Gene Nichol’s Righteous Grief

by | Apr 25, 2023 | Politics | 2 comments

“Lessons from North Carolina” is a phrase that in a recent political context seems unlikely to be edifying. After all, the last 12 years have seen our state transmogrify into an exemplar of modern-day retrogression. But somehow Gene Nichol has managed to write a book with this title that conveys an uplifting civic credo. His book is above all an expression of grief, and grief, with wrenching pain, brings wisdom and grace.

Few authors have written more passionately against the North Carolina General Assembly than Gene Nichol. From his platform at the News and Observer, Nichol has denounced Republican bills with a vehemence that resulted in stark personal repercussions. In “Lessons from North Carolina,” he synthesizes a decade’s frustrations into a contemplation of what has happened here. The tone of lament resonates on every page.

Nichol offers some astute observations on the state of life in North Carolina. In a footnote, he observes that “expectations have gotten very low” here. This vignette applies to the exhausting and by now dreadfully familiar ordeal of waiting to see how far the legislature will go in dismantling our progress. For example, in recent years children’s-rights advocates have sought to finally end the obscene practice of child marriage–and many rejoiced when Senator Berger consented to raising the marriage age to 16. If grown men marrying 16 year olds counts as progress, we have fallen very far as a state.

In an intensely personal chapter, Nichol tells the story of Republican attacks on UNC-Chapel Hill. The sheer scale of the campaign against Nichol’s university staggers the imagination. But I found the noted law professor’s defense of UNC to be particularly valuable. The university’s fiercest critics condemn UNC as a white-supremacist tool of exclusion. There was a great deal of this in the university’s formative centuries, but that is well known–and not fully defining–history. UNC has a parallel tradition of liberalism that is as genuine as the consequences of denying it.

I am not ingratiating myself to Nichol by noting that he is an author I’ve long admired. But perhaps another fine social critic can provide Nichol with some hope. In a recent column, David Brooks observed that progressive cities in red state are setting the curve of American dynamism. Several of those conurbations are in North Carolina. Perhaps the stream of growth swelling our cities will finally redeem a decade’s worth of loss.


  1. ringlet86

    “Several of those conurbations are in North Carolina. Perhaps the stream of growth swelling our cities will finally redeem a decade’s worth of loss.”

    I hope not. Have you seen the place people are leaving? No thanks. There is a bit of a disconnect in that they very things you lament losing is the exact thing new comers are fleeing. Not to mention its pretty horrible when the cites decide everything for rural folk who live very differently and have different values. (that Liberals mock all the time) Like Chicago, New York do etc…

    I would suggest that dutiful liberals who worship at the alter of “progress” (that no one wants really) Simply go to the places that live their values already.

    Go! Be happy, Instead of being miserable here and whining all the time. Its pretty obvious after a decade that The majority of North Carolinian’s don’t want what you call progress and only had what they had because of 108 years of monolithic Democrat rule. So go to New York et al. Live your values where people agree with you. They will be happy to see you because they are losing people and your money as well!

    • Bonnie Bevan

      Careful…don’t get stuck in the past, where circumstances suited your peers and NOT others that weren’t just like you in all the different ways humanity can differ.

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