By John Ager
As I sit down to write, it is mid-August and Charlottesville is on everyone’s mind. Pundits from all angles are trying to frame this tragedy in a way that suits the various political flavors in our fractured American electorate. After a short description of our early August Special Session in Raleigh, and the prospects for the next one in late August, and I want to get back to Charlottesville.
On August 2, I drove down to Raleigh to attend a Special Session called in order to vote on the override of four bills that were vetoed by Governor Cooper. The next day those vetoes were read into a 10 am session, but not voted on because not enough Republicans showed up and the leadership was afraid that they might not be able to muster the 60% threshold to override these bills. Ten out of the 50 Senators were AWOL. At noon, a second session was called in order to deal with a few “non-controversial” bills left over from the Long Session. The rest of the day was marked by a stop-and-go session full of adjournments and long periods of being “at ease.”
In the late afternoon, a new version of HB 162 came out of nowhere and was anything but non-controversial. The earlier version of the bill passed the house almost unanimously, but the Senate added provisions that would make it difficult to manage environmental problems and disasters in our state. Also, the Cape Fear River basin was (and is) in the midst of the discharge of the chemical GenX in the water, a likely carcinogen. HB 162 was not sent to a committee for further work, or to allow the citizens to have a say. We were told to eat dinner and come back to vote on it. Democrats threatened to block the vote until the next day, and enough outrage blew up that the bill was removed from the calendar.
What did occur the next day was a committee meeting regarding the drawing of new districts for the 2018 North Carolina elections. The courts had declared 28 districts “unconstitutional,” and the justices had castigated the General Assembly for dragging their feet in getting these districts drawn. A Friday committee meeting voted to add two criteria to the map drawing effort: The race of voters would be ignored and incumbents would be protected from being drawn into someone else’s district. (The next day I received an email from the Legislative staff asking me to designate on a map where I currently lived, although there was little chance my district would be changed at all.)
The maps will need to be drawn by September 1, and the General Assembly will thus reconvene in late August to finalize the plans. That will be old news for the readers of this column. We will also presumably deal with the vetoes, and other bills like HB 162 that are lurking in the shadows.
The link between these districts and Charlottesville, like so much in Southern politics, is race. Our original sin as a country was creating a government based on “liberty for all” that also protected race-based slavery. Almost 250 years later, we are still striving to create a nation that does not allow discrimination against citizens for inherent qualities like ethnicity, skin color, and gender. We all tend to feel insecure outside of our culture; having grown up in the South during the days of segregation, I struggle with the stereotypes my culture taught me. I can remember the KKK being considered a normal part of the political discourse in Atlanta, a city striving to become a “city too busy to hate.” I can remember the Grand Dragon running for mayor and the cross burnings on Stone Mountain.
But since those days, the White Supremacists have been pushed to the fringes of our society, though they remained alive and well out in the social hinterland and on the internet. The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville brought many of these groups back out into the open. Certainly, the Trump political campaign legitimized their views, as he tapped into a broad sense of frustration felt by many of our rural and white citizens. I am sympathetic to these frustrations, but reject the white supremacist solutions that demonize immigrants and minority groups.
My Christian faith demands that we recognize that every person stands equally before God, seeking His redemption, just as every American stands equally before the law. We are all made in His image, of infinite and equal value. Ethnic idolatry is a poison to be shunned. Think of the miracle of the day of Pentecost. Think of Paul bringing the gospel to non-Jews. And think about 2000 years of missionaries laboring among alien cultures. The sin of racism is as old as mankind.
And to think that the focus of the trouble in Charlottesville was a statue to Robert E. Lee, a man I grew up believing to be the epitome of Southern virtues. Here are some of his statements.
• “So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that Slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interest of the South.”
• “I believe it to be the duty of everyone to unite in the restoration of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony.”
• “I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.”
Let’s all come together in search of a new American peace, and join hands in harmony — and yes, in self-control.
Rep. John Ager, District 115 North Carolina House of Representatives