Roy Cooper on Tuesday, in a refreshing show of leadership from an elected official, might have given North Carolina its third straight single-term governor.
With the attack on the Confederacy being rebooted in the wake of the Charlottesville, Va., clash on Saturday between attention-starved neo-Nazis and willing-to-give-it-to-them protesters, Cooper didn’t allow himself to linger long on the sidelines, issuing a statement that symbols such as the monument at the Robeson County courthouse must come down.
“We cannot continue to glorify a war against the United States of America fought in the defense of slavery,” Cooper said. “These monuments should come down.”
Nov. 3, 2020, the date of the next General Election, is 1,174 days away, so that is a long time for folks to forget. But on matters such as these, which are emotionally charged, memories tend to stay sharp. The Civil War ended 152 years ago for most folks, but there are those for whom it is still being fought.
Much can happen in those 1,174 days, but on this day it is not hard for us to envision that election becoming a referendum on Cooper’s call to bring down the monuments.
Bev Perdue, a Democrat, didn’t seek a second term, but had she, she would have lost. She was generally seen as weak and ineffective, and she had to deal with a Republican-controlled General Assembly for much of her term.
Pat McCrory, even if often at odds with fellow Republicans in the General Assembly, had it teed up pretty high for re-election, but that went down the toilet in large part because of his indecisiveness on House Bill 2, the “bathroom bill.” Critics of the bill were successful in convincing the public it was a jobs-killer and McCrory, who never seemed to be a fan, didn’t act decisively when a veto might have won him re-election.
According to an Associated Press story, a state tally shows at least 120 Civil War monuments around North Carolina, with the vast majority dedicated to the Confederacy. Around 50 are located at courthouses, including the one standing watch over Elm Street in downtown Lumberton.
Cooper, in making his call, also directed state officials to study the cost and logistics of removing Confederate monuments from state property and placing them at historical sites or museums. There are three on the old Capitol grounds in Raleigh and one at the University of North Carolina.
Cooper has set himself up for another battle with Republicans, who two years ago passed legislation to protect the monuments against exactly what is now beginning to unfold. The law does not allow local governments to take the monuments down unilaterally, but requires they get permission from the General Assembly.
So a battle line has been drawn.
We were surprised at how easily and quickly Cooper jumped into the fray, but we do salute his attempt to lead. We find it hard to believe that Cooper will find any new votes by calling for the monuments to come down, but we can see a backlash in North Carolina, which suffered mightily during the war and where many continue to hold a romanticized and sanitized remembrance of exactly what happened during a four-year war that killed more Americans than all the rest of our wars combined.
We believe we are at the front end of what will become a drawn-out debate that will be fueled less by logic than emotion, and during which the R-word, racism, will be tossed about without consideration. We have no clue where it will all end, nor can Cooper.
He rolled the dice anyway.