“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”
~ The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats
President Trump came down south on Wednesday night and held a rally at East Carolina University in Greenville. Midway through his performance, he launched a barrage of assaults at the “squad” of four newly-elected, far-left congresswomen. The President fired up the crowd by criticizing Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee, for her opposition to his foreign policy. The crowd quickly responded in turn: “Send her back!”
The outrage was immediate. Democrats rushed to denounce the racist chant and blame the President for initiating it. The News & Observer Editorial Board called it one of North Carolina’s “darker moments” that follows a trajectory of discrimination in our state’s history. The Mayor of Greenville stated that the episode “is not reflective of the Greenville I know and love.”
But it should come as no surprise that this chant (which will likely soon be replicated elsewhere) originated in North Carolina. Our state is the most politically and demographically divided in the country. State politics are closely split, full of vitriol, and recent elections have come down to the wire. Our rural population, the second-largest in the United States, is anchored in 80 of NC’s 100 counties. Emerging from these two closely coinciding cleavages are two self-sorted states that are not connected by any thread of social compact: the Cracker Barrel North Carolina and Whole Foods North Carolina.
Further stoking NC divisions is our massive growth rate. Seeking the economic opportunity and natural beauty of our state are both carpetbaggers from the north and immigrants from the south. These demographic shifts have upended the cultural traditions of our state and unnerved many native residents.
Left alone, these divisions mean nothing. Since the civil rights movement, NC leaders like Governor Terry Sanford sought to ease tensions in the state by seeking a moderate track and designing a cohesive social fabric to guide the state. Explosive leadership, the theory holds, would split the state into segments and drive us apart. That is exactly what President Trump did on Wednesday, when he created a safe space for this sort of racist garbage. Trump has since claimed that he was “not happy” with the chant. This is hard to believe, seeing as he was the mainstream genesis of the Obama citizenship conspiracy, which is essentially a variation of “send her back.”
The Trump circus appeals to so many North Carolinians because they feel that they have no one else. Many of the problems facing this state, such as manufacturing decline and opioid abuse have been centerpieces of Trump’s efforts to revive the rose-colored past. By standing in solidarity with the forgotten man, President Trump has obtained the full allegiance of significant segments of the American people. To these supporters, opposing him is tantamount to treason against the United States.
The view of the auditorium at ECU, that Americanism is restricted to the chosen few, defies everything that this country stands for. While racially-based exclusion is nothing new in the United States, it betrays our core mission as a country while our leaders actively constrict the definition of what constitutes true allegiance to the nation.
When designing the United States, the founders aimed to create a “city upon a hill” that “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” 230 years later, we live in an incredibly religiously-, ethnically- and linguistically-diverse country that has continually strived to reach the idealism of our founding: anyone, no matter their circumstance, can become an American. As classical conservative David Brooks writes, “America is exceptional because from the first its citizens saw themselves in a project that would have implications for all humankind.” We should consider it an honor that the ideals of our country are strong enough for millions of people to annually run the risk, kidnapping, rape and murder to immigrate to the United States
Part of Trump’s appeal surely must be explained by the fact that there is no energetic alternative that champions the value of pluralism in this country. The response from NC leaders in Trump’s party ranged from a lukewarm denunciation by Rep. Mark Walker to a willful collaboration from Lt. Governor Dan Forest. In opposition, the other side clearly believes in an America that differs from Trump’s vision but has failed to effectively articulate and market their point. "The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
If our leaders do not want to live in Trump’s vision for America, they need to collectively advocate for a better one. Like it or not, the people that started this chant are not going away. They are our friends, neighbors and countrymen. If we truly want to heal the divisions in our country, policymakers need to sell them on a different, pluralistic, better version of America.
With the upcoming cultural clash, the 2020 election, staring us head-on, our country stands at a juncture. There is nothing less at stake than the very soul of our state and our country. “And what rough beast / its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
Jacob Trubey is a fourth-year studying Political Science and a former member of Technician’s Editorial Board. He currently sits on the Student Media Board of Directors. His views do not reflect those of his employers -- past, present or future.