Reprinted with permission by The News & Observer of Raleigh
North Carolina can break your heart. Affection does that for you sometimes.
It’s horrifying to accept that a brave, committed and brilliant public servant like Cheri Beasley can’t be sent to the Senate by Tar Heel voters.
And the Republican gutting of the N.C. Supreme Court will drive deep wounds into the possibility of constitutional government here. It may crush for years.
No legislature in America needs the potent specter of meaningful judicial review as acutely and as frequently as our does. They’re masters at cheating to entrench their already ample powers. And a Republican supermajority in the N.C. Senate, under Phil Berger’s tutelage, proved disastrous for poor and marginalized Tar Heels the first time around.
We can expect, as The New York Times has put it, more “pioneering bigotry” in the years to come. So we brace for a punishing ride. Vexations knowingly chosen.
There are graces to be sure. New young and able Democratic congressional members will now join their more experienced and battle-tested counterparts. Heroic efforts by underdog state legislators and the tireless activists who lift them up blocked, if only barely, a Republican veto-proof N.C. House majority — reminding how one race can profoundly and purposefully make all the difference.
And, speaking of grace, I’ve found it crucial to remember how essential Gov. Roy Cooper has become to assuring some modest measure of decency in North Carolina.
God bless him. I don’t usually say such things.
But, for my money, there’s also something larger. Something more inclined to astound. We didn’t catch its full display in North Carolina. Just glimpses. But even brief sightings can send the heart racing. Across the land, the American democracy is fighting back. Green shoots they are. But powerful and unyielding ones. To butcher Churchill, it’s not the end, but it is the end of the beginning.
On Nov. 8, 2022, we learned that launching a murderous insurrection, lying unashamedly about both it and the 2020 election, threatening thuggish violence to intimidate your political adversaries, and working breathlessly to demolish the defining American commitment to democracy is not, after all, a winning political strategy.
That may not sound like much, put to paper. But Trump and Trumpism is an existential threat to both American government and culture. So the small has become the large. The largest.
Next, in every corner, especially in the unpredictable ones, women and those who love them have said, with steely eyes and beating hearts: “You may have your religion, but you won’t force it on me or my body or my children.” “We won’t allow it.” “I won’t allow it.” “Watch me.” “Read my face.” “Learn something here.” “You’re not my lord.”
The likes of Sam Alito and Mitch McConnell will not run our lives. Believe it. Tragically, it may take a while. But these stirred folk will not lose.
Then, of course, there was the election itself. Strong turnout. Young and old. Long lines defied a Republican agenda of intimidation and harassment. No inspiring leader was on hand to summon them. But still they came.
Election workers carried the American promise on their backs like champions. Voters said, with their feet and their stiffened spines — we’re not blind. We see perfectly and we won’t be bullied.
We don’t teach our kids to lie and to brutalize. And we don’t teach them to surrender. You’ve misjudged us, like Putin misjudged Ukraine. Exactly like Putin misjudged Ukraine.
Stand aside. Hold my beer. Democracy has come calling. We’ve decided to answer the bell. Say glory. Then say it again.
Gene Nichol is the Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina.