J. Peder Zane

How Raleigh revved up divisive good v. evil rhetoric

The Rev. William Barber was escorted from a Wake County school board meeting in handcuffs in 2010.
The Rev. William Barber was escorted from a Wake County school board meeting in handcuffs in 2010. ROBERT WILLETT-rwillett@newsobserver.com

The righteous anger that poisons our national politics was turbocharged in Raleigh on June 15, 2010.

That’s when protesters took over a meeting of the Wake County Board of Education, denouncing the duly elected board’s policies as “morally wrong.”

Their disruptive efforts continued through the summer, spawning the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina. Soon, the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements erupted nationally.

Social protest is as old as America itself, which was born, of course, through revolution. But the events in Raleigh that June day signaled a contemporary revival of this tradition, with an especially ugly twist.

It was in North Carolina that every political disagreement was cast as a Manichean battle between good and evil. It was here that extreme, divisive rhetoric – which aims not to engage but delegitimize its opponents – became the chief tool of dissent, creating an environment of frightening intolerance that is swallowing America.

Today, this language infects much of the left, which cynically claims all political issues are moral questions. Through the lens of identity politics and a boundless sense of its own virtue, the left sees bigotry and racism, ignorance and greed as the only reasons others might disagree with its views, which are not so much positions but truths forever on the right side of history.

In the left’s unquenchable demand for adherence, opposition cannot be tolerated; it must be silenced.

The result is a house of mirrors in which the left compares its enemies to Hitler in an authoritarian effort to demonize dissent. Fueled by hateful anger, it brands its enemies (aka fellow citizens) as angry hatemongers.

I’m guessing those on the left will not embrace this interpretation – and I agree the right is not a circle of angels. But let me ask you: Who is trying to shut down debate in America? Who is shouting down their opponents? Who are the architects of political correctness and speech codes on college campuses that seek to limit what we can think and say?

Who dispatched marchers that forced the cancellation of Donald Trump’s rally in Chicago? Who blocked the roads in Arizona on Saturday to prevent Trump supporters from exercising their rights to free speech and free assembly?

And yet the left, along with its operatives in the mainstream media, insistently pretend that it is conservatives who threaten liberty and peace.

Imagine the coverage if the roles were reversed and Trump supporters bent on confrontation were disrupting Clinton and Sanders rallies. Whom would they damn and blame?

We can answer that question by recalling the events of 2010 and 2011. That’s when the tea party supporters who had the temerity to question elected officials at town hall meetings were described as dangerous mobs while the Occupy Wall Street protesters whose marches were marked by violence were portrayed as champions for social justice.

Indeed, the one conservative group that consistently protests for social justice, the anti-abortion movement, is routinely disparaged as a collection of close-minded, murderous thugs.

Progressives have long labeled their opponents as “angry” to argue that their own policies – which they cast as the products of scientific reason – are opposed by those driven by wild, emotional urges.

The late news anchor Peter Jennings voiced this contemptuous view in 1994 after the Republican took control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Comparing the electorate to angry children, he declared that “the voters had a temper tantrum.”

The frightful irony is that the left routinely uses ugly racist tropes – defining vast swaths of Americans as dangerous hicks who must be controlled lest they unleash their dangerous passions – to demonize the white, working-class voters who resist their program.

It is this house of mirrors mindset that leads them to claim that the Trump supporter who hit a protester at a Fayetteville event represents all of his voters while lecturing Americans about the evils of collective guilt when it involves wrong-doing by Muslims or illegal immigrants.

Sadly, we are hearing the same contempt from establishment Republicans who are freaked out by Trump’s rise. Why else would Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan describes some of his supporters as “garbage”?

That is ugly.

Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at jpederzane@jpederzane.com.