Carolina Democracy

Banning Participation Trophies, Really?!?

April 03, 2023 JD Wooten Season 2 Episode 5
Banning Participation Trophies, Really?!?
Carolina Democracy
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Carolina Democracy
Banning Participation Trophies, Really?!?
Apr 03, 2023 Season 2 Episode 5
JD Wooten

Welcome back to Carolina Democracy. Today we're joined by Alex Jones, columnist, policy analyst for Carolina Forward, and blogger at PoliticsNC. Plus some messaging thoughts on President Trump's indictment and updates on the latest political news in North Carolina, including a bill to ban participation trophies in youth sports. Sometimes you just can't make this stuff up!


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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Welcome back to Carolina Democracy. Today we're joined by Alex Jones, columnist, policy analyst for Carolina Forward, and blogger at PoliticsNC. Plus some messaging thoughts on President Trump's indictment and updates on the latest political news in North Carolina, including a bill to ban participation trophies in youth sports. Sometimes you just can't make this stuff up!


Contact Us:

Follow Us:

Support the Show.

Alex Jones: Nobody wants to hear that they live in an authoritarian state. But when you think about what the political scientists were talking about when they describe competitive authoritarianism, there's some resemblance in North Carolina. It is a system in which the trappings of democracy are in place and elections are held, but one party effectively can't lose.

[music transition]

JD Wooten: Welcome back to Carolina Democracy, I’m JD Wooten, and today we’ve got a lot of news to cover, then we have an interview with Alex Jones, columnist, policy analyst for Carolina Forward, and blogger at PoliticsNC. Our conversation covered a wide range of topics, much like his writing, but all came back themes of GOP reactionary policies and impulses towards controlling those who don’t share their minority views. If you enjoy the conversation and want to dive deeper into any of it, or you want to engage in that kind of content regularly, I suggest checking out PoliticsNC.

Next, it’s been a crazy few weeks since our last episode. There’s no way I can hit everything newsworthy from the last few weeks, but I’ll share some thoughts a few things I think are either likely to have the biggest impact on our democracy generally, or are otherwise notable in North Carolina political news.

So first, I think the biggest and most historically important piece of news is the indictment of Donald Trump. I struggled at first whether to talk about this at all. There’s not so much a direct tie to democracy in North Carolina, although depending on what comes next, it could be huge for our democracy generally. Also, there’s no shortage of commentary out there already and that won’t be changing any time soon. Finally, we don’t know the charges yet. As an attorney, I’m reluctant to talk about legal matters when I don’t even know the legal theory, charges, or claims being put forward because it’s just speculation. Again, there are plenty of pundits already doing the speculation game, no need to add to it right now.

However, over the weekend Dan Pfeiffer of Pod Save America fame and former communications director to Barack Obama dropped a new Message Box newsletter related to this subject that made me decide to offer at least a few thoughts. His newsletter wasn’t about the underlying charges, the press coverage, or anything of the sort. Rather it was exactly what I think we all need right now – recommendations for how to talk about it. Because let’s face it, there’s no avoiding this story for the coming months or years.

So here it goes, credit to Dan Pfeiffer for this framing, and go subscribe to his newsletter The Message Box for his full take on this with all the details. He made three main points. First, don’t be afraid to discuss it. Second, no one is above the law. Third, brand all Republicans as MAGA extremists. On the first point, again, don’t be afraid to discuss the indictment. 57% of Americans believe “criminal charges should disqualify former President Donald Trump from running for president again” and 55% percent believe the accusation that Trump falsified business records to conceal the affairs to be serious. This doesn’t mean you should feel compelled to talk about it, and please, for any candidate listening, this is not an invitation to shift your messaging to only or even primarily talking about it. Dan’s just saying, and I agree, that we do not need to fear talking about it because a solid majority of American’s consider the matter serious and worthy of consideration.

