While his serial dishonesty and corruption, criminal negligence in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and complicity in a failed coup d’état clearly combined to make Donald Trump one of the worst presidents in American history, you have to hand the former chief executive one thing: the man continues to inspire slavish loyalty from his blinded followers.
In few places is this more evident than in the North Carolina General Assembly where, as lawmakers race to meet the May 13 “crossover deadline” by shoveling scores of minimally reviewed bills from one house to the other, Trumpian reaction remains the dominant theme.
A decade ago, when Republicans assumed control of the legislature, there was still some plausible notion that modern “conservatism” retained a connection (at least in some corners) to things like limited government, equal opportunity, shared sacrifice and selfless public service.
Today, as Donald Trump would say of the Americans who sacrificed their lives for the good of the nation in past wars, such concepts, are – at least when it comes to the policy choices of GOP politicians running the General Assembly – for suckers.
Rather, as was the case over the last four years in Washington, raw power is the name of the game at the Legislative Building these days and the top policy priorities are those that have long been associated with genuine and aspiring autocrats like Trump: exercising control over disfavored groups, using fear and emotion-based appeals on social issues to distract and incite supporters, privatizing public structures and services, and of course, cashing in.
If this sounds like an exaggeration, consider some of the bills that state legislative leaders have been prioritizing in the spring of 2021 – a moment of ongoing crisis in which hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians continue to suffer mightily from the devastating effects of deep and unprecedented health and economic crises:
Abortion restrictions – House Bill 453 constitutes a cynical effort to create new, burdensome and potentially dangerous roadblocks to reproductive health care by to forcing physicians to interrogate their patients about the reasons they are choosing to obtain an abortion. Not only does the bill require doctors to certify that the reasons are not on a proscribed list, but it also actually tries to block a patient’s constitutionally protected right to care.
Meanwhile, in a rehash of an ill-conceived bill vetoed by Gov. Cooper in 2019, the Senate has also advanced a measure with the preposterous title “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.”
Monitoring and micromanaging teachers – As if North Carolina public school teachers weren’t already overwhelmed by the pandemic, low pay, frequently crumbling facilities, burdensome paperwork, incessant testing requirements and overcrowded classrooms, far right, conspiracy-obsessed lawmakers are now pushing a “big brother” bill that would force each teacher to post all textbooks and other reading materials as well as videos, digital materials and other applications used in classrooms on school websites. The irony here, of course, is that if there is any teacher group in the state whose curricula ought to be monitored, it’s those who teach in the state’s unaccountable, GOP-championed voucher schools, where students are frequently subjected to fundamentalist religion masquerading as science and history.
Anti- “riot” legislation – House Speaker Tim Moore’s tin-eared response to the social unrest that gripped the nation last year in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd during the early, tumultuous months of the pandemic has been to promote a bill that would further toughen criminal penalties for “rioting.” The ACLU of North Carolina has rightfully blasted the bill as “dangerous idea that undermines the very foundation of participatory democracy.”
And the list goes on. At last check, lawmakers were advancing bills to, among other things:
- make it harder to vote,
- expand discriminatory and unaccountable school vouchers,
- force county sheriffs to aid in immigration enforcement against their will,
- erect roadblocks to more widespread COVID-19 vaccinations,
- make it even easier to expel and arrest students for in-school behavior,
- allow firearms to be even more easily obtained and concealed in more locations,
- make it harder to regulate polluters and predatory lenders, and
- make it harder for employees to sue their employers for retaliation against protected activity.
Meanwhile, Medicaid expansion remains a pipe dream and pro-discrimination bills targeting transgender North Carolinians were almost certainly only pulled from the 2021 agenda after intervention by Apple Computer in recent weeks as a condition of the giant company’s agreement to bring a new campus to Wake County.
And, of course, just to complete the Trumpian picture, there was the recent decision of the state House to approve a tax break for those who received Paycheck Protection Program loans – a move that will directly benefit at least a quarter of the body’s membership. Now there’s an action Donald Trump would understand!
The bottom line: Donald Trump is quickly fading from the national conversation, but sadly, here in North Carolina, his toxic and cynical brand of power politics lives stubbornly on. One can only hope that another round of sustained gubernatorial vetoes over the coming months sends a powerful and lasting message that the Trump wave has crested and is will soon recede.