how things should be run. Imagine if every disagreement between states was to be dealt with by boycotts and travel bans! I am not a fan of legalized prostitution, if governor would I then be compelled to follow Cuomo’s lead and prohibit non-essential travel to Nevada? (North Carolina is one thing, but Vegas? State employees would surely mutiny!) Colorado has legalized recreational marijuana; fortunately for us in New York, they are presently too mellowed to consider boycotting travel to our state for what they must consider our unnecessary infringement on our citizens’ right to get high. There was a time when local control of school districts was considered advantageous to education, now we see that federal money always comes with strings, nay, ropes that bind. It is a fine line, but an important one, do we elect a government to lead us… or control us?
Our nation was founded on a system of checks and balances. Those checks and balances do not insinuate a weak government. We were not founded to be a nation of weak leaders, nor of weak citizens. America was not to be a place where no one has power, that’s anarchy, but we were to be a place where everyone has power, even, by way of basic rights, the minority of the individual. In such a model we eschewed the stability of a static all powerful monarchy for the eternal struggle of freedom. The checks and balances of our system are the surging, oscillating, alternating dynamic of our republic. It is the dance of power, moving from the executive, to the the legislative, to the judicial, to the states, to the people themselves and then back again; it is the Tango of governments:
” In tango there is a ‘leader’ and a ‘follower’. Through the embrace, the leader offers invitations to the follower for where and how to step. The follower decides in what way they will accept the leader’s invitations. Both the leader and follower try to maintain harmony and connection through the embrace, and with the music, and so the dance is born.”
IMHO: With Donald Trump becoming the presumptive candidate for the GOP much has been said about people now “falling in line” to support him. We on the conservative side need to decide if after eight years of Obama we now want our own emperor to assume the template Obama has cast. Rather I think it high time to return to the dance floor and tango. Much in the way that Paul Ryan has been slow to blindly cast his lot with Trump, it is no crime to let our candidate know that he needs to dance, and that we will consider his lead on the merits and on how acceptably it will take us where we want to go. That kind of parrying has already yielded fruit for conservatives with the release of his “Supreme Court list “; he’s left himself a little wiggle room, but his lead is a response to conservatives playing hard to get. We may find Trump an intriguing partner, but we still need to be wooed. We do neither Trump or ourselves any favor by swooning into his arms. Absolute power corrupts not only the leader, but the led. A harmony of power strengthens us all; the music is playing… let’s dance!
Publisher’s note: The original publication of this post reported the false reports of Sir Anthony’s passing as factual. One of my reader’s corrected my gullibility in not doing my fact checking thoroughly, and for that I am both humbled and grateful. I have corrected the text to reflect the hoax.