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Tom Campbell: Seeming can’t be believing

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Why does it seem we are willing to talk ourselves into a recession? Opponents of President Biden seem almost gleeful about the prospects and the media has also been complicit in talking up the possibility. The John Locke Foundation’s latest Civitas poll revealed 52.1% of North Carolinians believe we are already in a recession, with 24.5% somewhat agreeing that we are.

Eighty-eight point four percent in the poll say they worry about inflation, a problem not only in the U.S. but in many countries. During the pandemic, people spent more money on goods and less on services, leading to shortages. The economy, exacerbated by the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, became overheated and inflation ensued. But things began “cooling off” in the first quarter of this year, as evidenced by a drop in the Gross Domestic Product. We recently learned the second quarter GDP also declined slightly.

Some authoritatively state that two consecutive quarters of negative growth is proof we are in recession. Not so fast. While the GDP is one indicator, there is no hard and fast formula. In fact, there are six indicators considered, including real personal income, nonfarm payroll, real personal consumption expenditures, manufacturing and trade sales, household employment and industrial production, with the official determination made by the Business Cycle Dating Committee. Thus far, they haven’t declared us in recession.

In the past month, gas prices dropped by 80 cents per gallon. Business surveys are indicating a significant drop in broader inflation and S&P Global reports that while private-sector companies are still raising prices, the rate of inflation is “now down to a 16-month low.”

Our economy is definitely slowing but we aren’t in recession yet. We cannot ignore or deny what is happening, but neither should we be fanning the flames.

And why does it seem so many are turning their backs on public education, one of our basic rights and the most important function of state government? Public education has problems, some of them large, but in recent years we’ve changed from trying to fix those deficiencies to funneling increasing sums money and attention into private schools and charters, neither of which have the strict regulations with which district schools must follow. Both enjoy more freedom to decide which students to accept in their schools. It’s not a level playing field. Our schools have been a source of pride for our state, but we seem to have lost that pride.

Further, why does it seem so many no longer believe in our election systems and those who work to ensure fair and free elections? Local election officials are being threatened, election results are being challenged and the system itself is under attack.

In the past three years, 43 of the 100 election directors in North Carolina have resigned or retired. Some officials are asking that bulletproof glass be installed at public counters. Workers are being harassed and there are demands for reams of paperwork. In 2020, the state elections board faced a record 33 lawsuits at once.

Yet with the exception of the 9th Congressional District’s ballot-harvesting scheme in 2019, which resulted in a new election, there has been no proven widespread corruption and no conspiracy to control the outcomes. Results are demonstrated to be accurate and the people who work within the system have repeatedly shown their integrity. So why are seeds of distrust being sown? Why the harassment? More importantly, if our systems are ultimately brought down, how will we select public officials? What’s the end game for all these efforts?

It certainly isn’t for better, fairer and freer elections or for better public servants.

Finally, why does it seem we are no longer pulling for us? Our state and nation are in a funk and either can’t or won’t pull ourselves out of it. A Pew Research poll in January said that just 21% are satisfied with the way things are going; 78% are dissatisfied. An NPR/Ipsos poll showed 64% believed the country is in crisis and at risk of failing. And a UCal Davis poll revealed more than half believe there will be a civil war in coming years.

In times past when there was a threat to our democracy, we united and attacked those threats. We stood up for our community, state and nation. But we aren’t hearing cries to “rally round the flag” and support of our way of life.

We are far from perfect, deeply divided and still face great pockets of inequality, but ours is still the best system there is, and we need to cheer for each other — even those with whom we disagree. It is time to stop tearing apart and start re-uniting our pride and our belief.

But why does it seem we aren’t willing to do it?

Tom Campbell (tomcamp@carolinabroadcasting.com ) is a Hall of Fame North Carolina Broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. He recently retired from writing, producing and moderating the statewide half-hour TV program NC SPIN that aired 22 ½ years.

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