Next, no one is above the law. Recent message testing revealed that when testing the competing messages of “this is a political witch hunt” against “no one is above the law,” registered voters found the no one is above the law message overwhelmingly more convincing. Like 22% overwhelmingly more convincing. This is enormous in the current political environment. You don’t need to dive into the details of the charges, whatever they may be, or weigh in on anything in particular. Just stick to the basics – no one is above the law, including former presidents, and we should let the legal system play out for Donald Trump just like we would for anyone else.

Finally, Dan recommends branding all Republicans as MAGA extremists. My take is a little more nuanced. Those who openly and courageously fight people like Trump, even if still Republicans, don’t need that branding and it’ll only weaken the claim to throw it around so freely. In this camp, I’m thinking the Liz Cheney’s, Adam Kinzinger’s, even Mitt Romney’s of the worlds. Admittedly, there aren’t many of them, but anyone who either embraces Trump or stays silent and is thus complacent and enabling, by all means, go for it. At the end of the day, at least among current elected Republicans, 9 out of 10 times or more you’ll probably be right to just go with MAGA Republican if in doubt even under my proposed limitation.

Hope some of this helps. Again, if you want more insights on messaging and communications from one of the best in the business, sign up for Dan’s Message Box newsletter, and I’ll leave a link in the show notes. If you want a good podcast overview related to the indictment, at least based on what we currently know before the indictment is unsealed, I suggest listening to the most recent episode of Slate’s Political Gabfest. I think they did a good job of framing what we know and what we don’t, plus one of their hosts is a Yale University professor of law, so she’s got some helpful legal takes as well. I’ll also leave a link for that in the show notes.

Now, back to North Carolina. We finally expanded Medicaid. Well almost. Medicaid Expansion is tied to the passage of the budget later this year, and it won’t take effect until next year. Neither are great, but hey, it took us 13 years to get this far, so let’s be grateful we finally got Medicaid Expansion. I suspect the GOP supermajorities in the state senate and house will use this as another cudgel to include things Governor Cooper might not otherwise like in the budget, but we’ll see if they include anything so bad he’s tempted to veto the budget. Also, they have functional supermajorities and can override his veto, so the GOP preferred budget will likely pass regardless of what Governor Cooper does, and thus I suspect Medicaid Expansion is safe.

Now, for less stellar news, and also related to overriding the Governor’s veto, the General Assembly successfully overrode Governor Cooper’s veto for the first time since 2018 to repeal the state’s pistol permit law. The law closed critical loopholes to require background checks and permits from the Sheriff for private sales of handguns. Now those private sales can be done without any background checks or permitting.

This override was made possible because 3 Democratic House members were absent the day of the vote. A veto override requires 3/5 of the present voting members, so by having enough Democratic lawmakers absent, the GOP could override the veto even though they are 1 seat short of an actual 3/5 supermajority of all seats in the House. I have no clue what these members were promised in exchange for their absence, or if perhaps the absences really were legitimate emergencies or couldn’t otherwise be reschedule, but that’s where we are ladies and gentlemen. The GOP has a functional supermajority and I doubt this will be the only veto override in the near future.

Also, one of the talking points of GOP legislators was a desire to repeal a racist “Jim Crowe” era law. This is horseshit. First, this is the same group who regularly attempts to pass new laws that Courts are finding to be racially motivated to discriminate against people of color. So no, I don’t believe that they suddenly decided on this one bill to change their tune. Second, while the law was passed during the Jim Crowe era, there is exactly zero evidence that it was passed for racially discriminatory purposes. In fact, most evidence suggests it was more likely motivated by the rise of the KKK and their violence as a means for helping keep pistols out from under their sheets. I can’t believe I’m going to reference a Carolina Journal article now, but there’s a great history of the this and similar gun laws in the right-wing propaganda outlet Carolina Journal written by a former GOP state house speaker pro tem, and he concluded with this: “Some claim that the 1919 adoption of the pistol permit law was designed to keep pistols out of the hands of blacks. Perhaps that was the motivation of someone. More likely is that the sudden influx of millions of guns to the country in a time of great turmoil and gang violence was part of it. It was more likely designed to keep the rejuvenated Ku Klux Klan from carrying weapons under their sheets again.”

