The 2024 governor’s race in North Carolina just got underway. You care.
Not because this state is the nation’s ninth most populous, though that’s reason enough. But because what happens here is a referendum on how low Republicans will sink and how far they can nonetheless get.
Attorney General Josh Stein of North Carolina announced his candidacy last week. At present he’s the likeliest Democratic nominee. He’s a mostly conventional choice, with a long résumé of public service and unremarkable politics. I say “mostly” because he’s in one way a trailblazer. He’d be the state’s first Jewish governor.
The likeliest Republican nominee, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, isalso a trailblazer. He’d be the state’s first Black governor. But that’s the beginning, middle and end of anything forward-looking and progress-minded about him, and he’s extremism incarnate: gun-loving, gay-hating and primed for conspiracy theories, with a garnish of antisemitism to round out the plate.
Robinson hasn’t formally declared a bid, and he could face and be foiled by a primary challenge from a less provocative rival. But as Tim Funk noted in an article in The Assembly about Robinson’s flamboyantly combative speeches during Sunday worship services across the state, he was recently introduced in Charlotte as “the next governor of North Carolina.”
Heaven forbid. His election would almost certainly retard the state’s economic dynamism by repelling the sorts of companies and educated young workers attracted to it during the six years that Gov. Roy Cooper, a moderate Democrat who cannot run for another term, has been in office.
And if 2024 smiles on Republicans, Robinson could indeed emerge victorious. Both of the state’s senators are Republicans; the newer one, Ted Budd, beat his Democratic opponent, Cheri Beasley, by more than three percentage points in November. In two other statewide elections that month, for seats on the North Carolina Supreme Court, Republicans also prevailed. And Stein’s re-election as attorney general in 2020 was a squeaker. He won by just two-tenths of 1 percent.
He came out of the gate last week focusing as much on the brief against Robinson as on the case for himself, making clear that a Stein vs. Robinson race would in large measure hinge on the question of how much bigotry and divisiveness Republican and independent voters in North Carolina are willing to endorse, indulge or be persuaded to overlook. Given what a national mirror this state is, the answer will have relevance and resonance far beyond it.
We’re approaching a crossroads in North Carolina, my home for the past 18 months, and I can already feel the anxiety rising, including my own.
Funk captured Robinson well in that Assembly article: “In the Gospel According to Mark Robinson, the United States is a Christian nation, guns are part of God’s plan, abortion is murder, climate change is ‘Godless … junk science,’ and the righteous, especially men, should follow the example of the Jesus who cleansed the temple armed with a whip, and told his disciples to make sure they packed a sword.”
Robinson’s religion is indeed the whipping, slashing kind. It mingles cruelty and snark. When Paul Pelosi was assaulted in his home by a hammer-wielding intruder, Robinson didn’t offer prayers for his recovery. He expressed doubt that Pelosi was an innocent victim — and mocked him.
He has referred to homosexuality as “filth” and to the transgender rights movement as “demonic.” He’s preoccupied with the devil, whose hand he saw in the movie “Black Panther,” which was “created by an agnostic Jew and put to film by satanic marxist,” he railed in a Facebook post that could have used some copy-editing.
His whole persona could use some copy-editing. It’s all exclamation points.
But that’s his power, too. “Mark Robinson is extremely popular with the Republican base and the Republican rank and file,” Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, told me. (He has no relation to Roy.) “The reality is that he’s a compelling speaker. And just as many Republicans thought that Donald Trump went too far but at the same time were happy he gave the finger to ‘the establishment,’ Mark Robinson has many of the same advantages.”
Another factor that could work perversely in his favor: He wasn’t in politics before his current stint as lieutenant governor, a position that doesn’t require him to take votes or issue vetoes or anything like that. “So his profile is self-created,” Cooper said. He can tweak his stances or outright change his script without any actual record, at least beyond his many wild statements, to contradict him.
But Mac McCorkle, a longtime Democratic strategist who is now a professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy (where I also teach), said that while North Carolinians have elected their share of firebrands like Robinson to Congress, they have made different choices for the very different job of governor, who guides the day-to-day functioning of the state.
“Do people want somebody prosecuting the culture wars when there’s a hurricane?” McCorkle asked. He’s inclined to think not. “We haven’t had a shouter as governor, well, ever.”
