On the Passing of Mark Binker, North Carolina Journalist
Also: Jennifer Roberts’ re-election prospects apparently make or break state laws
A few items, loosely related (or maybe not so loosely):
N.C. Representative David Lewis sponsored a bill last week that would eliminate primary runoffs in municipal elections, what happens when no primary candidate wins 40 percent of the vote. Lewis was responding to state elections officials, who realized that they wouldn’t have enough time to finish certifying the results of the first primary before having to print ballots for early voting on the second. “The calendar just didn’t work,” said Lewis, a farmer and farm equipment dealer from Dunn in Harnett County and therefore a man attuned to the unforgiving nature of the calendar. Fair enough. The bill made it through committee and rushed toward the floor in the sluice of late-session bills.
Then the Observer ran a story noting that eliminating the runoff might benefit Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, who faces two opponents so far—state Senator Joel Ford and Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles—in the Democratic primary in September. Lewis withdrew the bill. “Asked if changing the bill had anything to do with the Charlotte election,” Morrill wrote in his follow-up, “Lewis smiled and said news stories sometimes affect public policy.”
I’ve often wondered how many decisions in Raleigh these last four-plus years have been motivated by pure spite—toward Democratic officeholders and voters in general, cities in particular, Charlotte in ultra-particular, and, since her election in 2015, Roberts in microscopic-particular. The withdrawal of HB 843 is solid evidence of the “a lot” theory—and that’s regardless of whether you think Roberts deserves a second term.
Andrew Sullivan, writing in New York magazine yesterday, examines the ascendance of what he calls “reactionism,” to distinguish it from conservatism. The hallmarks of reactionism are, he writes, “a passionate loathing of the status quo and a desire to return to the past in one emotionally cathartic revolt”; it’s akin, maybe identical in essence, to revanchism. A certain head of state represents the peak of this impulse, and he has plenty of company.
But that’s not what really caught my eye. Sullivan interviews a man named Charles Kesler, a right-wing political science professor at a small liberal arts college in California. Kesler explains that he supports Trump because the president represents a kind of wrecking ball to a system of “elites”—educational, governmental, financial, bureaucratic—that threatens American democracy and seeks to force its values and ways of life on ordinary people. This is just a refined version of the anti-elite Trump appeal chronicled ad nauseam on the campaign trail and afterward. But then we get to this:
The Claremonters were particularly upset last year by the Obama administration’s use of Title IX to direct all public schools to institute transgender-friendly policies for bathroom facilities. “Political correctness,” Kesler believes, “is a serious and totalist politics, aspiring to open the equivalent of a vast reeducation camp for the millions of defective Americans who are products of racism, sexism, classism, and so forth.” He supported Trump because the candidate relished taking on both the administrative state and the PC movement: “If relimiting the government by constitutional means was not an option … then what is left but to use the system as it is, and try placing a strong leader, one of our own, someone who can get something done in our interest, at the head of it?”
Not to get all parlance-of-our-times here, but … whoa. The Obama Administration’s 2014 embrace of the idea that transgender people should be protected from sex discrimination under Title IX is the shot that kicked up the Republican Party’s ongoing hostility to the idea, represented most notably, of course, by HB2. I’m not arguing that a majority of people who supported HB2 necessarily hold Kesler’s views, or believe that acceptance of transgender people using public bathrooms is tantamount to living under Pol Pot.
Still, though: Good Lord. “If conservatives are pessimistic,” Sullivan writes, “reactionaries are apocalyptic.” Yep. We’re in deep Paranoid Style territory here. There’s always been an unhinged quality to some of the opposition to protections for transgender citizens (and, to be fair, some of the support as well). The difference is that gay and transgender people have genuine reason to believe that certain laws threaten their very existence, or enable those threats; white male college professors, or mechanics, or fathers of three, not so much.
But if you believe to your marrow that your existence is in jeopardy, regardless of its factual or logical basis, you’re going to go wild-eyed and subrational, flee or fight. It’s impossible to engage in a calm, civil conversation with someone who walks into a public restroom and sees the Killing Fields.
I never met Mark Binker. But his reporting of state government for WRAL in Raleigh over the last five years was top-notch—informed, persistent, engaging without being silly. The man knew his beat, and I turned to his work often in trying to make sense of the frequently baffling news out of Raleigh.
Just last month, Binker joined N.C. Insider, a state government news service operating under the N&O. Sad for the station, but good for him. Then, on Saturday, came the shocking and awful news of Binker’s death at 43. There apparently was no warning. He was fit and healthy. Then his wife awoke Saturday morning and found him, in a neighbor’s words, “in distress.” As of this writing, we don’t know what caused his death.
It’s a rotten time for journalism: declining revenues, layoffs, hostility from the government and public, a championing of flash and volume over information and nuance. The unscrupulous dump toxic misinformation on the information superhighway, then wallow in their unjust compensation as the society around them crumbles. Binker was, by all accounts, an intelligent, warm, funny guy, and a “reporter’s reporter,” someone who did his job with professionalism and skill because he knew there was no other way to do it. The loss of the professional, and the ethical standard he represented and lived, is almost as heartrending as the loss of the man.