Regardless, even if this was a bad law, which I don’t think it was, the answer is not to just repeal it altogether and do nothing to fix it. That just opens us up to more unmonitored sales of firearms at a time when guns have become the number one cause of death among children in the U.S. This was an irresponsible and callous move on the part of the GOP legislators.

Finally, there have been some pretty unfortunate bills introduced recently that I want to highlight. The first is an anti-CRT Bill. My biggest criticism is that it’s just an unnecessary bill. That perspective harkens back to my conservative roots that look at most any legislation suspiciously at first and wants to know why do we need this bill? If legislation is unnecessary, don’t do it. Period. This bill is exactly that. The world is never made better by unnecessary legislation, so just don’t do it.

Another concern is the overly broad language of the bill that will almost certainly have a chilling effect on teachers in the classroom and create fear and uncertainty about what they can and cannot teach. That’s no way to run our classrooms. And my biggest concern is that it prohibits the promotion of the idea that “All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” That’s just objectively false on it’s face. That statement from the Declaration of Independence, while lofty and aspirational, has never been fully realized in our country. Teaching the reality that it’s aspiration, and a continuing struggle that we must fight for is perfectly reasonable, but this bill would prohibit that and instead force the false narrative that everyone’s equal right now and the fight for equality is over. Nope, sure isn’t. That lofty statement has always, from the moment it was written, only applied to a subset of people in this country and we have a long way to go to make sure it applies to everyone. These are facts, and there’s no harm in teaching this reality so long as it’s done properly. This bill prohibits educators from sponsoring, approving, or endorsing objective facts, and that’s unacceptable.

The next bill that caught my attention is a proposal to change state senate representation so that each senator represents two counties. This is a bad idea for a host of reasons, not least of which is that its brazenly unconstitutional under the U.S. constitution so the North Carolina legislature has no authority to enact this change. Under the U.S. constitution, legislative bodies (accept the U.S. Senate), must be apportioned by population so that each legislative seat represents roughly the same number of people, as close as possible. This applies to the U.S. House as well as the state senate and state house. Hopefully this is just one of those random bills that gets introduced and never sees the light of day in committee.

Next is a total abortion ban that was introduced last week.  You heard that right, a total abortion ban. The language specifically says it is “to prohibit abortion after conception except when necessary to preserve the life of the mother.” So the only exception to total ban on any abortion from the moment of conception forward would be the life of the mother. We know that the GOP caucuses in both the house and the senate have an appetite for some movement on abortion to make it more restrictive than the current 20-week ban, but I have not heard any rumors of sufficient support for anything close to this. Hopefully this bill also never sees the light of day in committee.

And the final bill I’ll mention is one to ban participation trophies in youth sports. Yup, you heard right on this one too. Our tax dollars hard at work under the party that claims to be the party of fiscal responsibility, drafting and proposing legislation to ban participation trophies for kids. Whatever your personal views on participations trophies may be, this is a stupid bill and a waste of tax payer resources.

Last thing before turning to our interview – no update from the U.S. Supreme Court or the North Carolina Supreme Court on any of the potentially monumental cases before them regarding gerrymandering and voting rights yet. Rest assured we’ll talk about those cases any time there are updates.

Now, here’s my interview with Alex Jones, hope you enjoy! 

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JD Wooten: Back with us today is Alex Jones, columnist, blogger with Politics NC, and policy analyst with Carolina Forward. Welcome Alex. 

Alex Jones: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it. 

JD Wooten: Absolutely. I'm trying out a new intro question for returning guests, so what's your earliest memory of voting? 