But then we hadn’t had a spectacle like the far-right rebellion against the ascent of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in at least a century and a half. We hadn’t had a House speaker coddle the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene until Marjorie Taylor Greene. The Republican Party has gone off the rails but keeps hurtling forward, damage be damned. We’d be foolish in North Carolina to trust that we won’t be part of the wreckage.
For the Love of Sentences
Representative Bill Foster, an Illinois Democrat, reacted on Twitter to one of the assignments given to a new House Republican from New York: “I’m thrilled to be joined on the Science Committee by my Republican colleague Dr. George Santos, winner of not only the Nobel Prize, but also the Fields Medal — the top prize in Mathematics — for his groundbreaking work with imaginary numbers.” (Thanks to Caryl Baron of Manhattan and Norma Johnson of Northampton, Mass., among others, for nominating this.)
In an obituary for David Crosby in The Los Angeles Times, Steve Chawkins wrote that many of Crosby’s finest songs from the 1960s and 1970s were, half a century later, still “stirring the hearts of fans who had long since traded their mescaline for Medicare.” (John Russial, Eugene, Ore., and Lee Margulies, Ventura, Calif.)
In The New Yorker, Peter C. Baker revisited the classic children’s book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” by Judith Viorst: “‘I went to sleep with gum in my mouth,’ the book begins, and that would be a good opening sentence on its own — Kafka with a splash of David Sedaris — but from there it careens forward, one clause tripping into the next, undisciplined by anything so polite as a comma.” (Liz Lesnick, Manhattan)
In The Washington City Paper, Noah Gittell noted that “The Son,” which is the writer and director Florian Zeller’s follow-up to his 2020 movie “The Father,” “is not the sequel its title implies, nor is it the second film in a trilogy that concludes with ‘The Holy Ghost.’” (Randolph Richardson, Southbury, Conn.)
In The Wall Street Journal, Jason Gay marveled at the stamina of the Scottish tennis player Andy Murray, whose spirited play in a recent match seemed to surprise his younger opponent: “Murray looked like he was running around a cottage, trying to close the windows amid a thunderstorm.” (Steve Garvey, Monroe Township, N.J.)
In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson described the importance of a journalist’s inquisitiveness: “Explaining complex ideas in simple terms requires pulling myself out of a pit of ignorance using the rope of other people’s expertise.” (Bernie Cosell, Pearisburg, Va. )
In The Times, Pete Wells noted that a plate of fried fish at the restaurant Masalawala & Sons “comes with a small dish of kasundi, a condiment that starts with freshly ground mustard. American yellow mustard has the same relationship to kasundi that a butter knife has to a chain saw.” (Karlis Streips, Riga, Latvia)
Also in The Times, Tressie McMillan Cottom reflected on reactions to a TikTok stitch of hers: “I knew a lot of the anger had to do with my critics being Extremely Online, a condition where social media compels us to read thinly, strip out all context and get to the part where we can be insulted as efficiently as possible.” (Bronwyn Alfred, Worcester, Mass., and Paul Spitz, Cincinnati)
And Maureen Dowd sat down with Nancy Pelosi, who is no longer the speaker of the House: “I was expecting King Lear, howling at the storm, but I found Gene Kelly, singing in the rain.” (Gloriana Roig, Manhattan, and Faith Delaney, Emerald Isle, N.C., among many others)
To nominate favorite bits of recent writing from The Times or other publications to be mentioned in “For the Love of Sentences,” please email me here, put “Sentences” in the subject line and include your name and place of residence.
What I’m Reading, Watching and Doing
I learned a new word the other day. More than a word, really. A role. A job. “Spokescandy.” That’s, um, a candy that speaks for its whole class of candies. The way a press aide speaks for a politician, only fattening. And if you’re scratching your head, well, get ready to scratch harder when you read this very amusing and very depressing article by Daniel Victor on M&M’s, footwear, Tucker Carlson and Maya Rudolph. It falls squarely into the robust category of contemporary American life as a satire of itself.
In this charming take on the queues of New York in The Times, Dodai Stewart noted that the city that never sleeps “often stops in its tracks.”
