I don’t want to hear it. Every time a North Carolina politician utters something offensive or passes an egregious law, a chorus of progressives insist, #WeAreNotThis. While noble, the contention that North Carolina is better than its politicians also represents a bit of a cop out–and a bit of denial. As long as we keep electing people who stand for reaction and intolerance, we will have something to answer for in the eyes of marginalized Tar Heels.

This bit of spleen-venting was inspired by comments that spewed from Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson. In a speech to evangelicals, the man we elected by a wider margin than progressive Attorney General Josh Stein declared that students should not be taught about “transgenderism [sic], homosexuality, that filth.” That statement could have been drawn verbatim from our state’s longest-serving U.S. Senator, who often described gay men–at the height of the AIDS epidemic–as “disgusting people.” Once again I am compelled to quote the French aphorism, le plus ca change, le plus c’est la meme chose.

Robinson built his career on extreme rhetoric and brash, unfiltered expressions of explicit bigotry. He rose to prominence due to a wild-eyed tirade on gun rights, delivered at an otherwise ho-hum meeting of the Greensboro City Council. In the course of his campaign, it was revealed that he habitually posted anti-semitic, Islamophobic, misogynistic, etc., comments on his Facebook page. At the NCGOP’s convention last summer, he seemed to blame rape victims for the violence inflicted upon them by criminals. This is a man who lives for his outrageousness, who doesn’t seem to realize–or care–that he’s being used by a white GOP establishment that does not take him seriously.

And yet some scrupulously nonpartisan commentators described him as “the most interesting politician in North Carolina.” He’s “interesting” in the sense that a wrecked car spewing flames and gasoline is “interesting.” In reality, to anyone who subscribes to baseline American values of equality and respect, he is a blight on the public life of North Carolina. And we elected him. By a wider margin than we elected Josh Stein.

It would be comforting to think that Robinson is not a politician driven by substantive aspirations and merely seeks to prepare a career for himself in the right-wing media. He’ll have that career if he wants one, but the fawning he’s received from the far right has clearly seeded ambition. There is little question that he’ll be the Republican nominee for governor in 2024–and god help us, he could very well win the general. Every North Carolina election starts as a coin flip, and the state’s intense polarization gives most Republicans a floor of 47%. That’s what Dan Forest got despite running one of the weakest campaigns in decades.

In the final analysis, Tar Heels need to ask ourselves what Mark Robinson says about our character. This man is a loud, proud bigot–in 2021. We’ve changed a lot in the last sixty years, but the embers of hate burn on. Robinson has built his career on kindling that fire. Heaven help us if this hateful pyromaniac takes the next step.

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