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Ironies in the evolution of tyranny


Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America. By Jack Rakove, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. 488 pages.

My reading at present is focused on the American colonial era, the revolution, and the development of the American Constitution. I took a lot of notes while reading this book by Jack Rakove. But one passage in particular flashes at me as though it was written in bright red neon. Rakove is talking about James Madison:

“Yet this reactionary fear of the threat to property also converged with his youthful commitment to freedom of conscience to produce one powerful insight about the protection of rights in republican America. These two concerns enabled Madison to perceive a truth that the political theory of the age did not yet properly recognize. In a republic, unlike a monarchy, the problem of rights would not be to guard the people as a whole against the arbitrary power of government, but rather to secure individuals and minorities against the legal authority of popular majorities.”

This brings us to the so-called Tea Party, the contemporary right-wing movement by angry white losers, financed by billionaires. Though the Tea Party has taken a wrecking bar to the American democracy wherever it can gerrymander itself into a stronghold, I am thinking in particular about the state of North Carolina, where the Tea Party legislature actually called a special emergency session, ostensibly to shoot down a local ordinance in Charlotte that was meant to afford transgendered people some dignity in the use of public bathrooms.

But, in truth, the bathroom issue was just a smokescreen in this legislation, called HB2. The transgender part of HB2 was meant to appeal to the fears and hatreds of mouth-breathing voters in rural North Carolina while also distracting the media. The real and even more slimy intent of HB2, as is always the case with the Republican Party, is the billionaire agenda. HB2 prevents local governments from setting a minimum wage that is higher than the minimum wage set by federal or state law. HB2 also prevents local governments from passing ordinances that grant civil rights protections. But the biggest piece of slime is that HB2 prevents workers from suing for workplace discrimination in state courts. This part of HB2 is pretty technical and has sneaked under the radar, but it was a big item on the wish list of the billionaire Republican donor class, and now the billionaires’ servants in the North Carolina legislature have checked it off their list. Here’s an article on that.

And, by the way, HB2 shows that the Republican Party doesn’t give a fig for any principle, if power is involved. HB2 also tramples on the principle of local rule and local government. North Carolina’s cities tend to be liberal and to vote Democratic. But the Republicans in Raleigh never hesitate to use state law to keep counties and municipalities from doing anything remotely liberal. Even property rights are not sacred to these radical Republicans. If your neighbors want to frack for gas but you don’t, then the state will use its power to frack you whether you want it or not. Or, if you’ve got a nice water system, as Asheville does, or a nice airport, as Charlotte does, then the state will just take it from you if it can.

This brings us back to James Madison. Madison foresaw even in the mid-1780s how kings (or even “big government”) were not the only potential tyrant under the new American Constitution. Rather, it was the tyranny of the majority that Madison was concerned about.

Not until 1868 did we get a remedy — the 14th Amendment. The Southern states were trampling on the rights of former slaves during Reconstruction, and the federal government stepped in to try to stop it. Many of the ugliest parts of American history touch on the 14th Amendment. White Southerners fought back with Jim Crow laws and legalized segregation, which stood until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Why it took so long is a political mystery that I may never understand.

Today’s so-called Tea Party derives its methods and inspiration not from the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when colonists protested against a despotic king and a Parliament who gave them no representation in the government. Rather, the so-called Tea Party is shockingly similar in its methods with the Jim Crow racists, who with violence against blacks, the activities of “militias,” gerrymandering, and rigged elections used the government to allow the white majority to hold the black minority down.

The current era is the most shameful period in North Carolina’s history in a hundred years. We will eventually throw the right-wing radicals out of power in Raleigh — hopefully starting with the governor this year. Cleaning up the legislature will take more time. It is highly fitting that the de factor leader of this movement to restore justice in North Carolina is a black man, the Rev. William Barber of the NAACP, who started the Moral Monday movement. I may have some comments on Barber’s new book soon.


  1. Dan wrote:

    The bathroom thing is odd, for both sides really. Do normal everyday working adults pay that much attention to who uses the bathroom? Are “public” bathrooms a common thing? Some parks have them but how does the litany of problems that the left perceives to be a major issue now (economic/income inequality being the most obvious and workable one) compare to bathroom issues for a very small percentage of the population?

    I consider myself more liberal than most so-called liberals, especially of the economically contradictory and politically obtuse Bernie Sanders variety, and this thing is obviously a diversion to me. Why do they take the bait on these issues so easily? Why is the local ordinance so important anyway? It’s like they’re trying to provoke a fight with Republicans. If Republicans have control over a state legislature and a municipality wants to do something to poke the bear, shouldn’t they expect some repercussions? Or is this just another thing to get offended by?

