Divide and Conquer Politics: Thom Tillis’ infamous GOP Directive Resonates A Decade Later
It is a common occurrence for well-known politicians to associate with or remember an inspiring or infamous statement.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
“Don’t ask what your country can do for yourself. Ask yourself what you can do for your country. “
“Mr. Gorbachev: tear down this wall.
“I am not a con artist.”
And that doesn’t just apply to presidents. Former US Senator Jesse Helms is remembered by many in North Carolina for a number of provocative, mostly hateful statements.
Among current politicians, the list of memorable and influential turns of phrase is short and, one would suppose, not helped by the constraints of modern social media. Interestingly, however, a prominent North Carolina politician whose political career of 15+ years continues to be marked by a momentous statement and, as it turned out, very influential and prescient.
It has been barely a decade now since then North Carolina Speaker of the House Thom Tillis addressed an audience in western North Carolina and said:
What we need to do is find a way to divide and win over those who are receiving help.
We have to show respect to this woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice in her condition, who needs help, and we have to help. And we have to get these people to look down on these people who choose to get into a situation that makes them dependent on the government, and to say that at some point you are on your own. We might end up taking care of these babies, but we won’t take care of you.
Tillis then attempted to backtrack the statement and publicly distance himself from its grim implications, but there is growing evidence that his central ‘divide and rule’ premise had a huge influence on the direction of the modern political right.
Nowhere is this more evident today than in the debates about Kindergarten to Grade 12 and higher education.
For at least 150 years, no other public institution in North Carolina has done more to advance the cause of widely shared opportunity and prosperity for all than free and universal public education. Indeed, for all their many shortcomings – racial segregation and its legacy, often insufficient resources, the broken promise of truly free higher education – public schools and universities have remained our greatest hope. These are the places where our children prepare for adulthood, learn to live with different people, and begin to understand what it means to be a citizen.
What’s more, the overwhelming majority of North Carolinians still “understand” this reality. Indeed, a recent statewide poll found that a large bipartisan majority in North Carolina – 69% – thinks the state is not investing enough in pu
blic schools. This includes 62% of Republicans and a whopping 77% of all parents.
Unfortunately, for a narrow but well-funded and influential band of the American right, this consensus is anathema.
It is these forces which pejoratively qualify public education as “public schools”, which attack school integration as “social engineering”, which laugh at the cost of free and low-cost school meals, which dream of a day when all students attend “voucher schools”, and who argue that public universities should be more exclusive, more expensive and designed, above all, to produce workers.
And, because of the generally unfavorable opinion that much of the public still has towards these extreme beliefs, it is the forces that have once again turned to Tillis’ prescription to “divide and rule” in the hope to resume the national political initiative in 2021.
This is why Americans are currently undergoing a massive multi-million dollar national propaganda campaign to raise and then demolish a supposed bogeyman called “Critical Race Theory.”
This is why the right is trying to make an example of the hiring of Nikole Hannah-Jones at the UNC school of journalism.
That’s why groups with names like “Education First Alliance” are working hand in hand with Republican groups to get ever more outrageous statements and positions from government officials, recruit school board candidates, and organize ” training camps ”for parents. whose participants are told that white Americans are the target of a racially discriminatory grand conspiracy.
When your ultimate goal is to dismantle a large public institution of vital importance, long-standing and unmatched value, and sustained popularity, and indeed sell it for coins, you must find your openings there. where you can. What if that means using thinly veiled calls for white supremacy to “divide and conquer” people who should be natural allies – like low- and moderate-income Americans of all races for whom public education can and should? to be their common path to personal life and collective opportunity and prosperity – to get them to “despise” each other – well, so be it.
Perhaps Senator Tillis, who has already lent a hand in the effort, can resume his 2011 performance on the campaign.