At a rally in Raleigh last week, Newton did his hate-filled predecessors from decades past proud, elevating himself, in his mind, by demonizing others. Fear-mongering, the threat of outsiders, the portrayal of himself as a courageous defender of basic values, a false appeal to a higher power – the state senator from Wilson took us back in time to the darkest days of Southern history.
Those politicians who thundered against civil rights in the 1950s and ’60s did so because many white Southerners applauded them, and those who knew better too often stayed silent. The public’s fear-fueled support, and good people’s acquiescence, allowed blacks to be deprived of equal rights for far too long.
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Now Newton, who is running to be North Carolina’s attorney general, bellows about “how hard we must fight to keep our state straight.” He invokes the threat that those who oppose state-sanctioned discrimination against gays will “expose our wives and our sisters and our children to the sexual predators in the bathrooms.” He says that “the folks that wave the rainbow flags” need to get used to “the way things have always been in this state.” Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.
Will we acquiesce again? Will North Carolinians who know better allow the Buck Newtons of the state to pander to our fears rather than appeal to our better nature?
As disturbing as Newton’s venom in his remarks is the crowd’s thirst for it. The more exclusionary Newton’s rhetoric, the more invigorated the crowd becomes. Newton should know better. If he doesn’t, it is because he hears the cheers, he sees the signs wave, he feels the support.
Did you see yourself in that video? Is this who we are? Will you accept that this is North Carolina in 2016? Will you shake your head but stay silent? If you do, you will be endorsing Newton’s brand of hate. You will have a direct hand in the discrimination of fellow citizens.
Ralph McGill, the legendary anti-segregationist editor of the Atlanta Constitution, wrote: “When the wolves of hate are loosed on one people, then no one is safe.” The politicians can release those wolves only with the public’s acceptance.
Supporters of House Bill 2 have dubbed it the Bathroom Bill, as if the legislation isn’t much broader than that, as if it doesn’t take North Carolina back to the days where discrimination is an accepted way of life. The rest of us have to decide if that is OK.
Like his predecessors, Newton blows dog whistles that only some can hear. He dismissed critics of his speech by saying, “I never mentioned gays or anyone. So, I’m not quite sure how they made that leap. Maybe they’re being a little sensitive.”
Few people know much about Buck Newton, and his race for attorney general against Democrat Josh Stein was on barely anyone’s radar. Anyone who saw Newton’s speech might now consider the attorney general’s race the most important one on November’s ballot. And they will know all they need to know. A man who wants to oversee justice for the entire state openly writes off a chunk of the population as not welcome here.
Newton told his supporters last week: “I am not worried about how I am judged by some people at another rally. I’m worried about how I’m judged by the man upstairs.”
As well he should be.
Taylor Batten is the editorial page editor of the Charlotte Observer.