Alex Jones: My earliest memory of voting was probably in 2010 when we had the Senate primary between Cal Cunningham, Ken Lewis, and Elaine Marshall. 

JD Wooten: Since you were last on, you've continued to write extensively covering a wide range of topics. You had a piece last fall celebrating about a decade contributing to PoliticsNC and that piece, you titled it "Where I'm Coming From," and I'd like to start there because I think it really helps frame a lot of your writing. And in that you talked about civil rights, public education, abortion, the rural urban divide, and the North Carolina political trajectory. And those are all topics that we've hit on in this podcast a lot in the last year as well. So why don't we just kick off with civil rights and maybe explain your thinking and where you're coming from in your writing as regards to civil rights issues. 

Alex Jones: Well, I think that civil rights and the long struggle to vindicate them are the fundamental contradiction of the American Republic. The United States was the first large republic ever founded. There have been republics in places like Geneva, but they were small and highly militarized. So there's a nobility in the American founding, but at the same time, when America is founded, a majority of Americans lived in the slave holding South. So it was literally a slave republic, and slavery persisted for a century after that. We have the familiar, unfortunately, history of racial injustice that continues to this day. So if the United States is not to be a false republic, it needs to make civil rights the centerpiece of its national endeavor. I think that without vindicating the human equality claims of African Americans, we can be at best, a white republic, a white democracy. But we've shown our capacity over the last couple hundred years of renewing our democratic ideals and moving them somewhat closer gradually to correspondence with what we've professed believe since the beginning. 

JD Wooten: So moving on to public education and here you tied that with the civil rights and the legacy of slavery and racism and disenfranchisement. Where's your thinking on public education? Where we've been, where we're going, how we need to proceed? 

Alex Jones: Well, if you go back to the immediate post emancipation era, the number one priority of free enslaved people was to reunite the family. But the number two priority was public education, to the point where you actually had 70 year old grandparents learning to read in the same classrooms as elementary school students. So education as everybody in America has always known, going back to the colonial era, is the key to social equality and political participation, and that is why the Black-White education gap might be the most glaring social injustice in America today. African Americans who graduated high school have a reading score equivalent to three years less education than whites who graduate high school. And that's just an enormous injustice that negates so much of what we've tried to do. And I think if we're gonna to achieve our national ideals, what we need to do is to equalize education in this country. 

JD Wooten: So where do you think charter schools fit into that? 

Alex Jones: I think charter schools have a mixed record nationally. I think they have a really bad record in North Carolina. In Massachusetts, where charter schools are strictly regulated and diverse, they do pretty well. But in North Carolina, we've just got this completely unregulated wild west nightmare-scape, where huge numbers of very privileged students are being siphoned off from the real public schools into these segregated charter schools, some of which are not very high quality, they're just segregated. And as research from Duke has shown this is not an issue of funding following the student. I mean blunt resources available to the real public schools are being diminished by the rise of these charters. And as Gary Pierce wrote recently, the real public schools as I keep on calling them a disorder way that tells you what is really going on here, have to serve everybody. They have to serve poor students, they have to serve students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and they have to serve students with special needs. So these charter schools in North Carolina, in Ohio, in Michigan where Betsy DeVos basically wrecked the public school system, are instruments of inequality is what I would say for the most part. Although there are some charter schools in other parts of the country that have done better and are a bit more equitable. 

JD Wooten: Yeah, I think that's a very fair I do agree that the concept of charter schools like so many other things in the world and policy, the broad idea in and of itself, in my opinion, is not inherently wrong or bad, it's the way we do it. 

Alex Jones: I agree. 

JD Wooten: And the way North Carolina does it again, like so many other policy decisions it's pretty rough. So the next one that you had written on was abortion. 

