The American people haven’t created the ugly, toxic politics that debases and divides us. Most of us seem repulsed by the unhinged words and deeds that roil our nation and state.
But we are responsible for this ugliness because we have allowed unprincipled partisans to dominate the discourse. It’s long past time to start calling them out – not the perpetrators on the other side, but those who corrupt the system to achieve things we support.
Let’s begin with the brazen power grab orchestrated by Republican legislators last week. Stripping the governor of powers simply because he is from the other party is a corruption of our democracy.
I know GOP leaders are disappointed that Gov. Pat McCrory lost his re-election bid by a thin margin. I’m sure they believe he might have won but for the vicious and reckless attacks leveled against him the last four years. McCrory’s defeat is especially hard to accept because outside corporate interests – specifically the NCAA and ACC, which pulled their sports tournaments in response to HB2 – were probably the determining factor in a state that went for Donald Trump and Sen. Richard Burr.
But those are sour grapes, not a mature and thoughtful reckoning about what McCrory could and should have done to win. The GOP’s power grab is wrong on its face. It is almost unconscionable given that it was carried out by legislators who enjoy supermajorities through gerrymandered election districts designed to serve the interests of their party rather than the people.
As a conservative I support much of what the GOP has accomplished since gaining power in 2011. But the price for those achievements – the perversion of the democratic process – is too high. It is a betrayal of the ideals of our political ideology and our political system.
I know many conservatives who share my disgust. Some are inclined to let it slide because they see Republicans as the lesser of two evils – sadly, that calculation is the new cliché of American politics. But that is simply a lack of courage; it’s better to stand tall and let the chips fall where they may.
The same goes for Democrats aghast at the conduct of the leaders and activists who claim to represent them. As the N&O has reported, the bills passed by the General Assembly appear to be both constitutional and well within the pale. Indeed, North Carolina Democrats have done much the same in the past.
Instead of reasoned response, activists have – once again (and again and again) – chosen high dudgeon. Desecrating the memory of the violent racism that toppled Wilmington’s elected government in 1898, they described the legislature’s actions as a coup. Demonstrating his talent for demagoguery, NAACP leader Rev. William J. Barber II said: “What you see going on here is just blatant unconstitutional meanness. It’s like apartheid government. It’s like fascism. It’s wrong.”
I know Democrats have become accustomed to such language in recent years, when it has become customary to compare Republicans to Hitler and other monsters. How monstrous it is to invoke the unutterable inhumanity inflicted by such figures to gain partisan advantage. It is a crime against those victims and history itself.
I also know many sane Democrats who recoil at this divisive language – along with the incessant efforts to smear Donald Trump and his supporters as anti-Semites and white supremacists. Many of those same folks are disturbed by the efforts of high-ranking party apparatchiks and their media messengers to delegitimize Trump before he even takes office. They also saw the danger in the failed effort to pressure members of the Electoral College to overturn the presidential election, a low point in American politics. And they recognized the hypocrisy of their leaders in pursuing such a course after demanding that the results of the election be recognized by all when they were sure that Clinton would win.
But they stood by, in public silence. At the risk of easy cynicism, I’ll suggest that our leaders are being true to their nature, invoking high principles when they seek only raw power. Their actions are not shameful, just shameless.
It is up to us, the people, in whom all power ultimately resides, to stand firm. Write, call, and publicly denounce those poisoning the well in our names. If we don’t demonstrate such resolve, today’s ugliness might on day seem like a golden age of civility.
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at jpederzane@ jpederzane.com.