Is North Carolina the nation’s most military-friendly state? Since Mike Easley coined that phrase in the mid-2000’s, it has been a point of pride for most Tar Heels. The state hosts the biggest military base in the world and has a population of 667,000 veterans. Clearly, military culture is deeply intertwined with the fabric of the state. But this year, the civilian majority of the state’s electorate faces a test. After Donald Trump’s stunning anti-military outburst, they will have to choose whether to reaffirm a nationalist rabble-rouser or demonstrate true respect for the sacrifices of the US Armed Forces.
Trump’s reference to fallen American troops as “losers” and “suckers” could have come from the mouth of the most vulgar hippie activist. He might as well have declared that “Ho Chi Min is gonna win.” We’ve come a long way from the days when war heroes like Bob Dole and John McCain led the GOP. In their place are couch potatoes who sat out the nation’s military conflicts while organizing goofy displays of military hardware at Fourth of July festivities. This is what the GOP offers patriotic voters.
In North Carolina, where respect for the military runs in the cultural DNA of most citizens but especially conservative-leaning rural voters, we will learn how sincere our purported commitment to patriotism really is. To put something important on the table, Donald Trump carried the state in 2016–after sneering that “I like the ones who weren’t captured.” Disgusting as his comments were, it was at least understandable that North Carolina voters could have been attracted to his ardent calls for better treatment of “our great vets” and increased military spending. He was louche, but he also paid lip service to the military and veterans.
Now, the mask is off. There is no credible case that the forty-fifth President of the United States views the men and women he commands as anything but marks in a “sucker’s” (his word) game. If North Carolina delivers its electoral votes to him again, it will be a mark of hypocrisy from a state that bills itself as the nation’s “most military-friendly.” Our big talk about supporting the military will seem hollow.
North Carolina has faced moral crossroads in its politics before–and often failed the test. It had the chance to elect racial liberals to the US Senate but instead opted for white supremacists. It could have enacted the Equal Rights Amendment but rejected it four times. This year, we have an up-or-down test of whether one of the state’s fundamental values means something or if it is overwhelmed by loyalty to a demagogic president. Will we live up to our words?
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.