It’s never a mistake to follow the Washington Post critic Robin Givhan to the intersection of politics and fashion, and she spends some time there in this glance at the crew necks of George Santos.
After Academy Award nominations were announced on Tuesday, Oscar analysts noted that the best actress field omitted two Black women who were thought to be in contention: Danielle Deadwyler, who starred in “Till,” and Viola Davis (“The Woman King”). I want to mention a third Black woman who never even generated significant award-season buzz, but should have: Thandiwe Newton. Her performance in “God’s Country” as a college professor at violent odds with two white hunters who trespass on her land is heartbreaking, even if the movie itself goes curiously slack for stretches when it should be gathering in intensity. It’s streaming on Prime Video and Apple TV.
In advance of the Tuesday, Feb. 7, release of the paperback edition of my most recent book, “The Beauty of Dusk: On Vision Lost and Found,” I did an interview with Preet Bharara for his excellent podcast, “Stay Tuned With Preet.” You can listen here. Our discussion ranged far and wide, taking in politics, restaurants and more. On Saturday, Feb. 11, I’ll be at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village, near my Chapel Hill, N.C., home, for a discussion centered on the book. Here are the event details.
On a Personal Note (Odd Neighborhood Names)
Wow. In my item last week about the absurd appellation of my North Carolina neighborhood (the Highlands), I invited you to send me any oddly named enclaves and streets around you. And more than 550 of you did. Thank you!
It’s going to take me a while to read through all of those emails, so what follows is the fruit of just a smattering of them. But as I work through as many of the rest as possible, I’ll occasionally write and publish brief addenda to this dispatch.
Before today’s amusing collection, a serious thought, or rather question, that several of you, including Karen Akerhielm of Greenville, S.C., raised. “Why do so many towns in the South have neighborhoods that still contain the word ‘plantation’?” she asked, noting that in Greenville, “there is Kilgore Plantation (a very upscale residential neighborhood) as well as Plantations at Haywood and Stoneledge Plantation (both apartment complexes). I’m sure they’re trying to evoke the idea of Southern mansions and warm hospitality, but how can you use the word plantation without making people think about slavery?”
I don’t think you can. Renaming is in order. And it’s occurring, as this 2020 article in The Washington Post and this NPR report from the same year explain. It can’t happen fast enough.
And there are many, many other names available. Your emails made that charmingly clear.
Karen Baierl of South Bend, Ind., remembered that her parents once resided in a suburban Milwaukee subdivision called Parc du Chateau. “They lived on La Fontaine Court and some of the other streets in the subdivision are Marseille Drive, Colline Vue Boulevard, La Rochelle Court, and Le Chateau Drive. This is a subdivision in the middle of the Midwest, truly one of the least French spots in the country.”
Beth Gianturco of Williamsville, N.Y., marveled at how seriously a neighborhood in the Buffalo suburbs near her takes the first two syllables of its name. Royalwoods comprises Viscount Drive, Dauphin Drive, Infanta Drive, Contessa Court, Rana Court, Pasha Court and Pharaohs Court.
Brian Hood of Seattle wrote: “I was once a construction worker and helped build a housing development with the name Boulevard Lane. It struck me as so absurd at the time and still does. ‘Wide Grand Street Narrow Alley’?”
To continue this oxymoronic streak, Steven Cobb of Salisbury, N.C., noted that a street near his former home in Louisville, Ky., was called Wooded Meadow Way. “To my thinking, it’s either woods or a meadow — it can’t be both.” On a visit to Melbourne, Fla., he spotted the Turtle Run neighborhood. “Because it’s near the ocean, ‘turtle’ is appropriate,” he wrote. “But I never saw one do more than crawl, even to get across the busy road in front of the subdivision.”
And for a segue in the spirit of the tortoise and the hare, Edward Jeremy Hutton of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., remarked on the bunny love of the Briar Run development in nearby Ranson, W.Va., with streets named Peter Rabbit Drive, Cotton Tail Drive, Cottontail Court, Fuzzy Trail Drive, Whiskers Way, Thumper Drive, Jack Rabbit Lane, Bugs Court, Velveteen Court, Trix Court, Flopsy Court and Mopsy Court. Hippety, hoppety, someone got carried away.