Alex Constantine - August 22, 2013
Does the following description of a political situation at the beginning of July apply to Egypt, or to North Carolina?
“Just a year after winning a decisive election victory and taking power from an entrenched regime that had been in charge for many years, the victors alienated a substantial part of their population. Their undemocratic efforts to deny participation by those people and groups who oppose them were patently undemocratic and unfair.”
It applies to Egypt before the recent ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government. But, arguably, it could apply just as well to North Carolina’s political transformation.
Our state’s political turnaround recently got the attention of another national columnist.
“There was a time,” wrote Neal Peirce of The Washington Post, “when North Carolina was a symbol of Southern enlightenment. Compared to the policies of the old ‘Solid South — Democratic, conservative, fervidly anti-civil rights — the state embraced relatively progressive policies in such areas as education and race relations.
“No longer… the Tar Heel state is racing to lead the pack in conservative anti-city and implicitly anti-black politics.”
Peirce partially summarized the record, noting a bill that reduces revenue by a half-billion dollars, lowering taxes on high income individuals “while increasing taxes for small business owners and lower-and-middle-class taxpayers,” cutting unemployment insurance coverage, cutting support of elementary education, and repealing the Racial Justice Act.
In Egypt, the actions of the government led to popular uprisings followed by the government’s ouster led by the military.
In North Carolina, the actions of the government led to the protests on Moral Mondays.
“What are the odds that Moral Monday protests or the like will deter North Carolina’s new right-wing politics?” Peirce said.
“Realistically, very low.” he answers.
Noting the legislature’s efforts to “seize city assets” like the Charlotte airport and Asheville water system, Peirce says, “It’s clear that an ugly ‘reward-friends, punish-adversaries’ politics is in full flower.”
Is there any prospect for change in direction?
Not much, according to Peirce. “Growing Hispanic and other more moderate political voices could offset the trend. But with North Carolina’s legislative districts carefully drawn to entrench the ascendant Republicans, a return to moderation may be years — if not decades — away.”
Somebody might ask, “Where is the Egyptian Army when we need them?”
On the other hand, some political observers point out that, after being out of power for so long, the newly empowered can be forgiven for a few excesses and that, once they are accustomed to the responsibilities of governing, their policies will become more moderate and practical.
The apologists for the ousted Egyptian government made the same argument.
Similar explanations were made to explain away Nazi excesses when they took power in Germany in 1933 according to Erik Larson’s recent best seller, “In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin,” based on the experience of North Carolina native William E. Dodd, who was U.S. Ambassador to Germany during this period.
According to Larson, when the new Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels faced questions about abuse against Jews, he told reporters, “Let me explain how such a thing might occasionally happen,” Goebbels said. “All during the twelve years of the Weimar Republic our people were virtually in jail. Now our party is in charge and they are free again. When a man has been in jail for twelve years and he is suddenly freed, in his joy he may do something irrational, perhaps even brutal. Is that not a possibility in your country also?”
In our state, too?
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.