Politics usually revolves around multiple axes. Philosophical conflict, fiscal priorities, disagreements on America’s role in the world, and the very nature of society coexist on the interlocking planes of political dispute. But once every few generations, policy debates recede in favor of profound debates over the nature of citizenship. America and North Carolina find themselves in such a moment.
The greatest instance of moral collision is still relevant to our state. By the end of the Mexican-American War, the issues that had preoccupied Jacksonian America–national banking, the Tariff of Abominations, even universal white-male suffrage–no longer seemed important compared to the overwhelming moral force of slavery and its expansion to the west. The South and the North were careening toward an inexorable conflict over enslavement and empire. A house decided against itself could not stand. Ultimately, in response, North Carolina committed treason against the United States.
The moral conflict we face today will not result in disunion, though sustained political violence along the lines of Northern Ireland’s Troubles may well transpire. But the parallels between Lincoln’s time and ours are present. A large bloc of America is hardline in viewing marginalized groups as inferior; competing with this cohort is a movement for equality. Where the leadup to the Civil War concentrated in Kansas and the territories, today’s moral strife happened to begin–and rages most intensely–in North Carolina. And Mark Robinson is the clear leader of the anti-equality side.
Robinson is, in fact,a national leader in the anti-equality firmament. CPAC prominently featured him in its promotional literature. Thus, it is important not only to the state but to the nation as a whole that Democrats prevent Robinson from becoming governor of North Carolina. If he attains that perch, he may well become the preferred candidate of right-wing conservatives in future national politics.
Defeating Robinson will require Democrats to place moral conviction at the forefront of their politics. It won’t work to attempt the typical red-state Democrat strategy of changing the subject to less controversial matters. Because Robinson so powerfully dominates the media with his cultural fireworks, any attempt to offer softer fare will get lost in his deafening racket. Democrats instead need to argue in forthright terms that Robinson’s anti-gay bigotry, misogyny, anti-semitism and general hatred are completely and unambiguously immoral. This will make them look as principled to people of good will as Robinson looks strong to followers od his hate.
North Carolina has faced gubernatorial elections with high moral stakes. When I. Beverly Lake tried to steer state sharply toward Massive Resistance, Terry Sanford defeated him on a moderate platform. When Pat McCrory bet his governorship on HB2, Roy Cooper beat him. In both instances, progressives did not shy away from making a strong moral argument for tolerance and fairness. That’s how they can beat Mark Robinson, too.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.