On the same day that the New York Times posted its widely circulating, must-read editorial about the demise of North Carolina as “a beacon of farsightedness in the South,” a more thoughtful column by veteran political reporter Tom Edsall received too little attention. His essay is titled, “The Decline of Black Power in the South,” but it’s also about the demise of state governments that even pretend to serve a diverse society, rather than just the white wealthy elite. The potential for a multi-racial political coalition setting the public agenda has been slammed back 60 years. Writes Edsall, “In the aftermath of the 2010-11 elections, the proportion of Southern blacks serving in the majority – that is, the party controlling the state legislature – dropped . . . from 99.5 percent [in 1994] to 4.8 percent.”
White radical conservatives now control the legislatures of all the Southern states. “Voter suppression and redistricting are simply mechanisms with which to gain and hold power,” Edsall says. “What is ultimately important is what is done with that power.” And then he ticks off the horrific legislative achievements of the North Carolina General Assembly. “Legislation like this has particularly harsh consequences for blacks, Hispanics and the poor generally, and reflects what the loss of political power means.” He could have listed other achievements by the NC anti-black legislators – attacks on women’s health care, tax cuts for wealthy donors and mega-millionaires, higher interest rates for consumer lenders (who are major political donors), less regulations for polluter-donors, etc. It’s government of, by and for the elite, with race used as the wedge to make middle- and lower-income whites think about identity politics more than about their common interests with people of color.