Few tropes in North Carolina political discourse annoy me more than the claim that Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson is “fascinating.” In a state that elected Jesse Helms to five terms in the U.S. Senate, a political career fueled by bigotry hardly registers as unusual. The victims of Robinson’s–and Helms’s–prejudice would not view the presence of a bigot in public office as an occasion for curiosity. Robinson is, in fact, a mere recrudescence of a familiar political type.
“Filth” is almost a “synonym” for “disgusting.” Mark Robinson chose the latter word to describe LGBTQ people: “homosexuality, transgenderism [sic], any of that filth.” Whereas in one of his hundreds of rages, Jesse Helms ranted that gays and lesbians were “disgusting people.” In both cases, the North Carolina bigot used raw language to denigrate LGBTQ people as less than fully human. The conservative base in North Carolina has long gravitated toward the electric energy of raw, unfiltered hate.
But one large factor differentiates today’s bigot from yesterday’s: Robinson is Black. Perhaps Robinson’s race is what inspires some (straight and cisgender) commentators to marvel at our lieutenant governor. Certainly, the post-Civil Rights NCGOP has little precedent for electing Black people. Robinson’s Blackness, however, merely places him within the boundaries of a familiar conservative archetype. There is an oft-replenished line of Black, male conservative extremists brandished by Republicans as rebuttals to charges of racism.
Some of these demagogues even hail from the old Confederacy. Formerly segregated Florida elected the incendiary anti-Obama bomb thrower, Allen West, to Congress in the early 2010s. North Carolina made its own contribution to this dubious roster. In the mid-2000s, Vernon Robinson (to my knowledge no relation to Mark) won the nomination to challenge Brad Miller for Congress in a solid-blue district. A venomous homophobe, Vernon Robinson campaigned on what can only be described as human persecution. Aimed, of course, at LGBTQ people, the targets of both Vernon and Mark.
The role of hateful entertainer is so often filled by the right’s few Black people because it is so hard for African Americans to establish a respected footing in GOP politics. Hostility to African Americans runs deep in the Republican Party, whose base is built upon the influx of racists from the old Dixiecrat party. These voters will only accept an African American as their leader if he (invariably they select the cis-male gender) amplifies their hatred towards every other marginalized group. And they seem to love these performers. In a recent poll, Carolina Forward (a progressive nonprofit to which I contribute) found that Mark Robinson led the 2024 Republican primary for governor by a whopping 32 points. CF also found that Democrat Josh Stein already leads Robinson in the general election despite Stein’s low name recognition. To establishment Republicans I say, good luck. To Mark Robinson, I look forward to saying, good riddance.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.