Politics & Policy

Democrats Are Crying Wolf in North Carolina

McCrory addresses supporters on election night, November 9, 2016. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Drake)
Pat McCrory is not Jefferson Davis. Legislation is not lynching. Peace is not war.

Has there ever been a worse mismatch between political rhetoric and political facts than the latest drama in North Carolina?

Lame-duck North Carolina governor Pat McCrory signed two bills that will limit his Democratic successor’s power. Together, they change the state election board from a governor-dominated five-person board to an eight-person bipartisan body (four Republicans, four Democrats). They also reduce the number of gubernatorial appointees, require agency heads to be confirmed by the state senate, and strip the power of the governor to appoint trustees to the University of North Carolina system schools.

All told, the changes are significant and politically of debatable wisdom; after all, what goes around, comes around. But bipartisan election boards and senate approval for gubernatorial appointments are hardly the stuff of which tyrannies are built.

But don’t tell that to the left-wing media. They called North Carolina a “banana republic” and called the new laws a “coup.” This, from MSNBC’s Steve Benan, was typical:

Even by 2016 standards, Republican antics in North Carolina have pushed democratic norms to the breaking point. Yesterday, the party added a capstone to an indefensible, maximalist display of raw partisanship.

You would think tanks were in the streets. Or worse, tanks driven by men in white hoods. Writing in the Huffington Post and Slate, liberal pundits raised the specter of post–Civil War racial violence and, yes, even the Confederacy to describe a garden-variety partisan political maneuver. In Huffpo, Ben Railton, a self-described “public scholar of American Studies,” argued that the North Carolina legislature’s actions were “eerily similar” to an infamous massacre (yes, massacre) in Wilmington in 1898 when white supremacists overthrew the local government, expelled black leaders, and killed dozens of black citizens.

Not to be outdone, Slate’s Jamelle Bouie not only compared the North Carolina legislature’s actions to the end of Reconstruction, but he even used the “C” word — Confederacy:

The trouble is that if this spirit of nullification and white tribalism — this spirit of Confederacy — has captured the former party of Lincoln, then history suggests its hold may last for decades.

It’s difficult even to know where to start with rhetoric like this, except to state the obvious: Peace isn’t war; requiring senate approval for gubernatorial appointments isn’t a form of lynching; limiting a governor’s power over public universities isn’t like a race riot; making election boards bipartisan isn’t Jim Crow.

Indeed, the incendiary rhetoric is far more dangerous than McCrory’s actions, however partisan they may be. Gullible leftists who don’t read past headlines — and don’t bother with the details — will actually believe that North Carolina Republicans are the spiritual descendants of Jim Crow Democrats. They’ll slander good men and women for the sake of stoking their base and rebuilding the coalition that failed them so profoundly in 2010, 2014, and 2016.

This isn’​t only a left-wing problem, but an American problem.

All too many Democrats have decided that the real lesson of 2016, when black voters weren’t as enthused about voting for a corrupt white progressive as they had been about voting for the first black president, was that they weren’t angry enough. They believe that their much-vaunted “coalition of the ascendant” is built not on Obama’s “hope and change” but on rage and pain. So much for “when they go low, we go high.”

American polarization is reaching a dangerous phase, and, as is often the case, the true danger lies not in action but in reaction. Politics triggers hysterical rhetoric, and hysterical rhetoric fuels the polarization that is turning citizen against citizen. As we saw throughout 2016, this is not merely a left-wing problem, but an American problem, with fundraisers and activists convinced that no one will care unless the rhetoric is turned up at least to 11.

#related#And perhaps they’re right. Perhaps not many people will care about the number of North Carolina gubernatorial appointments unless pundits can conjure up the ghost of Jeff Davis. But maybe a little bit of apathy would actually be healthy. Of course people should care about politics, but not at the cost of their reason. If the price of activism is rage, bitterness, and hysteria out of proportion to the stakes of the dispute, then I’ll take apathy over activism every time.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.