Alex Jones: Yeah, abortion is an issue that many people view as complicated, but that I think rests on a pretty fundamental axis. Either you believe that women have the right to bodily autonomy, or you believe that the state has the right to impinge upon that bodily autonomy in the service of a religious ideal. There is very, very little secular reason, medical reason to believe that life is somehow extant immediately after a conception. What it is, is a religious belief. And it's a religious belief that has been opportunistically adopted by some people on the religious right, Protestant right, who don't even have a deep theological basis for that belief. And so when you strip away the separation of church state issue and also the theological issue, the bodily autonomy issue, what you're talking about is patriarchy. What you're talking about is long term, millennia old impulse by many men to assume control over women in their bodies. And that I think is a clear issue of both liberty and especially equality because this is a liberty that is inequitable. This is a liberty that is imbalanced. It's very obvious that if cis men could get pregnant, abortion would be non-issue. But women's liberty has always been more vulnerable and also more suppressed, and so we have to fight over abortion.

JD Wooten: This fits into the bigger theme that we see in both some of your writing, but also in response to what's going on, and that is what I would call obsessive need to try and control or dictate how others live and operate. All right, rural urban divide one of my favorite topics just because it's so, who knows what it means and every year it kind of changes a little bit cause then you start introducing the ex-urban and the former rural. And so what's your thinking on that right now?

Alex Jones: I think if there are two axes along which North Carolina politics operates, they would be one racial and two geographical. Previously that used to be East versus west. Now it's rural versus urban, and there is an enormous amount of ill will in North Carolina politics because of that divide and that sense of inequity and economic outcome between rural and urban areas. There are rural areas where child poverty is 49%, it's 49% in Scotland County. In Halifax County, also very rural, I believe each high school dropout rate is 40%, whereas in Orange County, or let's talk about Chapel Hill specifically. I believe 72% of residents have college degrees. So clearly there is a very stark divide in outcomes between rural and urban areas. But I would also note that the deepest poverty in the state is in urban areas, so there may be more of a commonality between the suffering of rural and urban individuals and communities than it might not be. And maybe that's a ray of hope in a sort of very, very dark cloud. 

JD Wooten: Yeah. I've seen a lot of people talk about it because of the way the current political parties and their alignments are shifting or have shifted in the last couple of decades, last generation. You've got the race class narrative and if people voted based on class issues, if you will, more the economic side as opposed to the race side, you might see a very different alignment. And those tend to track the rural, urban a little bit better than necessarily the race side of that equation. 

Alex Jones: Yeah, that's an interesting point. I mean, if you go back to a very long time ago, the late 1940s, you actually saw a little bit of that. Kerr Scott got a lot of votes in Eastern North Carolina from white people who were farmer, particularly small farmers, but also some mill hands, but also a lot of those from the growing number of African Americans who could vote in urban areas. So there was a cross class and biracial coalition back then. Of course that was a era when white supremacy was mostly secure. 

JD Wooten: Okay, so final topic on this and then we'll shift over to one your more recent pieces. North Carolina political trajectory. I was talking about this with Chaz Beasley a few weeks ago. You know, you hear this great, oh, the demographic shifts are favoring this, the winds are in our favor, or the winds are against us, whatever. What you're thinking today on North Carolina political trajectory?

Alex Jones: Well, I think that the rural urban dichotomy is a sort of simplistic schema for understanding North Carolina politics. My friend Mac McCorkle wrote a paper that I think is basically transformative. He talked about the countrypolitan areas and they are these counties that are the differentiating factor between an urban dominated North Carolina that's blue, and the North Carolina we've got. Because if it were just urban cores and purely rural areas, it would be a blue state by nine points, I believe he said, or maybe six points, something like that. Because the urban cores, despite all of the rhetoric that people hear, actually out populate the rural areas. But the difference that's keeping North Carolina red leaning is a cluster of exurban and small city counties that he's called countrypolitan. And those are the big differences because they're more conservative than the urban cores, or they're more conservative than even the rural areas, but they're also more white and less educated in the urban areas, and thus more conservative than them, too.

