As I’ve said before, North Carolina Republicans were Trumpists before Trump. They were willing to trash the state’s reputation as a forward thinking, welcoming state in order to pass tax cuts that disproportionally benefited the wealthy while dramatically cutting the services that helped people climb out of poverty and stay in the middle class. And they were willing to pander to the ugliest strains of reactionary populism to do it.
In Washington, Republicans who once recoiled at Donald Trump now embrace him—or at least are loath to criticize him. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who just nine months ago called Trump a “kook” who is “unfit for office,” now is one of the president’s chief defenders. Other Republicans have stayed silent as Trump rationalizes white supremacy in Charlottesville and antagonizes Muslims with an immigration ban aimed at them.
It’s pandering to populism in exchange for a huge kickback for the wealthiest Americans. The country club Republicans who want to enrich themselves and their friends and the movement conservatives who believe that tax cuts are a panacea for every ill don’t have the numbers to get much done. So, they’ve cut deals with social conservatives, many of whom harbor nasty resentments, to get elected and to get their tax cuts.
In North Carolina, Republicans crow about the modest gains from their tax cut like they’ve saved the state from fiscal disaster. In fact, North Carolina has had a AAA bond rating long before the GOP ever got near a majority. When Democrats were in control, the state was regularly cited as one of the best places to do business. It’s been among the fastest growing states in the nation for more than 20 years.
When Democrats ran the state, though, North Carolina was a state to be admired. We were seen as a welcoming and open-minded place. We balanced environmental stewardship with economic prosperity. Our university and community college systems were leaders in the nation. Our early childhood program was a model that other states adopted. So was Community Care of North Carolina, the program that administers Medicaid.
Under Republican rule, we’ve become a cautionary tale. Amendment 1, the constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, told the country we’re now a less welcoming place. House Bill 2 reinforced that image. The voter suppression bill was not simply a voter ID law; it was designed to make it more difficult for people to vote, especially older African-Americans, many of whom were disenfranchised under Jim Crow but gained the right to vote under the Voting Rights Act. All across the country people ask, “What happened to North Carolina.”
Well, Republicans happened. They pandered to the populists and chucked our good reputation out the window so they could brag about their tax cuts. We might not be Kansas, but we’re not any economic miracle, either. We’ve made modest economic progress in exchange for our national reputation while our schools, universities, prisons, and mental health facilities suffer.
Now, they’re doing it in Washington. We’re losing the respect of our allies in western Europe. Republicans sit by while liberal democracies ask, “What’s happening to the United State?” Some Republicans may be uncomfortable with Trump’s subservient relationship with Putin, but they’re not saying much out loud. When Donald Trump attacks our law enforcement agencies, Republicans act like they didn’t hear. When he makes excuses for white supremacists or rails against Muslims, some of them might wince, but they know they need him for those tax cuts, so they’ll stay largely silent. When they thought they might need Roy Moore’s vote to get tax reform bill passed, men like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan were even willing to welcome a child molester into Congress.
Well, they’re going to get their tax cut. Like North Carolina, it’ll have a modest impact on our economy but the GOP will treat it like the Second Coming. The price we’ll pay will be damage our international reputation, weakening of our institutions and the empowerment of reactionary forces that emboldens bigotry and xenophobia, but Republicans will overlook the scorched landscape and tattered reputation, pointing instead to statistics and figures as proof of their success.
Despite what too many people on the left believe, not all Republicans are bigots or homophobes or xenophobes. It’s just that they can’t pass their agenda without them. And therein lies the problem.