The elephant in the room

Published 8:00 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2016

To the editor:

If you carefully read Bob Wolfe’s letter to the Bulletin of August 31, you will find embedded in it the two issues that have dominated much of North Carolina’s and the nation’s politics and culture for over 30 years, race and patriarchy. These days, tired of being labeled racists, Republicans gleefully play the race card yet in a modern incarnation, that of projecting their bias onto Democrats.

As the party of Lincoln, Wolfe argues, Republicans freed the slaves, passed the 13th Amendment guaranteeing that forever, and saved the Union while those dastardly Democrats, really closeted bigots, “formed the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws and used the KKK as their enforcer,” Right on Republican bros!  Black lives matter to you. Gosh, now, doesn’t it feel good to call Democrats bigots? En total, ahora, amigos Republicanos, si se puede!  Si se puede!

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Yet only the simplest believe that political labels, taken out of context, have meaning or significance. Personally, I’m a Jeffersonian Republican but not a modern libertarian, and, like Paul Ryan, I’ve read Atlas Shrugged but not as a political manual.  . . . Got all that? Moreover, almost any political scientist would point to issues and supporters and not labels as more accurate signifiers. The party of Lincoln’s Republicans consisted mainly of southern blacks, poor Midwestern farmers, many illegal immigrants from Sweden and Ireland who received free land grants from a Republican “mommy state,” and ordinary laborers in the northeast who began to unionize.

That’s called the Grand Old Party, not to be confused with today’s RINOs, and they made America great again after a devastating civil war. Yet Lincoln’s ideals have atrophied in today’s Geriatric Old Party along with the compassion of a Bush or the empathy of a Reagan.

Remember Jesse Helms? No one played the race card or sympathetic patriarch better. Indeed, from his infamous “white hands” ad in the 1990 election against Harvey Gantt, an African-American, to his trenchant opposition to declaring Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday to his insistence on using the politically correct term of “states rights” instead of segregation, Helms’ playbook guided Ronald Reagan’s southern strategist, Paul Manafort, when he “riled up the base” for Republicans in 1980.  Now, doesn’t it also feel good to find Republicans guilty of political correctness?

Like a great many chauvinists, Helms also understood the political currency of patriarchy, of “protecting” delicate women from making decisions about their own bodies, from an unnecessary equal rights amendment where they might actually have to serve alongside smelly men in combat, from voting and participating in brutal, bruising, and degrading elections, and from all those confusing LGBT trans-whatever’s threatening the sanctity of traditional marriages and homes.

How best to return to an North Carolina dominated by white males where everyone knew their place and only deferentially complained, one that never existed, or to protect helpless women and children from sexual predators who aren’t kinfolk?  Just trot out a few hobgoblins haunting bathrooms, strong men protecting vulnerable women from horrible choices, and, combined with an old racial whitewash, you just might be able to stave off the inevitability of demographics and modernity for a few more years. It seems that, after all these years, Jesse Helms is still the elephant in our room.

Yet what would happen if North Carolina and the nation actually voted for a woman for president after electing a black man? Armageddon? Or, as Cheryl Every maintains, only that “our nation will never recover.” Quien sabe?  Perhaps the sky really is falling . . .

~ Milton Ready, Tryon, N.C.