JD Wooten: That's twice in two months that I've heard reference to this paper. So I'm gonna have to go grab that paper and see if we can't share a link with our audience. All right, thank you for sharing your framing and your thinking on those big issues because I think that's really important as we shift into a couple of the other more recent issues, if you will. One, a piece that kind of jumped out at me, caught my eye, and a little out of the mainstream I felt like, but no less important than anything else you've written about mental health. The title is "The Oppression of Mentally Ill People is Ongoing," kinda speaks for itself. So if you could maybe give us some background, what were you seeing, what were you feeling when you started down that particular piece and the motivations it? 

Alex Jones: Well, what really struck me was that the capitol of Blue America, New York City, enacted a Dan Forest preferred policy. Dan Forrest went on some right-wing radio show in 2019, and talked about how it was completely catastrophic that mentally ill people were on the streets, and so they needed to be collected and cordoned off and put in institutions. He didn't mention that the reason they're on the street is that Ronald Reagan blocked granted mental health funding in the 1980s. But when Dan Forest said that and when Peggy Noonan said it, I cannot believe I read a Peggy Noonan column, but she said it later. I thought that this was outrageous and oppressive, but also something that was just a product of the white man's fevered imagination. Then comes to New York City. New York City is the most liberal city in the country, and yet their mayor enacted a policy that states people with mental illness who quote, cannot commit their own needs, whatever that means, it's unbelievably vague, will be placed in institutions against their will with the force of law behind that decision. And I was really, really struck by that because it seemed like something that was drawn from a Breitbart comment section and put into policy in Blue America, and that was what sparked me to write about the issue.

JD Wooten: Yeah, that language is extraordinarily vague and over broad in so many ways. Do you mind giving us a little history, kind of that trajectory? You mentioned Ron Reagan being sort of the more recent in that, but kinda the history of US policy, how we have previously treated the mentally ill, where it's been over the generations, and where maybe you think we should be looking to either places to emulate policies that you've heard that you like.

Alex Jones: Well, it's sort of a history of improvisation and dealing with inconvenient people in ways that are convenient to the public. The stigma against mental illness goes back almost 2000 years, which is too long to cover in a podcast. But at the founding of the Republic, mentally ill people were kept it basements and jails and essentially chained up. There are these drawings of mentally ill people confined physically in chains as if they were medieval you know, political prisoners. And in the spirit of reform in the mid 19th century, Dorothy Dicks enacted a policy of asylum confinement and asylums were partially an effort to treat people and to take them out of these brutalizing conditions and to put them in these pastoral locations because this was the height of the romantic movement and the ideas that we could get away from this kinda intoxicating atmosphere of the cities and get people back to nature and back into their pure minds. But it was also an effort to get people out of communities. It was also an effort at control. And those institutions grew steadily over the next, probably 110 years to the point where they peaked in 1940 or so with 400,000 people. 400,000 people were just removed from communities and put in warehouses where they got minimal care, and if they got anything by the 1950s it was probably a lobotomy. Then in 1960, you had a president who had actually been touched by one of these institutions. John F. Kennedy had a sister named Rosemary who was profoundly disabled, developmentally disabled, so you know, a similar category to mentally ill in the sense of how society would've treated her. And she was put into an institution and lobotomized. He was almost unique among American presidents and seeing the urgency of alleviating this kind of oppression. So he passed a bill called the Community Mental Health Act. Community Mental Health Act closed the asylums, and as part of the 1960s rights revolutions, there was an effort toward greater community care and greater individual freedom for these people. But it was also very expensive. Jimmy Carter, I believe, tried to invest somewhat. his wife, the wonderful Rosalyn Carter had met a lot of mentally ill people push for this. The Carters are just tremendous people. I don't mean to tell anybody. But then Ronald Reagan came and we saw what one conservative journalist called the conservative Counterrevolution, as if Counterrevolutions had a good history. And Reagan and his budget director David Stockman block granted mental health funding. When you block grant something, you're basically cutting it. It's like with TNAF welfare, if you block grant something, send to the states, you're basically telling them, deal with it. We're not going to fund it. And that's what happened. And so all of these people who should have been receiving community based treatment and living freely ended up living on the streets, and many of them ended up in the criminal justice system. So that's where we are now. The largest home, if you will, or holding place for mental ill people in the United States is a Cook County jail in Chicago. So we've just got this, this nightmare hellscape for people with severe mental illness and instead of funding it, which we could do in an era in which Congress spent two years significantly boosted social spending. We've got the biggest sitting in the country deciding that they're just going to wind back the clock 70 years and remove these unpopular people from public spaces. 

