A restroom sign at Safeco Field in progressive Seattle. You won't find this in Red America.
Living on the ring of fire, I think of earthquakes, try to prepare for them. The U.S. Geological Survey explains their cause, “The tectonic plates are always slowly moving, but they get stuck at their edges due to friction. When the stress on the edge overcomes the friction, there is an earthquake that releases energy…”
Our whole country consists of tectonic plates that have been stressing against each other for decades, ready to let loose The Big One.
The last time we were this divided was the eve of the Civil War. This time, the sectionalism remains — it has even grown — but there’s little chance of secession. So we will grind on until some event precipitates the big break.
I think of this watching the controversy over North Carolina's House Bill 2, otherwise known as the “bathroom bill.”
The Republican governor, Pat McCrory, was Charlotte’s mayor when I was business editor of the Charlotte Observer. I knew him as a not-very-useful source. He was good looking, one lapel shy of being an empty suit, no Rhodes Scholar.
He didn’t have to be. Charlotte is a council-manager form of government with a weak mayor. The demands on McCrory for leadership were minimal. Charlotte is all about business, especially about pleasing the big banks, Duke Energy (his employer), and developers. They told Pat what to do and he played his part.
No wonder he was seen as a moderate.
North Carolina is remembered as “moderate” in the South, after its fashion. It was more ambivalent about secession. It committed fewer lynchings of blacks during Jim Crow than most other Southern states (88 vs. 539 in Mississippi). Saw relatively easier integration of public accommodations. Charlotte, for a time, was a model of school desegregation.
When I lived in Charlotte, making money and “doing the right thing” were most important. The feeling was like living in an anodyne Sunbelt city on the make, barely Southern.
Most of urban North Carolina was like this, from funky Asheville to the Research Triangle, where the state spent decades creating a major technology cluster backed by three great universities. Drive 30 miles outside these footprints, and you could find the South in ways good and less good. The state was politically competitive, with Democrats holding at least one house of the Legislature until recently. In 2008, it was seen as a bellwether of a coming realignment thanks to the unifying appeal of Barack Obama and a more progressive South. North Carolina voted Democratic in the 2008 presidential election, the first win by Democrats since 1976.
But the rich Carolina soil concealed tectonic plates underneath. Jesse Helms, the most virulent reactionary in Congress after the passing of the old segregationists, turned from Democrat to Republican and was enthroned as U.S. Senator from 1973 to 2003. Right-wing, Southern Strategy politics is now stronger than ever, partly because of Obama Derangement Syndrome. Republicans took control of both chambers of the Legislature, passing a variety of odious bills, despite Moral Mondays protests. HB 2 is only one. Voter suppression legislation has also been deeply destructive.
Rural and small-town North Carolina is deeply socially conservative — even among African Americans. It is a church-going state and many people want gays in the closet. And it has attracted large numbers of conservatives, Big Sort-style, from the Midwest. In 2012, the state voted for Mitt Romney in the presidential election despite the Democratic National Convention being held in Charlotte.
So it’s not surprising that Charlotte passed a non-discrimination ordinance to include transgender people. Charlotte has become a city, with a Democratic majority and somewhat progressive, urban values outlook.
Nor should it be surprising that the backlash from social conservatives came with HB 2, although the backstory of the bill being rushed through is interesting. As is McCrory’s cynical move to solidify his appeal with “the base” (Charlotte mayors were always held in suspicion in statewide politics). Republican operatives took a local ordinance meant to protect everyone and turned it into “the bathroom bill,” frightening people with the specter of pervy men using women’s restrooms. And remember, they favor “local control” only when they are in control.
Progressives and activists are outraged. “Bigotry Raises Its Hideous Head,” is a headline from the Washington Post. Nor did McCrory make things better by his executive order and disingenuous defense of HB 2. Some companies are pulling back investment and some entertainers are canceling shows in the Tar Heel State.
Yet outside the Progressive Echo Chamber, some 56 percent of North Carolinians surveyed supported the "transgender people must use the restroom that corresponds to their birth certificate" part of HB 2 — the most incendiary part of the anti-equality "argument" made by the right.
This is the reality that the #FeelTheBern faction has yet to come to terms with. The problem is not Hillary’s speeches. It is the other half of the country in our Cold Civil War. And they keep winning elections.