As the 2024 campaign gets underway in NC, a shadow looms

Published December 7, 2023

By Rob Schofield

American history has been marked by more than a few momentous elections that dramatically altered national and world history.

One shudders to think, for instance, what might have happened to the nation had Abraham Lincoln not somehow prevailed over three opponents in 1860 and George McLellan in 1864, or if Franklin Roosevelt had somehow lost to an isolationist adversary in 1940.

Likewise, one can only wonder whether millions of lives and trillions of dollars would have been squandered so disastrously in Iraq and elsewhere had the U.S. Supreme Court not declared George W. Bush the winner over Al Gore in 2000.

Even when the stakes aren’t nearly so high as they ultimately proved to be in the election of Lincoln, FDR and Bush, one can count on all candidates attempting to portray them in such a light.

It’s easy to see now that the gap between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in 1976 (or even Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in 1996) was ultimately pretty narrow. But that didn’t stop the candidates and their supporters from perceiving (and attempting to cast) the election as being of grave importance to the nation’s future.

All of which brings us to what might truly be the single most important election year in the nation’s first two and a half centuries: 2024.

This week marks the start of candidate filing in North Carolina for the March 5 primary and Nov. 5 General Election, and in many ways, it feels like a typical pre-election-year December. Across the state, scores of office seekers are filing documents to make their candidacies official, unveiling websites and campaign platforms, raising money, recruiting volunteers, and hitting the rubber chicken circuit.

Many of these races will focus primarily on issues that have long served as the bread and butter of American political campaigns: taxes, education, health care, the environment, and transportation. And rest assured, many of them are extremely important. The decisions our leaders make in the next few years about the climate emergency, for instance, will likely redound for decades, if not centuries, to come.

Unfortunately, however, as important as these matters are, there is another dark and deeply sobering factor that both underlies and overshadows this seeming normalcy; it is the future of American constitutional government as we know it.

As has become clearer and clearer in recent months, the outcome of the upcoming national election is increasingly likely to decide not just which person inhabits the White House come January 2025, but whether our nation will embark upon a headlong slide into autocracy.

Today, 90 days prior to the North Carolina primary on “Super Tuesday” and 330 days from the general election, there is a unique and ominous voice at large in the nation sending a message and championing an agenda that’s anything but normal.

As veteran journalist Quentin Young of Colorado Newsline insightfully observed in a recent column, at issue are the worlds and plans of man and a movement that’s essentially unprecedented in our history:

“…a new Trump presidency spells a dead Constitution. Autocracy or democracy — it’s one or the other.

…This is not a question of political disagreement. It is instead about the form of government by which the people consent to be ruled. The MAGA specter has already darkened the founding vision that established a supreme law of the land, separation of powers, checks and balances, representative democracy, and a regular peaceful transfer of power. Trump now intends to blot it out. Some approve. For those who do not, it’s the time to say so.”

As Young details, Trump is increasingly blunt and unabashed in making his plans clear for a second administration:

“He is planning to weaponize the federal government to ‘punish critics and opponents’ and has named ‘individuals he wants to investigate or prosecute’ for revenge, according to The Washington Post.

A transition operation is already vetting thousands of Trump loyalists who would be installed ‘across government to rip off the restraints imposed on the previous 46 presidents,’ Axios reported.”

The specter of this potential catastrophe looms ominously over the North Carolina political world, as well. While some of the state’s most prominent conservative leaders — U.S. Sen. Thom Tills and state Senate leader Phil Berger to name two — are clearly wary of a Trump return to power, other prominent Republicans vying for the state’s highest and most powerful offices — Lt. Gov. and GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Mark Robinson and Congressman and Attorney General candidate Dan Bishop stand out here — are all-in with the MAGA autocracy movement and wherever it might lead the nation.

In short, while we might wish fervently that the 2024 election would be about momentous topics like climate policy, the state of the economy, abortion rights and ending discrimination in all its forms, unless something very unexpected happens, the stakes will be vastly more important. One prays that future generations will be able to look back someday in relief and gratitude at the outcome.