JD Wooten: So the word biopolitics came up in your article. Do you wanna explain to our audience what biopolitics is and maybe where it fits in the larger conversation going around with the culture wars?

Alex Jones: Oh, it's very important. It's seldom been more important to our public life than it's right now. Biopolitics was a concept invented by the French philosopher Michele Foucault to describe the history of punishment in Western society. And he theorized and also documented that prior to the enlightenment, punishment was torture. But after the enlightenment, there was this reform to philosophies of punishment that now emphasized controlling the body. So whereas in Middle Ages someone would've had pain inflicted upon them for its own sake to demonstrate the fiercesome authority of the state, after the enlightenment, the idea was that we are going to control unpopular people's bodies, and we see that in very clearly, very glaringly in Mayor Adams' policy. We're going to take these people out, we're going to completely control their bodies and not go anywhere. But we also see it in restrictions on women's reproductive rights. This is also a government control on the body and it's targeted at unpopular people whom the authority structure does not want to grant the rights afforded to the more privileged. 

JD Wooten: Yeah, I think we can see that in North Carolina, at least, and maybe this will serve as our transition, we just had a bill that was a total abortion ban introduced in the House. Now I have no idea how far it'll go. Hopefully it won't get in any legs. Hopefully nothing will come of it. But, you know, we've got it on the women's reproductive health side, we've clearly got it on the LGBTQ side. We've clearly got it on issues around race. And I think it's all part of that bigger narrative of some of our, small D democratic regression that you've written about in North Carolina. And by that I mean, that regression away from the individual freedoms, the personal autonomy, and especially that, lowercase d democratic governance. And so maybe we could start at the top of this, and you've written about the competitive authoritarianism. How do you define that, and where does that sort of frame this conversation, do you think? 

Alex Jones: Well, competitive authoritarianism was, I'll acknowledge a pretty provocative claim. Nobody wants to hear that they live in an authoritarian state and North Carolina is not Hungary. But when you think about what the political scientists who coined that term were talking about when they describe competitive authoritarianism, there's some resemblance in North Carolina. It is a system in which the trappings of democracy are in place and elections are held, but one party effectively can't lose. And we saw that in 2018. We saw it on a different level in 2012 with congressional elections. And we just see it as the overall forward movement of policy in the state to take away nonpartisan elections, to rig the voting laws, and otherwise to create a system in which while we are not abolishing the elections, we are creating the state in which one party has what could be a permanent majority even if the state does trend blue. 

JD Wooten: Right, I look at it as the basic simple question, and I think you kind of put this as a crucial criteria, is that can the people of North Carolina change their government...

Alex Jones: right.

JD Wooten: ...if they want at the ballot box? And I think the simple answer right now is no. 

Alex Jones: No, I agree. I mean, I don't wanna say Democrats can't win elections, but if we're talking about the meat of the North Carolina government, which as a result of our constitution is the legislature, I mean, as Rob Christensen said, they might have to destroy the capital building and erect a taco stand to lose their majority. It's very hard to imagine. 

JD Wooten: I don't know, taco stand might get them even more votes. 

Alex Jones: I'd vote for them. 

