Alexander H. Jones: Not much backlash to authoritarianism this time

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 10, 2021

By Alexander H. Jones

North Carolina’s frontier origins bred a resistance to overweening authority.

The earliest Euro-Americans to settle in the state were small farmers who could no longer afford land in the colony of Virginia, and so they spilled across the border into the Albemarle region to erect a new society with rough social equality and a fiercely held norm of individual freedom. About a century later, backcountry farmers rebelled against the eastern North Carolina grandees in a civil conflict that would later be called the Regulator War. When the time came to draft a state constitution, the state’s framers created a governing pact that minimized central authority in favor of a diffuse governmental structure.

North Carolinians’ resistance to authority played an important role in driving white voters into the Republican Party, favorably disposed as they were to the Republicans’ message of limited government and lower taxes. (Of course, race was the principal reason for the pro-GOP trend.) But in a rich historical irony, the social value that sent so many conservative North Carolinians into the GOP seems to have been vacated as their chosen party seeks to impose an authoritarian pseudo-democracy.

The NCGOP’s proposed legislative maps would rig North Carolina elections as effectively as Vladimir Putin’s sham elections in Russia. Regardless of what happens in the popular vote, Republicans will hold at least 10 and possibly 11 of the state’s 14 Congressional seats. Even close observers may not know that Democrats won the popular vote for United States House in North Carolina last year. So, directly contravening the desires of the people, Republican mapmakers have sought to create a delegation that does not reflect popular will at all. The elections are, simply, rigged.

Yet popular discontent seems muted at best. North Carolinians who have resisted imposed authority for more than 12 generations are raising minimal objections to a process that is corrupt, shameless and deeply autocratic. The NCGOP has demonstrated its intention to usurp North Carolinians democratic birthright, establishing an electoral landscape that stymies any effort to elect congresspeople who reflect the desires of the state’s constituents rather than those of the mapmakers, and the only concerted resistance seems to come from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which has already sued.

Partly this lethargy owes to the sinister power of negative partisanship. Many of the North Carolina voters who have been most fiercely opposed to authority are Republicans, and with their fear and hatred of the Democratic Party having remained a fever pitch for over a decade, they may be willing to tolerate an assault on democracy if it keeps the left out of power. On the other hand, Democratic voters may feel defeated. They knew that the legislature’s redistricting warlocks would cast a dark spell on congressional elections. So far, as the process has gone forward as expected.

The Regulators wept.

Alexander H. Jones is a Policy Analyst with Carolina Forward. He lives in Chapel Hill. Have feedback? Reach him at