Back in the days of old-time machine pols – crass, pandering and canny – the idea of passing an extreme, divisive law that would please a vocal minority but punish the majority of one’s constituents would have been viewed as political malpractice. Today, the Savonarola wing of the Republican Party thinks nothing of it.
In the past year holier-than-thou Governors and State Assemblies have found a new way to become unpopular. When they aren’t restricting access to abortion, health care and the ballot box, they have been dreaming up ways for zealots to discriminate against anyone they like on the basis of their religion. Under this freedom of religion guise, they have passed 200 anti-LGBT laws in the last year.
Oddly, such zealots, who are convinced that their superior morality should be forced on everyone else, never seem to see that this is a dangerous precedent. They don’t want Sharia Law, but many Americans don’t want Evangelical Law or Catholic Law, or Talmudic Law, no matter how much a return to stoning and weird dietary rules may appeal to a minority of citizens.
In a diverse country, such absolutism is fraught with peril and can prove not just unpopular but unprofitable. The backlash against these discriminatory laws in Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina has taken the Savonarolas by surprise. Perhaps they should recall that their role model ended up on the bonfire of the vanities himself when his act wore thin.
Big-time musical acts have cancelled concerts in Mississippi and North Carolina to protest their discriminatory laws. In a remark rich in irony, the governor of North Carolina called Bruce Springsteen a bully for doing so. Bus isn’t the governor signing laws to bully people for a gender identity that God or genes or random mutation gave them?
Even more ironic, the allegedly pro-business Republicans have gotten on the wrong side of this issue from their business constituents, a sure sign the party has been hijacked from the plutocrats by theocrats. Since when does anything come before filthy lucre for the party of both Main Street and Wall Street?
The problem for the religious police is that most businesses regard all people as potential customer whether they are black or white, gay or straight, Jew or gentile. If you’ve got the money, they’ll take your dime. So PayPal cancelled plans to bring 400 jobs to Charlotte over this issue. The NBA said it might not bring its all-star game to Charlotte and the NFL warned Atlanta that the Super Bowl might go elsewhere.
Film production is a profit center in North Carolina and movie production companies have threatened to cancel filming scheduled for Asheville and Wilmington. The twice annual furniture mart in High Point is an important economic engine and the ASID – the American Society of Interior Decorators – warned its 26,000 members that in the wake of the law’s passage participants in the April market are pulling out.
A list of companies complaining to governors in Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and other states where such laws have been enacted include Bank of America, Apple, Facebook, Google, American Airlines, Fox, Pepsi, Hyatt, Ingersoll Rand, Dow, Hewlett Packard, Northrop Grumman, Qualcom, Wells Fargo, Lowes, Levi Strauss, Cisco, LabCorp, Pfizer, Citibank, Hilton, Kellogg’s and many, many more. Not to mention trade groups warning that discriminatory laws can harm small business, tourism, convention bookings, you name it. In light of the firestorm, North Carolina’s governor has taken to claiming the law won’t really do what critics say, but hasn’t urged a rewrite. He is “walking back” his enthusiasm, since he’s up for reelection. If the fallout continues to be bad, look for him to crawl back and then grovel back.
If these states wanted to draw the attention of the rest of the country and the most powerful companies in the world, they seem to have found a way. Unfortunately, the attention has resulted in making them pariahs. Good work, fellows, you’ve won a place on a whole lot of “worst state for business” lists for 2016. That ought to help you get reelected. But only if you’re voter suppression efforts manage to restrict the vote to unemployed, straight, evangelicals.