To anyone not paying careful attention to the Tarheel State, President Donald Trump’s Twitter swat at North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper could be just another garden-variety attack on a rival. The fact that Trump did not accuse Cooper of murder or treason is practically a compliment, really.
What Trump did say Monday via Twitter is that if Cooper, a Democrat, cannot immediately promise that the Republican National Convention scheduled for August can fully occupy the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, which seats 20,000, the GOP will take its business elsewhere.
Those hearing of this in New York might think, “Ah, a classic Trump attack on a swing-state Democratic governor! It feels lazy that the president did not accuse Cooper of wanting to confiscate all guns, but perhaps Trump was tired.”
But taking these tweets casually would ignore the fact that in North Carolina the coronavirus numbers are worsening at a staggering rate, the political situation is dangerously combustible and the residents are already congregating, unmasked, in large groups.
On May 23, North Carolina recorded its highest one-day jump of new cases, 1,107. The average number of new cases diagnosed has increased steadily since the beginning of April.
Even worse are the state’s skyrocketing hospitalizations, the most accurate predictor of the coronavirus trend. On May, 10 there were 442 coronavirus patients hospitalized in North Carolina. By May 25, that number had increased by almost 50% to 627 patients.
In truth, Cooper has been aggressive in his reopening plans, and restaurants, salons and barbershops, childcare centers and many other North Carolina businesses are back at it, to the dismay of anyone who can comprehend a bar chart. Were Cooper a Republican, Trump would likely call him a warrior for liberty, and cite the Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, N.C., as proof of the state’s “Don’t Tread on Me” bona fides.
That track is where 4,000 auto-racing fans came Saturday, about eight hours after Trump’s tweets on Cooper and the Republican convention, for the season’s first races on its track.
It was more customers than the track has seen in years, almost none of them masked, packed into the lines and grandstand.
As a native Carolinian, I’m allowed to say this: We do not need presidential prodding to take the rebellious path.
For more proof of that, just look at Adam Smith, a celebrity in the ReOpenNC movement. In a video posted to Facebook before planned demonstrations across North Carolina Saturday, Smith, who attends such demonstrations heavily armed, said of the fight to go anywhere, any time, unmasked, “Are we willing to kill people? Are we willing to lay our lives down? We have to say, yes.”
The video was reposted on the “Blue Igloo” group’s Facebook page. “Blue Igloo” is a slang version of “boogaloo.” That’s what far-right extremists call the coming civil war they dream of.
The GOP convention hardly matters in all this. It’s not clear it can be held anywhere, or that many people care. Trump just poked Cooper because it’s what he does.
But there are many North Carolinians who believe everything Trump says. Some of them think it’s OK to congregate in huge groups in a state where the coronavirus is spreading rapidly.
Some think it’s warranted to kill people who try and stop them from congregating or make them wear masks.
Both groups believe what they believe at least partly because Trump has led them to believe it.
That could lead someone to catch a deadly virus. And it might cause someone to catch a bullet.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.