Ignore the hype

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 18, 2013

North Carolina is taking a lot of flack these days from those who live far away, the New York Times editorial board only the latest example. We’re being painted as a state in hopeless peril for all of our recent political turmoil.
Anyone who thinks we’re doomed is, simply, misinformed. The sky hasn’t fallen and rumors of our impending demise have been greatly exaggerated. We’ve been through worse. We’ll get through this.
I moved here a year ago because I saw this as a state of opportunity. I’m neither a Republican nor a Democrat, but somebody needs to stick up for North Carolina. We’re more than a place of sentimental moonlight and magnolias grasping at mythic glory. We’re a place of substance.
n Our universities infuse the globe with innovators who elevate the standards of humanity.
n Our factories make fine products that boost America’s manufacturing resurgence.
n Our cities top national best-places lists.
n We introduced America to Andy Griffith, Billy Graham and the Wright Brothers (and we do extend our deepest apologies for John Edwards).
n Our research sector is changing the world.

North Carolinians are kind, generous and charismatic. This is a place where drivers turn around to change strangers’ flat tires. This is a place where hipsters in Carrboro and hillbillies in Appalachia talk to each other for hours about the relative merits of banjo, dobro and Old Crowe Medicine Show. This is a place of Biltmore, Tobacco Road basketball and Bulls baseball.
North Carolina has earned its Southern charm and grace over centuries. We’ve all suffered from sins of our collective heritage and we still have some to overcome, but our identity is like our hickory wood — old, strong and tough.
Its land is exceptional like its people. When the sun crosses North Carolina, it shines upon vast fertile soils bounded by glorious mountains and breathtaking coastlines. Few states have such wonder. Don’t overlook it.
Even if some leaders in Raleigh continue to act recklessly, I’m confident about my choice to be here. The Founding Fathers gave states flexibility while restraining them from going too far. Pass crazy laws. See federal injunctions.
Scholars will focus on the productivity of this legislative session for decades ahead. Democratic leaders may have very legitimate reasons for gloom about potential disenfranchisement, health care restrictions and policies that might exacerbate inequality in already poverty prone areas. Meanwhile, Republican policy makers may have ample cause for feeling accomplished and justified in their haste.

Rather than descending into this quagmire of partisan squabble, everyday citizens should focus on their common enemy: polarization, the true blight on contemporary American progress.
The trouble we face is largely because the political systems in North Carolina and in the country as a whole are viciously divided. Republican legislators in Raleigh can thank polarization for their recent hate mail. Their Democratic counterparts should appreciate polarization as the latent culprit creating a poisonous legislative process in which reactionary behavior is electorally rational, at least in the short-term.
We should exchange the energy spent on blaming each other to take a step back. What can we do to bridge this divide and heal our needless political wounds? How can we encourage our institutions to make thoughtful, fair, and practical decisions? The biggest explanations for political discord are in Washington, but the halls of Raleigh could use a friendlier coat of paint, too.
Big city media outlets giving us a hard time are assets to American democracy. However, they’ve seeded an unnecessary identity crisis in many North Carolinians, causing us to doubt our state. Never forget that we’re blessed to live in what once was, still is, and will remain one of the greatest places on Earth.
Stand proud of North Carolina, as firm as if you had tar on your heels.

Jason Husser is an assistant professor of political science at Elon University and assistant director of the Elon University Poll. Email: jhusser@elon.edu.
Follow him on Twitter: @JasonHusser.