    Thursday, April 14, 2016 at 11:42 am | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Republicans certainly have accused some in Charlotte of provoking a fight, with those in Raleigh basically saying, “You made us do it.”

    I know nothing about Charlotte politics, but my guess is that Charlotte’s bathroom ordinance had nothing to do with poking the bear. Rather, my guess is that it’s just an innate problem in the Democratic Party and indeed in any coalition. Some members of the coalition will be narrowly focused on their own issues and can’t see the bigger political picture. Transgender issues somehow got front-and-center in the coalition, and I’m not really sure how. Probably because they got organized.

    Though I am chairman of the Democratic Party in my county, I have not gotten involved with the Democratic Party above the county level. I think it would be a waste of my time. Those from here who have gone to meetings of the Democrats’ state executive committee come back saying that the meetings drone on and on with small factions within the coalition getting the microphone and talking endlessly about their narrow issues. Thus no larger strategy emerges, and there has been no strong leadership to keep eyes on the forest rather than the trees.

    I think this is one reason why the North Carolina Democratic Party has completely dropped the ball in resisting the right-wing takeover of North Carolina. Democrats have a hard time rising above their own internal politics in order to take effective action against the onslaught of external politics.

    Thus it is not surprising that the only effective opposition in North Carolina has pretty much depended on one man’s charisma and sense of direction. The Rev. William Barber is, of course, president of the N.C. NAACP. As far as I can tell, the state NAACP has some strong volunteer staff, not to mention access to good lawyers. But Rev. Barber doesn’t have to deal very much with the drag of internal politics. He has been exceptionally good at building coalitions without the tails wagging the dog.

    It irks me severely that few, especially in the media, have been able to see that the bathroom issue was nothing but a clever wedge-issue smokescreen meant to distract attention from the real business of the statute, which is all about rich people’s money. Bathrooms indeed.

    Thursday, April 14, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  3. Dan wrote:

    I live in Arkansas, and here, like NC, this far-left variety of liberal politics has taken hold in a state that used to have ordinary Democratic politics. I mean, we’re home to the Clintons. I can barely stand it. Rational ideas and even careful compromises are brushed aside in an effort to push through the minutia of the very few while Republicans are organizing to block Medicaid expansion funding! Arkansas chose to use the “private option” to expand healthcare coverage, and so far, it has worked great while keeping rates from spiraling out of control. But, rural Republicans have thoroughly indoctrinated their constituents into believing that Obamacare is our main problem, when most of them are probably using ARKids First, Arkansas’s own public healthcare for poor children. The “Tea Party Ten” they are called.

    Oil drilling around here has pulled back considerably since the price of oil dropped so dramatically, and many have lost their jobs. None of that seems to faze liberals around here. All they seem to care about are gender issues that no one seems to really talk about with serious conviction outside of the internet, raising the price of labor to $15, which would kill many small business jobs in this poor state, and protecting a part of downtown Little Rock from freeway expansion when it is bounded on the opposite end by the airport! I know Republicans have a more sinister agenda, but when it comes to absurdity, the race is neck and neck.

    Thursday, April 14, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Permalink
  4. DCS wrote:

    Good, sharp analysis, David — and two days BEFORE the Quaker Gap meeting. Why couldn’t something like this have run in the Winston-Salem Journal or Charlotte Observer? Instead, it’s bathrooms, bathrooms, bathrooms.

    Answer: journalistic negligence.

    And to Dan, great line: “I know Republicans have a more sinister agenda, but when it comes to absurdity, the race is neck and neck.” As David can attest, the statewide Democratic Party is a joke. Someone at the recent meeting in Stokes County compared a state meeting in Raleigh to “competing cliques in a high school Key Club” — a one-liner I will be borrowing often.


    Monday, April 18, 2016 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  5. daltoni wrote:

    DCS: Ha! This legislature could not possibly get up early enough in the morning to deceive me about its true agenda. Since 2011, when the legislature started debating Amendment One, and then with the fracking legislation of 2012, I’ve watched the legislature very carefully.

    One rule for watching this right-wing legislature is to understand that what they SAY will always be a deception and a distraction aimed at the clueless idiots who voted them into power. Instead you have to watch what they do — read the statutes, try to figure out who wrote the statutes for them, etc. They play to the ignorance, fears, and hatreds of Republican voters while selling off the state piece by piece to big-money.

    Monday, April 18, 2016 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

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