Home Opinion OPINION: Latest N.C. GOP gerrymandering is emblematic of a broader decline in...

OPINION: Latest N.C. GOP gerrymandering is emblematic of a broader decline in American politics

One of the most troubling developments in American policy and politics in recent decades involves the normalization of actions and ideas once widely viewed as outrageous and/or counter to the nation’s core democratic values.

Donald Trump is, of course, the poster child for this phenomenon. When a candidate ascends to the presidency after having uttered the public statement — “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.” — it clearly reflects an important and worrisome shift in the body politic.

A half-century ago, an American president was forced to resign because of actions that, when they are compared to the totality of Trump’s documented lies and misdeeds, seem almost trivial.

A quarter-century ago, another president was impeached for sexual behavior that appears almost laughably tame in comparison to the actions of which Trump has openly bragged.

But this phenomenon of transformation and decline extends well beyond Trump and the nation’s acceptance of (or resignation to) outrageous personal behavior by politicians.

One can identify a long list of public policies in which slow but steady change — often abetted by relentless propaganda and big money lobbying — have worn Americans down, and bred cynicism, disengagement and detached acceptance.

See, for example the stupendous inequality that has come to afflict the U.S. economy. It’s unimaginable that such a situation would have been viewed as remotely acceptable in the mid-20th century. Even Republican leaders would never have brooked tax and wage laws that allowed a handful of individuals to control as much wealth as entire nations at the same moment that average American wage earners work harder and longer than ever before for poverty incomes.

Similarly, the idea that anyone 18 or older should be free to walk the streets with a concealed or holstered handgun, and the notion that we are steadily transferring control of our nation’s most important public asset — its public schools — to an amalgam of for-profit corporations and sectarian religious institutions, would have both been unthinkable a generation ago.

The latest example of this troubling trend is currently on display in the congressional and legislative redistricting process that’s been taking place at the North Carolina General Assembly.

Sure, there’s nothing new about gerrymandering. Both major parties have engaged in the practice since at least the 19th century when the term was first coined. But as the testimony of expert after expert (not to mention one’s own eyes and ears) will confirm, the process has evolved tremendously since the era of wall-sized paper maps and X-Acto knives.

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And as the sophistication, effectiveness and ever-more-blatant nature of the practice have all become increasingly pronounced, there’s been a concomitant shift in the attitudes of both the politicians advancing it and those it impacts.

For many decades, the architects of gerrymandering approached the practice with a healthy measure of caution and reticence. Not only was the district rigging generally less blatant, but the politicians behind it strove mightily to put forth alternative plausible explanations for their actions.

Seven years ago, however, an important shift in this pattern emerged when former State Rep. David Lewis — the GOP’s redistricting point person in the North Carolina House and a politician who later lost his seat in a corruption scandal — admitted in debate that “we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

At the time, Lewis’s comment drew headlines and outrage from across the country, and ultimately, served as what seemed like the smoking gun in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering that worked its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

How quaint that all seems today.

Bolstered by the Roberts Court’s absurd punt on the issue and the far right’s subsequent hostile takeover of the North Carolina Supreme Court, Lewis’s once seemingly outlandish explanation is now the upfront, official and unapologetic Republican rationale for a new U.S. House map that will produce an 11-3 GOP advantage in a deeply purple, 50-50 state.

Meanwhile, numbed by decades of unapologetic greed and unrestrained grasping in virtually every aspect of modern life — in commerce, entertainment, sports, religion and politics — the response of the public (and the free press that supposedly represents it) to this blatant and frightening assault on democracy has mostly been one of dispirited shrugs and resignation.

The bottom line: The U.S. has always been plagued by scoundrels and scandals. And in a country in which blatant racism, sexism and homophobia were all memorialized in statute and case law for centuries, it’s important not to get too carried away with the nostalgia and rose-colored glasses.

That said, it’s hard to imagine that our forebears wouldn’t be shocked if they could somehow be transported forward in time and see how, in gradual fashion, basic norms at the heart of our democracy have undergone a precipitous and deeply sobering decline.

NC Newsline Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors regular commentaries, and hosts a weekly radio show/podcast. Republished from ncnewsline.com.