Is North Carolina the Future of American Politics?

Cooper, after all, owed his election to H.B. 2. The law, his campaign’s chief strategist, Morgan Jackson, told me, “crystallized every argument against McCrory that we had.” As soon as Cooper was elected, he made getting rid of H.B. 2 his top priority. But negotiations with the Republican leaders of the General Assembly proved frustrating. “It seems that the goal posts keep moving,” Cooper complained to me in March. Later that month, he finally reached a deal: In exchange for the General Assembly’s repealing the law, which would bring back business and basketball, the governor would sign legislation that prohibited North Carolina cities from passing local ordinances relating to public accommodations or employment practices until 2020. (It was Charlotte’s passage of a nondiscrimination ordinance in early 2016 that prompted the General Assembly to pass H.B. 2 in the first place.) “I had a choice between some progress,” Cooper later told me, “or no progress.”

Unfortunately for Cooper, many of his allies disagreed with his choice. More than a third of the Democrats in the General Assembly voted against his compromise. It passed anyway, and on the day in late March that Cooper signed it into law, the Haver Currins sprang into action. They printed T-shirts that read “CAN YOU HEAR US NOW, ROY?” and a friend hit every Walmart superstore within 30 miles of Raleigh to buy up their air-horn inventories. That evening the Air Horn Orchestra reassembled at the governor’s mansion. “With all the other performances there was a real sense of hope,” recalls Tina Haver Currin, “but this time there was just despair.” Or, as one orchestra member’s sign plaintively put it, “WTF ROY?”

Welcome to North Carolina circa 2017, where all the passions and pathologies of American politics writ large are played out writ small — and with even more intensity. Ever since 2010, when Republicans seized control of the General Assembly for the first…

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