While visiting one of my closest friends in Washington last month, the talk to turned to politics. Our conversation was polite, respectful and … here I want to say frustrating or pointless, but the better word is illuminating.
As we argued (calmly; he’s a lawyer) about Obama and Trump, listened to each other intently, the chasm widened. He told me why he discounted evidence I found compelling; I told him why I dismissed points that he considered crucial. The conversation was repeatedly peppered with “that’s not what I said,” “you’re missing the point” and “you’re changing the subject.”
I told him our discussion reminded me of an NPR story about a reporter and police officer who sat together and repeatedly watched the fatal arrest of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died in police custody. The more they viewed the exact same video, the more their views diverged about whether they were watching a murder or a proper arrest with a tragic outcome.
Because Tom gets paid by the hour and I get paid by the word, he brought our conversation to a close, noting, “We just see things differently.”
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Our talk turned to things we love – our families and friends, baseball and “Breaking Bad.” Later that night, alone, I thought about the aching need for humility in our politics so riven by division.
So much of our public anger today revolves around false facts and fake news because each side in our hyper-partisan nation is trying to impose its version of reality on the other. Instead of admitting what 20th century philosophy, literature and art have taught us – that we all bring different perspectives to the same issue, ask different questions, give different weight to the same facts – we insist that there is a single answer, a single truth to every question.
This is the road to fascism and authoritarianism.
I recalled my conversation with Tom on Sunday when I read a piece in this newspaper suggesting that HB2 is ruining North Carolina’s brand.
My first thought: How could it not? Since the General Assembly passed the so-called bathroom bill last March, Democrats and their media allies have worked relentlessly to cast the legislation and our state in the worst possible light.
As someone who opposes this unwise and unnecessary measure, I support the push to repeal it. But, from my perspective, much of the discussion and coverage of HB2 has been informed by calculated hysteria.
I’m sure that some HB2 opponents – especially transgender North Carolinians and their loved ones – see their resistance as a moral crusade.
But that is not the only dynamic in play. The efforts of many of the loudest opponents on the left are part of a larger effort to demonize and delegitimize the right through overblown and false rhetoric.
I can’t read the relentless coverage of HB2 – is this really the most important story in North Carolina, or the one liberal editors want to tell? – without thinking of the effort to portray relatively minor laws regarding voter ID and early voting as the second coming of Jim Crow. Shouldn’t the fact there is no evidence of widespread voter suppression and no reports of transgender Tar Heels being arrested for using the bathroom of their choice inform the debates?
My mind also connects the opposition to HB2 to those who smeared Gov. Pat McCrory as the second coming of George Wallace and who cast Donald Trump as a modern day Mussolini. It is of a piece with the relentless efforts since Nov. 9 to overturn the 2016 election, to pretend that the ongoing resistance to Trump, including scurrilous efforts in the New York Times, the New Yorker and other prestigious publications to diagnose him as mentally ill and contemplate his impeachment a month into his presidency, is normal.
It is ugly and dangerous.
Finally, as I read all the doomsday projections, I note that HB2 has had little economic impact. Estimated losses so far are in the millions, in a $500 billion dollar economy – far less, than the regulatory burdens imposed by government. Our state and region continue to shine in “best of lists” – Forbes recently named North Carolina the nation’s second best state for business. If HB2 is destroying our brand, it is largely among the progressive cognoscenti rather than the people who create jobs.
That’s how I see it, anyway.
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at jpederzane @jpederzane.com.