Near the end of one of the late 20th century’s most outrageous and over-the-top action films – director John McTiernan’s 1988 Die Hard – an exchange takes place between a hostage portrayed by Bonnie Bedelia and her captor, a supposed political terrorist played by the late, great Alan Rickman, whose murderous takeover of a Los Angeles office building has been exposed to be merely a big money robbery:
Bedelia: After all your posturing, all your speeches, you’re nothing but a common thief.
Rickman: I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I’m moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.”
Not that they really needed it, but Americans received a similar reminder this past weekend as to what the modern conservative movement is increasingly about in the era of the Donald Trump.
As was made clear once again during the bizarre CPAC spectacle – an event at which some members of the Trump cult, apparently without any sense of the faith tradition to which so many of them profess to belong, felt compelled to erect a golden statue of their hero – traditional conservative principles no longer play much of a role in driving the actions of the modern political right.
Veteran national politics observer E.J. Dionne explored this sad reality in a Sunday Washington Post column. As he noted, the conservative movement in 2021 is not driven by a coherent ideological agenda, but rather a devotion to Trump, his incessant and ever-more-outrageous lies about the 2020 election, and “owning the libs.” It is, in other words, about acquiring power and wealth – power than can be wielded against disfavored groups (i.e., progressives, racial minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ people, those of improper religious beliefs), and wealth that can be used for self-aggrandizement and the pursuit of still more power.
This same sordid phenomenon is increasingly mirrored in the actions of Trump loyalists and lackeys at the state and local levels. In North Carolina, we’ve seen it at the General Assembly, where Republicans who came to power a decade ago promising transparency, a war on corruption, a rebirth of local control, and an end to political gerrymandering, have, at every turn, abandoned all four priorities in order to cement and expand their power and pad their wallets.
And we’ve seen it repeatedly throughout one of the many ongoing hostile takeovers to which GOP legislative control has given rise: the assault on the UNC system.
Time and again, in recent years, North Carolina’s great university has been tarnished by the spectacle of on-the-make politicos attempting to cash in by landing plum university jobs and/or directing university business their way.
The most recent example in this sad saga, of course, is the UNC Board of Governors’ absurd decision to install “school choice” lobbyist Darrell Allison in the chancellorship at Fayetteville State University. As Policy Watch investigative reporter Joe Killian detailed in a special report last week, Allison was selected for the $285,000 per year job despite having no teaching experience, no meaningful leadership experience of a large institution – in or out of higher education – and no doctorate degree.
What he did bring to the job, of course, was the right assortment of political connections – on the FSU Board of Trustees, where his mother-in-law served until the day before he was selected; on the Board of Governors, where he served until he resigned last fall to pursue the FSU job; and in state Republican leadership circles where he has long served as a loyal ally of conservative causes.
Of course, one of the remarkable details of this story is that even amongst the FSU trustees – a group hand-selected by the Republican powers-that-be – Allison’s candidacy was seen as a bridge too far. Indeed, in what appeared to be a Richard Burr-like moment of conscience and honesty, one trustee told Killian “We had some very, very impressive candidates. In that pool it would be difficult for anyone with [Allison’s] resume to make the top five… even the top ten, maybe.”
Fortunately for Allison, the President of the UNC System has the authority to ignore the trustees’ recommendations and that appears to be what Peter Hans did here in selecting an individual who had helped hire him last year.
Where things go from here remains uncertain. The FSU Faculty Senate and the school’s national alumni association have both called for the Allison hiring to be reversed. The latter even said it would seek a “legal investigation” in pursuit of such a goal, but thus far, there’s been no indication as to what form that would take, or that Allison, Hans or the Board of Governors has any intention of backing down.
In his CPAC post-mortem, Dionne notes somewhat hopefully that there are cracks to be seen in the national Trump-GOP edifice.
Here in North Carolina, however, where even long-time loyal conservatives like Burr are summarily kicked to the curb for daring to tell the truth – it seems unlikely that a Bruce Willis-like hero will be happening on the scene to interrupt the blatant power and money grabs anytime soon.