What happens to America when optimism dies?

When I interviewed Majority Whip James Clyburn in 2014 about his memoir “Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black,” the South Carolina Democrat was confident in America’s ability to find its way, no matter how extreme the political swings might appear at any given time.

“The country from its inception is like the pendulum on a clock,” the congressman told me. “It goes back and forward. It tops out to the right and starts back to the left — it tops out to the left and starts back to the right.” And remember, he said, it “spends twice as much time in the center.”

I have always appreciated Clyburn’s wisdom, his passion and his commitment to his constituents. But most of all, I have admired the optimism of this child of the South, who grew up hemmed in by Jim Crow’s separate and unequal grip, yet who believed in the innate goodness of America and its people. Clyburn put his own life on the line to drag the country — kicking and screaming — into a more just future.

He was convinced, I believe, that no matter how off balance America might become, the country would eventually right itself.

A lot has changed since that afternoon, when he sat at a long table, signing books and chatting in the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, N.C., right beside his beloved wife. Emily Clyburn, a passionate civil rights activist, died in 2019, though Clyburn often references her wise words.

That optimism, however, has lost its glow.

Clyburn’s worries drove our conversation in July 2021, the second of two times he was a guest on my CQ Roll Call “Equal Time” podcast. The topic was voting rights, and Clyburn had opinions about the Senate procedure that would eventually stall legislation to reform those rights and restore provisions invalidated by a Supreme Court decision in 2013.

“When it comes to the constitutional issues like voting, guaranteed to Blacks by the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, that should not be filibustered,” he said. And about restrictive laws being passed in states? “I want you to call it what it is. Use the word: nullification. It is voter nullification.”

“This isn’t about just voting; this is about whether or not we will have a democracy or an autocracy.”

With those remarks in the back of my mind, it was still startling to hear Clyburn last week on MSNBC, talking about his GOP House colleagues, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, and their waffling about complying with subpoenas from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.

When asked if the government and Capitol Hill could “be fixed,” Clyburn, known for his philosophical “this too shall pass” mantra, instead replied, “I don’t know.” He talked about threats to undermine democracy and said the country is “teetering on the edge.”

And that was before the shooting in Buffalo that claimed the lives of 10 beautiful Americans doing something as routine as Saturday supermarket shopping. African Americans were targeted by an 18-year-old who wore his “white supremacist” label like a badge of honor in a heavily plagiarized racist screed, a man whose stated goal was to “kill as many blacks as possible.”

Is it any wonder Clyburn’s optimism has been waning in these times?

An examination of replacement theory in America

The racist shooting in Buffalo, New York, over the weekend left 10 people dead and injured three others. Law enforcement is investigating the shooting as a hate crime.

It is the latest in a list of similar acts of violence: Charleston, South Carolina, Charlottesville, Virginia, Pittsburgh, El Paso, Texas and Atlanta to name a few. All have an element of fear of the other. This is part of the basis of the “great replacement theory.”

The great replacement theory began as a white nationalist movement last century in Europe, according to the anti-defamation league. It has grown into the fear, especially in America, that white Christians will be replaced by nonwhite, non Christian people and immigrants.

This refrain has become more mainstream in recent years. In Charlottesville, the mob chanted “Jews will not replace us,” while the El Paso shooter said he was fighting against what he called a Hispanic invasion.

Increasingly, GOP leaders and commentators have championed this dialogue. They have complained about how race is taught in schools and pushed back on efforts to expand voting rights. U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, the third-highest ranking Republican in the House, used ads that echoed part of the replacement theory.

GUESTS:

James E. Ford, executive director at the Center for Racial Equity in Education

Mary C. Curtis, columnist for Rollcall.com, host of the Rollcall podcast “Equal Time”

Shannon Reid, associate professor at UNC Charlotte specializing in white supremacy

What’s the state of our rights? Stay tuned

The concept of states’ rights has never been pure.

The Confederates who eventually went to war over the right of their states to own men, women and children ditched their reasoning — that what they did was none of the federal government’s business — when the enslaved escaped to states willing to grant these brave human beings their freedom.

Then, it was time for Southern politicians to demand revisions and ever harsher penalties added to existing Fugitive Slave laws that punished those who escaped and anyone who aided them, including offering bounties that ensnared even freed Black citizens (“12 Years a Slave,” true story).

Hypocrisy has always been a feature, not a bug in the American way, especially for those deemed not worthy, not possessing “rights which the white man was bound to respect,” as Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote in the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford opinion in 1857.

You don’t have to reach back to pre-Civil War days for examples that prove the philosophy of states’ rights can be quite malleable when it interferes with a desired outcome.

A current proposal favored by a Missouri legislator, aimed at a clinic in neighboring Illinois, seems cut from the same cloth. It would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a Missouri resident obtain an abortion, including the out-of-state doctor or the person who connected patient to clinic.

Such laws, if approved in Missouri and elsewhere, while unconstitutional on their face and sure to be subject to a slew of lawsuits, could nonetheless serve as chilling warnings for anyone tempted to help a desperate client, friend or family member.

Local News Roundup: Ripple effect of leaked Supreme Court draft opinion; $3.2 billion proposed budget for Charlotte; Cawthorn in the headlines again

The leaked draft Supreme Court opinion on the possible overturning of Roe vs. Wade has people talking all over the country about the potential impact of the ruling. We’ll talk about how overturning Roe vs. Wade would impact North and South Carolinians and what local people are saying about it.

No property tax increases are in the plan for the Charlotte’s new budget, with employee bonuses and raises at the top of a $3.2 billion proposed budget. We’ll talk about some of the budget details and reactions.

Madison Cawthorn continues to make headlines, this time after a nude video was released.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police holds a news conference calling attention to a series of sexual assault cases in Charlotte. We’ll talk about the cases highlighted and why.

And despite work to improve them, Mecklenburg County’s park system ranks among the worst in the country.

Mike Collins and our roundtable of reporters delve into those stories and all the week’s top local and regional news on the Charlotte Talks local news roundup.

Guests:

Erik Spanberg, managing editor for the Charlotte Business Journal

Mary C. Curtis, columnist for Rollcall.com, host of the Rollcall podcast “Equal Time”

Claire Donnelly, WFAE health reporter

Joe Bruno, WSOC-TV reporter

The Daily Drum: Supreme Court Document Leak, Roe v. Wade

It has never happened before in the modern history of The Supreme Court.  A draft of a court decision… leaked to a news organization and now very public… before the court takes the  vote.  This draft on the issue of abortion… suggests that the landmark 1973, Roe v. Wade decision could be overturned.  Chief justice John Roberts saying today… the draft is authentic… but not a final decision of the court. We look at what this means for the independence of the court, abortion rights, even election politics.

 

88th National Headliner Awards winners–Best blog: Mary C. Curtis, Roll Call

The 88th National Headliner Award winners honoring the best journalism in the United States in 2021 were announced today. The awards were founded in 1934 by the Press Club of Atlantic City. The annual contest is one of the oldest and largest in the country that recognizes journalistic merit in the communications industry.

Judges’ comments: ‘Mary Curtis’ work is insightful and engaging. Her topics including race, politics and culture are more important than ever, at a time when we sorely need informed and reasoned voices to lead the discussion.’

When did admitting mistakes become weakness for Republicans?

In 2002, Trent Lott of Mississippi tried, awkwardly, to make amends.

What did the then-Senate majority leader do to merit penance? Waxing poetic and perhaps feeling a bit nostalgic, Lott gave a speech honoring the 100th birthday of fellow Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the onetime Dixiecrat who once broke off from the Democratic Party with a group of the like-minded to form the States’ Rights Democratic Party, built on segregation and steeped in white supremacy.

“I want to say this about my state,” said Lott, harking back to Thurmond’s 1948 folly. “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”

First, Lott backtracked by saying he did not mean what he clearly said, calling the celebration “lighthearted.” Next, the apology, “to anyone who was offended.”  “A poor choice of words conveyed to some that I embraced the discarded policies of the past,” he said in a statement. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

He resigned as majority leader after receiving criticism mostly from Democrats but also from some Republicans, worried they might lose support of Black conservative voters for whom whistling Dixie was a step too far.

I’m not sure if Lott’s motive was genuine moral growth or reading the room. But at the very least, it acknowledged that longing for the bad old days was not a good thing.

For reasons exemplary or political or both, anything that name-checked the divisive and ugly politics of Dixiecrat days of glory was seen as a drag for a politician and his or her party. This was true even when the words honored Thurmond, a longtime senator, one whose hypocrisy moved front and center when his Black daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, in 2003 claimed her truth and her birthright.

Was 2002 really that long ago? In political years, apparently, yes.

