The number of voters participating in this year’s Republican primary is up an astonishing 64 percent over 2012. This is not the result of a sophisticated get-out-the-vote campaign. This explosion in voter participation is because so many previously politically disengaged citizens have reached a tipping point in their tolerance of progressive policies and political correctness.
In North Carolina, Chapel Hill is a metaphor for both. So if you are looking for an explanation of how we ended up with Donald Trump as his party’s likely presidential nominee and the enactment of House Bill 2, you need look no further than Chapel Hill to see what is being rejected, more so than what is being embraced.
Chapel Hill prides itself on being a safe place for all of the 71 gender identities on Facebook. But its inclusiveness evaporates when it comes to political identities. Not only can no one remember the last time a Republican was elected to local office, those few residents who do vote for Republicans are afraid to put up a yard sign for fear of being ostracized by their neighbors. The support throughout North Carolina for Donald Trump and HB2 reflects a backlash against the intolerance of the political left. Christians, moderates and conservatives are tired of being branded as ignorant, knuckle-dragging bigots.
This does not justify the bigotry displayed by candidate Trump. Most Trump supporters I have spoken to consider their vote nothing more than a referendum on political correctness and the failures of progressive policies. This also is not meant to defend a governor who apparently failed to read HB2 before signing it, forcing him to quickly issue an executive order dialing back many of its excesses.
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Many North Carolina Republicans readily admit their party has done a lousy job of messaging. They could have crafted and positioned HB2 as a bill to clearly reject discrimination while still protecting privacy. And when the UNC Board of Governors canned Tom Ross, it could have articulated the real reason: Ross was complicit in the demise of the democratization of political thought on our state university campuses, and most taxpayers are fed up with the overt indoctrination of our youth by leftist faculties.
As a faculty member at UNC-Chapel Hill, I moved into town, a block off campus, six years ago to be closer to my students and the interns I mentor. I teach the school’s MBA students that serving all corporate stakeholders, including employees, communities and customers, with the highest level of respect and grace is the best way to achieve optimal outcomes for the owners. This is called “conscious capitalism,” and it pays off handsomely for shareholders, who as the owners are the stakeholder with final say. Most millennial MBA students fully embrace this paradigm. But it remains a far cry from the socialist agendas taught on main campus and the law school, where the private sector is routinely vilified.
Mainstream voters across the state have witnessed what a debacle progressive policies are to a community and don’t want that cancer spreading farther throughout the state and country. Chapel Hill boasts the most expensive housing in the state because the housing supply is constricted by dysfunction and anti-growth activists. The town has the highest property taxes, water rates and sales taxes in the state; it also had the biggest decline in black population in the state the last decade.
This summer my family will downsize in Chapel Hill and move our primary residence to Wilmington, where we have lived part-time for a decade. In Wilmington, where people of all political stripes feel safe, I have consistently supported friends involved in politics who include the Democratic mayor, the former and future Republican chair of the county commission and the local state representative, a Republican environmentalist with whom I worked closely to try to clean up coal ash until Gov. Pat McCrory abolished the Coal Ash Commission that he appointed me to chair. Taxes in Wilmington are reasonable, and no one is afraid to display a yard sign, whether for Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump or any other candidate he might identify with.
So if you are a mainstream North Carolinian scratching your head pondering why Donald Trump and HB2 are in the headlines daily, move to Chapel Hill for a few years, and you will see firsthand what has precipitated this dramatic backlash.
Michael Jacobs teaches the corporate governance classes in UNC’s Kenan-Flagler MBA program. His views clearly do not reflect the official position of the university.