Well, the season of giving is upon us again, and while it’s clear that North Carolina ethics statutes prevent public servants and other “covered persons” from receiving any gifts that might influence their official actions, the law includes a number of – nudge-nudge, wink-wink – exceptions, so one hopes that perhaps there is a way to make the following list a reality.
For Senator-elect Ted Budd: A collector’s edition set of official Donald Trump superhero trading cards. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, Budd will still be a U.S. Senator in the year 2029 – a point in time at which, the good Lord willing – Donald Trump will be a distant and almost forgotten dot in the national rearview mirror. Like old baseball cards, perhaps a little Trump-o-bilia can provide Budd with a measure of nostalgia for a time in which a right-wing politician could get elected to high office simply by packing heat, mouthing nonsense about immigrants, and flirting with coup plotters like Mark Meadows (see below).
For the Berger boys – Senator Phil Senior and Supreme Court Justice Phil Junior: The latest edition of the party game “Family Table Topics.” Since we know they would never discuss business, finding things for a father and son to chat about at holiday gatherings when Dad is the state’s most powerful legislator and the chip off the old block has been installed as the state Supreme Court’s resident Clarence Thomas imitator could be a challenge. Perhaps a fun conversation starter will come in handy.
For Gov. Roy Cooper: The signing ceremony of which he’s so long dreamed. For six years, the Guv has tried to bring Medicaid expansion to North Carolina and more than a half-million long-suffering, uninsured residents, only to have his bubble repeatedly burst by GOP legislators touting an ever-changing list of maddeningly bogus excuses. Maybe, at long last, 2023 is the year.
**Bonus stocking-stuffer: A hard conversation with a trusted aide who will tell him face-to-face and in no uncertain terms that his hurricane recovery office is a human-made disaster that desperately requires a deep and immediate house-cleaning.
For Senator Thom Tillis: A certificate of completion from a 12-step “MAGA Anonymous” class. At last check, North Carolina’s soon-to-be-senior U.S. senator appeared to be making real, if incremental, progress on this front. With his recent efforts in support of marriage equality and immigration reform he’s demonstrating what most observers have always suspected – namely, that his heart was never really in it when it came to being part of Trump’s dark cult of personality. Maybe he can even bring along a friend to the classes with a little time on his hands like, say, Senator Richard Burr.
For Congresswoman Virginia Foxx: Enough new wall calendars for every room in her home and congressional office. As she has made painfully clear with her repeated mean-spirited attacks on student loan debt relief, the congresswoman seems to keep forgetting that the New Year will be 2023, not 1963 when people like her were paying $175 per year in tuition to attend UNC.
For State Treasurer Dale Folwell: A copy of “Socially Responsible Investing for Dummies.” Since taking office in 2017, Folwell has pulled off the remarkable feat of both directing state investments toward an array of corporations with deeply shoddy environmental records, and at the same time, somehow failing to reap the kind returns on investment that other comparable state pension funds realized during several years of bull stock markets.
For House Speaker Tim Moore, the cronies he’s helped install to run the UNC System, and UNC Journalism School mega-donor Walter Hussman: Updated Hulu subscriptions so they won’t miss a minute of “The 1619 Project” docuseries that debuts on the popular streaming service next month. Given the vast quantities of free publicity these folks have showered on the project and the damage they’ve inflicted on UNC by chasing away the acclaimed journalist behind it, it seems certain they won’t want to miss a minute of the six episodes Nikole Hannah-Jones and her all-star team of co-executive producers (including Oprah Winfrey) have crafted.
For former North Carolina congressman and Trump chief-of-staff Mark Meadows: A chance to experience the kind of epiphany that so many other January 6 coup plotters have enjoyed. Perhaps like those “Oath Keepers” and other insurrectionists who have, in the moments immediately prior to being sentenced to prison by a federal judge, suddenly grasped the tragic error of having fallen prey to insane conspiracy theories, Meadows too, will have an opportunity to see the light. Alternative gift: A sudden infusion of moral strength and backbone of the kind displayed by his one-time aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.
And speaking of epiphanies, for Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson: An awkward, but eye-opening episode like the one that befell the reactionary Senator Kevin Keeley (played by Gene Hackman) in the 1996 Mike Nichols film, “The Birdcage.” This would involve Robinson being rescued from an embarrassing personal or political predicament by a bevy of smart and resilient drag queens who disguise him as a member of their group, and in so doing, teach him more about family values, human dignity, and loving others as yourself than could ever be gleaned in a month of Sundays from any of the bigoted and blowhard pastors with whom he usually associates.
Happy holidays, y’all!