Making America to Look Like North Carolina

Chris Kromm talking:

The South is rising again, for sure, in national politics. One-third of the Electoral College votes that it takes to be elected president in this country are in 13 Southern states. And that’s only going to grow. After the 2020 census, there’s going to be another five Electoral College votes or so. They’re going to come from Southern states. So, what it is is a shifting of the gravity of political power in this country going to the South.

And I think the Trump administration knows that. They know that the South—for all the attention we’ve put on Michigan and those battleground states, which was certainly important, it was really the fact that Southern states accounted for half of his Electoral College votes that he’s in the White House today. And he understands the power of Southern conservatism behind the wind in the sails of his presidency. And you see that in these key positions, especially in the Trump Cabinet. You also see it in the delegations from Southern states that are having a lot of influence in Congress.

And I think what it adds up to is that we understand that really the South has to become contested territory, that it can’t be ceded to conservative Republicans, or they’re just going to be able to really up their game in using the South as a platform to drive a conservative agenda.

I think North Carolina is an example—right?—of these conflicting trends, where, on one hand, for sure, the demographics are changing. It’s becoming an increasingly diverse state, of growing populations, new immigrant communities, Asian-American communities, one of the fastest-growing Asian-American communities in the country, a return migration of African Americans to cities like Charlotte and Raleigh. This is really changing the makeup, this so-called new American majority. We saw the evidence of that in the last election with like in the governor’s race and other key races. But on the other hand, we have to be reminded about this deep white conservative trend that exists in many Southern states. And that’s exactly what Trump was able to activate in winning the state in 2016.

Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina. Here you have someone who’s in charge of devising the budget, that will fund government, who’s deeply antigovernment. All he can do is come up with a list of programs that he thinks are antithetical to free enterprise and the American way. He went so far as to say he couldn’t justify the Meals on Wheels program, and then he had to walk that one back later. But it’s just a great example of—you know, he is deeply hostile to government programs. He was actually viewed, because he had been a member of the Freedom Caucus, that he was supposed to be a bridge to some of the other Republicans to help push through the repeal of Obamacare. That didn’t work out. He wasn’t able to make that coalition happen.

One interesting thing is that when he was a representative from South Carolina, this anti-spending impetus he had even extended to military spending. And he sided with Democrats in opposing some weapons programs. But now that he’s in the Office of Management and Budget, it’s interesting that the budget that he unveiled for the Trump administration had a $50 billion increase in military spending. So I guess he’s made peace with the war budget now that he’s in the Trump Cabinet.

Sessions, I think, has gotten a lot of national attention just given his checkered history on voting rights, civil rights, coming out of Alabama. One of his top aides was also a top aide to Trump—that’s [Stephen] Miller—who went to school just down the road here at Duke University. But clearly, you know, he’s being rewarded for his early support of the Trump candidacy. I don’t think anybody would have picked him to be the top candidate for the attorney general position, especially given his history of targeting African-American voting leaders in Alabama, for which Coretta Scott King famously authored that letter that Elizabeth Warren, Senator Warren, tried to read in the Senate when that confirmation hearing was happening. Then you think about people like Tom Price—

And she was censured for reading… Was blocked from being able to actually read this letter, which so eloquently laid out about why the civil rights community was so concerned about Sessions back in the 1980s.

You look at characters like Tom Price, coming out of Georgia, who was interesting as a doctor. He was part of this group that called Medicare and Medicaid, you know, aspects of socialized medicine that should be vehemently opposed. And he really had a checkered record because—was known for going to bat for pharmaceutical companies, a lot of conflicts of interest where he tried to pull reports that were critical of different drugs from companies that he had gotten money from the CEO of that company that created that heart drug—just kind of down the line, questions about stocks in pharmaceuticals that he was—being discussed in his committees. So, he really had a checkered record. I think those—some of those issues are going to come back to dog him as he continues in his position at Department of Health and Human Services.

And then, Tillerson, I think you’re absolutely right. I think the most interesting one there, as just given his history of conflicts, where in his position as a CEO at Exxon, Exxon having interests that are really antithetical to the interest of the State Department and wanting to operate in countries where there were sanctions or other limitations, where the government was really trying to put—turn the screws a little bit on human rights violations, but Exxon wanting to come in and be able to do business. And it’s interesting that he’s going to still have that conflict as secretary of state.

Of the 13 Southern states, only Virginia voted for Hillary Clinton.

I think Trump was really remarkable in being able to activate—you know, we know that the demography of these Southern states is rapidly changing. We know that they’re becoming more diverse, more—a lot of majority people of color communities across the South. But we also were reminded, I think, in this last election that there’s a deep well of Southern conservatism, that Trump was able to effectively mobilize. And so, you really saw turnout jump in a lot of states. And it was both some of the newer voters, who are the future of a lot of these Southern states, but also he was able to mobilize a white conservative electorate, which in many cases carried the day and allowed him to win those states.

– America Could Look Like North Carolina [by] 2020. Yikes

I think it’s definitely, as I said earlier, a cautionary tale. It shows what, when there’s unfettered conservative control, like we saw in North Carolina starting in 2012, just the scale of the agenda that was able to really dig into voting rights, LGBTQ rights, workers’ rights, the environment—just this full-scale attack—immigrant rights—just to see how much could happen in a very short period of time with that degree of conservative control. And then, on the other side, though, about the resistance and the ability to beat some of those back.

Art Pope is a multimillionaire who over the last decade has invested about $50 million in trying to shift the agenda of the state in a more rightward direction. He’s a close ally of the Koch brothers. He was actually for many years the chair of Americans for Prosperity, the national tea party group. He founded a retail—inherited a retail business empire, that really is the basis that fuels his money and his political machine.

And what’s really interesting was his ability to not only fund politicians and inject money into the political process after Citizens United, so he was funding a lot of the so-called dark money groups and injecting money that really helped fuel the takeover of conservatives in the state Legislature in 2010 and 2012, but then also he had a network of groups, like Americans for Prosperity, think tanks, advocacy groups. And these really were the masterminds behind the attacks, for example, on voting rights. It was these places that wrote up the bills that were taking out all the protections for clean elections, that were drawing up the bills to slash early voting, and drumming up concern about voter fraud. And so, it was this really sophisticated network, very well funded.

And when Governor McCrory, the Republican, took power in 2012, lo and behold, he appointed as his budget director, perched there in the office of the governor, as budget director, Art Pope. And that really was, I think, the apex of his power and influence in the state. And one of the first things he did is defund a clean elections program that tried to drive money out of judicial races in the state, so was really able to exert his influence. So, right now, with McCrory out of power, you don’t see his influence as directly as you saw before. But certainly, he’s one of the most important state-level big money players you’re going to see anywhere in the country in his ability to shape state politics.
____

Chris Kromm
executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies and publisher of Facing South.

— source democracynow.org

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