Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

2013: America on the cusp of social change

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
December 28, 2012 -- Updated 0041 GMT (0841 HKT)
Same-sex couple Frank Capley-Alfano (L) and Joe Capley-Alfano kiss at City Hall in San Francisco, California, on February 7.
Same-sex couple Frank Capley-Alfano (L) and Joe Capley-Alfano kiss at City Hall in San Francisco, California, on February 7.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: After years in which conservative views predominated, U.S. is changing
  • Ghitis: 2013 should see impact of support for progressive tax rates, same-sex marriage
  • Gun control is now considered an urgent issue once again, she says
  • Ghitis: Opponents of progressive policies will stand against change

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns

(CNN) -- As the final days of 2012 trickle away, an uncommon emotional intensity hangs in the air in America. Something is happening here.

The country stands on the cusp of major change. Gun control is just one of the formerly taboo subjects that has come out of the political closet. Today, a majority of Americans support stricter gun laws, a majority support a more progressive tax system and most favor same-sex marriage. A majority of voters even support the idea of legalizing marijuana.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

The laws have not caught up with this dramatic change in attitudes, and entrenched interests will fight what amounts to a quiet but pivotal social revolution. The coming year will see continuing battles in the courts, in the media and in legislatures, as the forces of change -- now representing the majority -- seek to upset the status quo.

No topic has stirred more passion in recent days than the clash between two competing rights: the right to own guns and the right not to get shot. Americans feel the lingering sadness, confusion and anger surrounding a recent massacre of schoolchildren, stirred more by the outrageous, dumbfounding, Christmas Eve murder of firefighters responding to a call for help in New York.

2013 will be a year of....
CNN Opinion contributors weigh in on what to expect in 2013. What do you think the year holds in store? Let us know @CNNOpinion on Twitter and Facebook/CNNOpinion

Then there's that strange, unbecoming political show, the one with the ticking clock, known as the fiscal cliff. The contest over the budget sounds arcane, but it deals with a fundamental social value, the role of government in society, and the way the burden of financing ought to be shared.

Those are just the most immediate of the ongoing dramas adding stress to holiday dinners, energy to television shows and liveliness to coffee house debates.

The United States is reassessing matters that many thought had been settled. It wasn't very long ago that the views from the most conservative elements of the political establishment dominated the social agenda.

Taxes: Getting Your Money's worth
Gay couple marries thanks to new law
Obama's pot problem
Fiery debate over guns in America

Since the turn of the century we had seen a steady turn toward lower taxes, a ban on even discussing gun control, a rising wave of anti-gay legislation and all manner of conservative legislation. America seemed left behind, ossified, as other parts of the Western world, which generally share America's culture and values, revised their views and rules on social issues.

In July, after the movie theater massacre in Colorado, President Obama unhelpfully, unnervingly, mused that "if there's anything to take away from this tragedy, it's the reminder that life is very fragile." This time, in the wake of the Newtown massacre, he found a more practical takeaway, launching a push to stop gun violence. Most importantly, the tragedy energized the growing majority of Americans who support stepped-up gun control. It also prompted the powerful NRA to push back, and we can expect an all-out campaign whose outcome is far from certain. But the battle has been joined -- and not just in Washington.

It took far too many killings, but the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary finally pushed the matter of gun rights one awful step too far, and the conversation changed.

Jeffrey Toobin: 2013, a year for big issues in the courts

People who have spent decades working tirelessly for change will no doubt want to correct the impression that all this change has come suddenly. Surely, gay rights activists, gun control organizations have toiled with only minimal victories as reward. In recent months, however, we have reached a tipping point.

It may have something to do with the media -- social media, television, the Internet -- providing a boost to the message, a message of human dignity and common sense. It certainly has much to do with demographics. Young people, growing up with new ideas, are picking up the torch of social change.

Today, a majority of Americans -- 57% -- favor stricter gun control, jumping sharply from 39% just a few months ago. That's bad news for the most conservative elements in society, who think the government should stand back from almost every aspect of our lives.

But the truly radical transformation has come in the area of gay rights. For the first time, Gallup Polls show a majority of Americans support full marriage equality for gay couples. That's an astonishing change. But it's not as astonishing as the wholesale acceptance of gay people that has suffused American society in the last few years.

Perhaps it was "Will and Grace" or "Glee" or President Obama's long-delayed approval of same-sex marriage. Probably all of the above and much more, but a switch has been flipped. The cause has gained an unstoppable momentum, so unstoppable that even if full equality is denied by the conservative-tilted Supreme Court, scheduled to rule on the issue by this summer, it will only amount to a delay of the inevitable.

Once again, the people are leading their leaders. Public views, especially among the young, hold that discrimination is not only wrong, it's silly.

Attitudes are changing in other ways that seemed unthinkable not long ago. Who would have thought Americans would favor legalizing drugs? Two-thirds of voters under age 30 support legalizing pot, bringing the overall total to 51%, and giving a boost to referendum campaigns on the issue.

The wisdom of lowering taxes also dominated for many years, but no more. Three-quarters of Americans agree it makes sense to make the tax system more progressive, raising the burden on the wealthy. What exactly "wealthy" means is still unclear. And, as in all the other areas of change, the battle to transform those majority views into law will be hard-fought.

With just a few days before the start of 2013, the issues facing America are serious, the disagreements are intense, and the range of views is wide. And yet, the country is facing its choices with nervous anticipation. Something is happening in America.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT