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22

Phil Berger set out to fix not one mistake but a whole row of mistakes compounded over nearly a year since the day the Charlotte City Council decided to allow gay men to use women’s restrooms; at first, it had looked like Charlotte’s ordinance would be an easy bit of wickedness to cure: After all, when most people looked at Charlotte’s politicians they shook their heads surprised and incredulous both at the same time, so all Republican legislators needed to do to kill the ordinance was pass a one-line bill.

But they didn’t do that: Instead they added two more sections – probably as a gift to business interests – to House Bill 2: One that banned discrimination lawsuits against employers and another that said gays were not a minority group and so were not protected by laws against discrimination.

Even then it all might have worked out but, when a brawl broke out with politicians hollering and finger pointing, it turned out Republicans had handed Democrats a gift – a way to oppose HB2 without ever mentioning restrooms.

Democrats roared that Republican legislators had made it clear what they really wanted to do was discriminate against gays and, fighting back, an undaunted phalanx of Republican leaders compounded one mistake by adding another: Over and over, they said, letting gays into women’s restrooms was going to mean sexual predators prowling in women’s restrooms – but the Republicans had missed a crucial fact: Even people who agreed with them had a friend or cousin or co-worker who was gay and saw putting gays in the same boat with sexual predators as a cheap shot.   

The more they railed the more it sounded like Republicans wanted to do just what Democrats said: Discriminate against gays. From then on the fight over HB2 wasn’t about men using women’s restrooms – it was about Republicans’ unkindness or meanness or unfairness to Tom’s gay friend or Sally’s cousin.

Then the newly elected Democratic Governor shocked everyone by calling Republican leaders Phil Berger and Tim Moore and offering a compromise: If he could persuade Charlotte’s City Council to repeal its ordinance, Roy Cooper asked, would Republicans repeal HB2?

Charlotte hemmed and hawed but, finally, repealed its ordinance and the same day Phil Berger stood up on the Senate floor holding a bill in his hand: Berger had no intention of letting men use women’s restrooms but he also saw a way to get Republicans out of the minefield they’d marched into: He’d repeal HB2, Berger said, but no city could pass another ‘gay ordinance’ like Charlotte’s for six months.

What Berger meant was simple: He wanted to turn back the hands of the clock (and return the law) to the exact same place it had been in before either HB2 or Charlotte’s Ordinance saw the light of day – which meant gay men could not use women’s restrooms. And Berger was giving himself six months to figure out how to prevent another city from passing a Charlotte-type ordinance.

Berger was promptly shot not just by Democrats but by the phalanx of Republicans.

Two months later, Roy Cooper rolled out another compromise – it wasn’t identical to Berger’s but it was pretty close: Let’s repeal HB2, Cooper said, and let’s also agree that no city can pass a Charlotte-type ordinance without giving the General Assembly thirty days’ notice. Which would give the legislature 30-days to stop another ordinance.

Berger’s fix and Cooper’s fix were cut from the same piece of cloth and either way it didn’t look like men – gay or otherwise – would be using women’s restrooms.

But Cooper, like Berger, was promptly shot by both sides.

His friends – like the head of North Carolina’s Gay Rights movement Chris Sgro – lit into him saying, “No member of the LGBT community is a risk to public safety in a public restroom or anywhere else” – while Republicans blasted him from the opposite direction: The problem with Cooper’s fix, Lt. Governor Dan Forest declared, was it did allow gay men to use women’s restrooms.

By sundown Roy Cooper’s proposal was dead, Republicans were still mired in that minefield, and Democrats were still railing about HB2 without ever mentioning restrooms.

So what happens now? Nothing. Nothing changes. Not until ‘the blessed silence’ returns.

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21

A good poll can guide you safely through the political jungle.

A bad one can lead you into a death trap.

Witness Pat McCrory.

Jim Morrill reported in The Charlotte Observer (“A day before McCrory signed HB2, he got a poll that showed it would be popular”) that:

“Former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2 a day after his political strategist shared a poll showing it would be popular with voters, newly released emails show.

“Strategist Chris LaCivita shared the poll with the governor on March 22. ‘Wow,’ the governor responded after seeing the poll results.”

Morrill reported that the poll, of voters in the Charlotte area, “seemed to show strong support for the bill.”

Seventy-percent of respondents opposed what the survey called the “Charlotte Bathroom ordinance.” And 61 percent agreed with overturning the Charlotte ordinance “as a matter of protecting the privacy and safety of women and children.”

But, as things turned out, the poll asked the wrong question.

HB2 came to be seen not as a “bathroom bill,” but a pro-discrimination bill. Even worse, it became a law that embarrassed North Carolina and cost the state jobs, businesses, conventions and ACC and NCAA events.

So it’s no surprise that McCrory was frustrated by – and lashed out at – media coverage and public reaction.

And it’s no surprise that Phil Berger, Dan Forest & Co. still struggle to make HB2 a Bathroom Bill, not a Bad Business Bill.

 

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20

One group of Americans watches Trump on TV, and they see their worst fears come to pass. They see a vain, boastful, arrogant, uninformed con man. They see an administration marked by chaos, cruelty, incompetence, hostility to fundamental constitutional rights and a troubling penchant for making unnecessary enemies and strange friends abroad.

Another group of Americans watches Trump, and they see their dreams come true. They see a straight-talking, no-BS, non-PC strongman. They see an administration that’s making all the right moves against all the right enemies: the media, minorities, Muslims, liberals, Democrats, the Washington establishment and all the smarty-pants know-it-alls.

Then there’s a third group of Americans. They watch Trump, and they’re alternately amused and horrified. They listen to the other groups, and they’re put off by the anger and bitterness of both. They seek the truth, and they don’t see it coming from either side.

They are left with their hopes and their fears. And they hope it will all turn out better than they fear.

 

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20

Wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap a young man, a supporter of Donald Trump’s, roared, Keep ‘em out – while at a rally miles away a young woman, an anti-Trump protestor, tossing her head, joined the other protestors in chanting, ‘Let ‘em in.’

And unless you watched both Fox News and CNN the two protestors’ worlds never touched.

A blue-collar worker, the young man was absolutely certain ‘Let ‘em in’ meant telling a jihadist hiding in a refugee camp ‘Here’s a visa. Come join us.’

And the young woman, a college graduate working as a waitress, was equally certain ‘Keep ‘em out’ meant telling a Syrian refugee, a widowed mother with a child, ‘Tough luck – you stay in that camp.’

Neither the young man or young woman were about to give an inch and oddly, no older soul – no minister, layman or even a Congressman – interfered to say: ‘Look, all I’m hearing from one of you is ‘To hell with refugees,’ and all I’m hearing from the other, even after Boston, San Bernardino and Orlando, is don’t be afraid of terrorists.

How about we try this: Instead of more protesting let’s find someone smart enough to figure out a way to investigate or vet every immigrant so we can tell a terrorist hiding a refugee camp No (or simply throw him in jail) and tell a grieving widow with a child Yes.

‘Do you reckon the two of you can stop hollering long enough to try that?’

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17

In chambers filled with polished wood and men in robes speaking in measured cadences, leaning over thick briefs, laboring in pursuit of not perfect justice but, at least, to see enough truth to reach a verdict, three judges stopped pursuing thieves and rapists and swindlers to hold a hearing to decide the Democratic Governor’s lawsuit against Republican Legislators.

When his turn came one of the three judges calmly asked the Republicans’ lawyer, Is North Carolina’s Governor ‘out of control?’

The lawyer didn’t blink: ‘No,’ he said. And added the Republicans’ bill stripping the new Governor of his powers didn’t have one thing to do with the fact he was a Democrat.

This is just good policy, the lawyer told the judge.

The judge had laid a trap and the lawyer had walked straight into it.

So why, the judge asked, didn’t Republican legislators pass this good policy when we had a Republican Governor?

The judge could have stopped there – but he had one more axe he wanted to grind.

Days before the hearing, the Republican Leader of the State Senate and Republican Speaker of the State House had claimed the three judges presiding over the lawsuit were trying ‘to dictate’ to legislators; – looking down from the bench at the lawyer the judge, who was a Democrat, said the court had never done any such thing. In no way was the court telling legislators what to do. Or not to do. Legislators could hold a hearing every day if they wanted to. They could even vote at every hearing.

The judge had laid another trap: And this time he walked straight into it.

What we are saying, he added, is their vote is null and void.

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16

The phones began ringing and kept on ringing and each caller said the same thing: ‘I want you to hold more ‘Town Hall’ meetings.

Sensing a groundswell of support for Town Hall Meetings, rolling across their districts, Republican Congressmen accommodated and walked straight into a trap.

A few days later, stories began to appear in the newspapers:

Republican Town Halls get nasty.

Congressman Chaffetz shouted down…

Angry crowd confronts Congressman Amash…

Republican Congressmen get an unexpected jolt…

Newspaper reporters described Republican Congressmen meeting a fearsome new force: Angry crowds springing to life, spontaneously, overnight, at Town Hall Meetings hundreds of miles apart in Utah, Michigan and Tennessee.

But then, a few days after that, an anti-Trump group’s plan, explaining how it had orchestrated the calls and protests, landed on the Internet – and it turned out the press had been fooled too. And the legend about the birth of a fearsome new force and spontaneous protests went up in smoke.

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15

Last night, I finished reading Hitler: The Ascent.

While working in a shop in Obersalzberg in 1926 Maria Reiter met Hitler. She was 16. And he was 37. Hitler’s next ‘love’ (which isn’t exactly the right word) Geli Raubal was 19 years younger than he was. Unity Mitford – who he met at a Nirenberg rally – was 25 years younger. Eva Braun was 23 years younger.

Two attempted to kill themselves. One did kill herself – or at least she was killed by a pistol from Hitler’s desk drawer, found lying on the floor beside her in her bedroom. The other died in an asylum.

Why he pursued twenty-years-younger-than-he-was women is a mystery. History’s ambiguous. A shroud descends.

He was a Socialist who rode a wave of working class anger at German elites into power, then allied with the elites; he used the Brown Shirts to gain power then to keep power he destroyed them; he hated the Communists but allied with Stalin – then betrayed Stalin.

He talked like an ideologue but didn’t act like one – a perpetual motion machine he would fret, worry, then gamble everything on a roll of the dice: He was elected Chancellor on January 30; the next day he dissolved Parliament; in the next five months he outlawed the Communist Party, outlawed the Trade Unions, outlawed all other parties, passed a law giving himself unlimited power, and won another Election.

Rolling the dice four times in three short years he marched into the Rhineland, occupied Austria, took the Sudetenland, and then took the rest of Czechoslovakia. But the longer he held power the more erratic he became: He lost control of himself three times during the Munich Crisis, erupting, and ranting at British diplomats.

In the Spring of 1939, after he sent lines of tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia, blinded by his own luck, he never saw his star was already descending.

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14

He could have been bluffing – like a poker player. Or he could have been maneuvering to gain the upper hand – when he told the Mexican President: Either you agree to pay for the Wall or you cancel our meeting.

After the Mexican President said, Meeting cancelled, Trump threatened him saying he’d put a 20% ‘Border Tax’ on every Mexican import – but was that a written-in-stone edict or another gambit?

Whatever it was Chuck Schumer promptly pounced on Trump saying his ‘Border Tax’ wouldn’t be paid by Mexicans it would be paid by Americans who’d pay more for of everything “from groceries, to cars, to office supplies.” They’d also pay more, Lindsey Graham added, for “Corona, tequila and margaritas.”

Off balance, Trump’s press spokesman said, well, a Border Tax was only one of ‘a bunch of ways’ to make Mexico pay for the Wall: So was Trump bluffing? Making another gambit? Playing poker? There’s no way to know. When Trump speaks it’s like reading tea leaves.

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13

The thing I do best” – Donald Trump was talking about his infrastructure plan – “in life is build.”

That speech was a homerun. They loved it… people loved it” – Trump was describing his speech at the CIA.  

He’d make “millions of people” happy, Trump said, with his plan to replace Obamacare.

And he said millions more people watched his inauguration than Obama’s.

He’s been the legendary perpetual motion machine going in a dozen directions at once but he can’t escape one common thread: I hit a home run…What I do best…Millions more people watched me.

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10

Sitting in front of a green marble fireplace, interviewing Trump, Bill O’Reilly asked about Putin and Trump said, “It’s better to get along with Russia than not,” and O’Reilly said, “But he’s a killer, though. Putin’s a killer.”

Trump paused. Pursed his lips, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”

I don’t know of any government leaders that are killers in America.

Well, take a look at what we’ve done too. We’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been against the war in Iraq from the beginning…”

Mistakes are different than…” O’Reilly interrupted.

A lot of mistakes, okay. But people were killed. So, a lot of killers around. Believe me.”

It’s an interesting way to see the world: When you look at it that way, you could choose the devil himself as an ally and justify it.

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Carter & Gary
 
Carter Wrenn
 
 
Gary Pearce
 
 
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
 
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
 
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
 
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
 
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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