Local News Roundup: Earnest Winston fired; Panthers’ HQ agreement ended in Rock Hill; and more

The CMS Board of Education fired Superintendent Earnest Winston on Tuesday, in a 7-2 vote. In a time period of high scrutiny over school performance, lower test scores and mismanagement within the school, the board decided to part ways with Winston, but pay him over half a million dollars over the next two years. We’ll talk about what happened and what’s next.

In other school news, despite racial gaps and setbacks because of the pandemic, a CMS official says it’s time to scale back on testing within the school system in the coming year.

The Carolina Panthers have ended their agreement with Rock Hill over a new headquarters and practice facility this week. The future of the team’s $800 million facility is now up in the air.

And two Charlotte streets with racist ties will soon have new names. The city announced new names for Stonewall Street and Barringer Drive. We’ll give the details.

Guest host Erik Spanberg from the “Charlotte Business Journal” and our roundtable of reporters delve into those stories and all the week’s top local and regional news on the Charlotte Talks local news roundup.

Guests:

Jonathan Lowe, anchor/ reporter for Spectrum News

Nick Ochsner, WBTV’s executive producer for Investigations & chief investigative reporter

Mary C. Curtis, columnist for Rollcall.com, host of the Rollcall podcast “Equal Time”

Ann Doss Helms, WFAE rducation reporter

Local News Roundup: Charlotte weighs housing initiatives; COVID cases could rise again

A local expert says that cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina will increase in the next few weeks. We talk about the prediction and what doctors are saying.

The Charlotte City Council is working on plans to provide more affordable housing in the city. We take a look at several projects on the table, and what kind of dent they’d make in Charlotte’s affordable housing deficit.

The stalled construction of the Rock Hill, South Carolina, headquarters for the Carolina Panthers drew heated criticism from South Carolina state Sen. Wes Climer this week. We discuss what was said and have an update on the plans in Rock Hill.

And the Hornets’ positioning for the NBA playoffs has been on a rollercoaster the last couple of weeks. We look at how the next couple of games could define their season.

Mike Collins and our roundtable of reporters delve into those stories and all the week’s top local and regional news on the Charlotte Talks local news roundup.

GUESTS:

Erik Spanberg, managing editor for the Charlotte Business Journal

Mary C. Curtis, columnist for Rollcall.com, host of the Rollcall podcast “Equal Time”

Claire Donnelly, WFAE health reporter

Joe Bruno, WSOC-TV reporter

But what will the ‘optics’ be?

After the votes are counted, probably this week, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will almost certainly be a Supreme Court justice. But members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who wanted to use her confirmation hearings for everything but the thing they were designed for are also walking away satisfied.

Republican senators like Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Ted Cruz of Texas used their time to either talk down to Jackson or talk past her to make political points.

During the hearings, questions that criticized her sentencing philosophy as well as “empathy” were tailor-made for the African American Supreme Court candidate and a slew of negative ads to accuse her and every Democrat of being soft on crime in general and pornographers in particular.

In that, they were merely following the playbook that has become routine and is unfortunate for any American who wants to get anything done, especially, in this instance, for advocates of criminal justice reform. That Jackson had the support of major law enforcement groups and could boast of relatives with more time on the front lines of fighting crime than all those senators combined were facts to be ignored by those looking to set a narrative. That her sentencing record resembled that of Republican judges favored by the disagreeing and disagreeable senators were details to be brushed aside. Cotton, in fact, has ramped up his attacks, saying, to the disgust of the Anti-Defamation League, that she would represent “Nazis.”

After listening to and watching the show along with the rest of us, three Republican senators have explained their reasoning for backing the eminently qualified jurist while decrying the partisan grandstanding that has accompanied modern Supreme Court justice hearings. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, who actually voted against her last time around, had met with Jackson. They apparently have seen her as she truly is, not the ridiculous caricature constructed by her interrogators.

What did that get the three? The label of “pro-pedophile” from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Along with that slander, she also tweeted the proof was, “They just voted for #KBJ,” when the vote had not yet happened. But when has being wrong on fact or intention ever stopped the Georgia Republican?

It all fits in with the spectacle of Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee continuing their snarling and baseless accusations against Jackson this past Monday — the April 4 anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The symbolism speaks for itself and points to a larger problem.

Say goodbye to reality-based reasoned discussion, with give-and-take from every side, and hello to filtering every issue through fear, feelings and optics.

Get used to terms such as “woke,” “socialism,” “critical race theory” and now “pedophile” in outraged statements and already surfacing alarmist election ads.