JD Wooten: But the point's very well taken. And you know, we finally saw at least a little bit of guardrails in the sense of extreme partisan gerrymandering being ruled unconstitutional last year. And I try not to make predictions, but I have a feeling that that's about to be undone.

Alex Jones: I agree. 

JD Wooten: And you know, we'll potentially be back to maps that are so gerrymandered that they, who knows, they might make the 2012 maps look tame. So we've also seen a lot of unfortunate news around various culture war issues in North Carolina. And you've written on those before quite a lot and I appreciate your insights on those. Florida seems to get a lot of headlines these days at the national level, which I'm okay with, I don't like North Carolina being in the news for bad reasons, but I think it's important for us to not forget that we are home to Amendment One, HB2, and a wide assortment and of other tragic proposals that thankfully never became law. So one of the animating forces in the current crop of culture war proposals seems to be a sense of white fragility. Does that sound about right? 

Alex Jones: Yup, I would say so. 

JD Wooten: And I think that this comes in, well, it's even in the language of the recent bills in terms of you can't teach things in the classroom that might cause discomfort. Well, we're back to those questions of statutory language and interpretation we're talking about earlier. What the heck does that mean? 

Alex Jones: I think it's an effort to make it as risky as possible for teachers to say anything that will upset Republicans. If they use language that broad, that can be interpreted that many ways by people who are predisposed to distrust teachers, it's going to make teachers very hesitant to say things like what you and I were saying earlier about the contradictions at the heart of the American founding.

JD Wooten: Yeah, and you know, 999 times out of a thousand, this will never be an issue, but it's that one time that gets elevated, like whatever this recent kerfuffle down in Florida, again, going back to Florida, but we could see this in North Carolina, about a parent getting upset at the statue of David being included. Like, what is that? Okay, so another part of the animating culture war is an almost obsessive need to control people's sexual orientation and identity. And we've seen attacks on just about every corner of the LGBTQ community ranging from the Don't Say Gay Bill that's making its way through the legislature to broader attacks on drag queens and drag queen story hours. Where do you think this fits in the broader narrative? 

Alex Jones: That's a good question. I think that it's an effort by an historically dominant group to suppress equality claims by historically rising groups, and those historically rising groups are groups that are groups that have also historically suffered. So inevitably, the LGBTQ community, which has suffered discrimination for hundreds of years in most of the world, is persecuted even worse in other parts of the world, was going to be a target of this attack on historically marginalized groups and this effort to build a balance around the historical dominant majority. 

JD Wooten: To me it fits in with what you were talking about earlier with some of the conservative underpinnings that have religious tones, but maybe not terribly well grounded in the religious, is that forcing moral norms that clearly aren't universal. Forcing a particularized minority moral view on the broader public. And that fits, whether it be LGBTQ community, whether that be women's reproductive health, and it just fits this broader narrative in my mind.

Alex Jones: I agree. 

JD Wooten: So, it's been great talking to you about all those pieces. Is there anything else that you have been working on lately that we should be on the look for or that you'd like to highlight for us today? 

Alex Jones: Well, it's going to be really interesting to see how Mark Robinson works when he gets exposure beyond Breitbart. He is not fascinating. He is a completely banal and frequently imitated conservative archetype that is actually just more reprehensible than interesting. But he could also get elected governor. I don't think that's impossible. And we'll see if the same thing happens to him that happened to Dan Forest. I'm definitely going to be watching it.

JD Wooten: Yeah, that one's definitely gonna be on my radar for the next year and a half, almost two years as we see how that one unfolds. Well, Alex, thanks for joining us today. It's been an absolute pleasure. 

Alex Jones: Thank you, thank you.

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JD Wooten: Thanks again to Alex Jones for joining us today, and thanks everyone for listening. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, send me an email at And as always, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and share this episode with a friend. Together, we can achieve a better North Carolina for everyone!

Interview with Alex Jones
Closing Notes