Pat McCrory never saw this coming.
He thought House Bill 2 was an easy win, a way to curry favor with a GOP base that always viewed him—a Chamber Republican much more than a social conservative—with suspicion. Trans people, a tiny sliver of the population that is already marginalized and misunderstood, would make an easy target. Besides, he was protecting little girls from cross-dressers creeping in the bathroom. Who could have a problem with that?
As it turns out, lots of people—and, more important, lots of businesses. By now, the drumbeat of denunciations has become almost monotonous: Pearl Jam to Springsteen, the NBA to the NCAA to NASCAR, Red Hat to PayPal to the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce to Donald freaking Trump, not to mention municipalities all over the state. HB 2's backers—especially McCrory—have been on the defensive, alternately lashing out at "Hollywood elites" and trying to weather the storm.
McCrory, in a very real sense, has become the dog that caught the car. And his re-election this November is now very much in peril.
So on Monday, looking to press their advantage, a group of Democrats introduced a bill to repeal HB 2. "North Carolina has lost over a thousand jobs and millions of dollars in a little over a month," said Representative Darren Jackson, D-Wake. "We may never know the full impact of the damage being done to our reputation."
Of course, so long as Senate leader Phil Berger digs in, this repeal is going nowhere. But that's not the point. The point is that HB 2 is supported by just 36 percent of voters, according to the most recent Public Policy Polling survey, and Democrats want to use this issue as an election-year cudgel, pitting Republicans' anti-LGBTQ animus against the economic carnage it has wrought.
That—specifically, the $34 million in economic activity the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau said HB 2 put at risk—was also the reason Raleigh's city council finally denounced the law last Tuesday, joining most of the state's other major metros. Raleigh was a few weeks late to the party; even then, though, it wasn't offering its own statement so much as cosigning what the Raleigh Chamber had already said.
Which is fine. The economic argument is important. But all the talk about disappearing dollars can sometimes obscure the fact that, at its very core, HB 2 is morally indefensible. Not just the provisions overriding local antidiscrimination and living-wage ordinances or the one that evicted all workplace discrimination claims from state court—those are indefensible, too—but also the casus belli of this whole affair, the transgender-bathroom freakout.
At the risk of belaboring the point: though hundreds of cities have laws like the one Charlotte passed and HB 2 shut down, there have been zero known cases in which trans men have used those laws to sneak into public bathrooms and harass or assault women or girls. And even if one did, the harassment or assault would still be illegal, and HB 2 would do nothing to stop it.
You could say this was a solution in search of a problem, but it's more callous than that: HB 2 is both pointless and mean, using an at-risk group as a piñata, a futile last gasp of the culture war's losers.
As such, its proponents, including McCrory, deserve everything they're getting. When the dog catches the car, the dog gets run over.
And that brings me to a final point: over the weekend, The North State Journal, a newspaper founded by McCrory administration vets, took a swing at our managing editor, Grayson Haver Currin, an active HB 2 protester. The gist: "His involvement in the anti-H.B. 2 strategy does raise the question of whether the managing editor of a local publication organizing protests presents a conflict of interest."
Actually, no, it doesn't. What Grayson and fellow INDY contributor Tina Haver Currin are doing aligns perfectly with this newspaper's mission of effecting progressive change. This is true of both the Air Horn Orchestra, which gathers outside the Governor's Mansion every Wednesday evening, many in shirts asking, "Can You Hear Us Now, Pat?" to make a bunch of noise; and NC Needs You, a stunningly successful campaign to persuade artists not to boycott North Carolina but instead to donate their proceeds to LGBTQ causes.
As an institutional matter, this sort of activism is not just condoned; it's encouraged. More than that, if we want to lance this festering boil of intolerance, it's necessary.
So if you'd like to join Grayson and Tina, the Air Horn Orchestra will again gather on Blount Street Wednesday at six o'clock. Bring your favorite instrument of mass noisemaking.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The Dog That Caught the Car"