The extra chairs were out, squeezed along the crimson-carpeted aisles of the North Carolina House of Representatives to accommodate the crush of family members on the ceremonial opening day of the 2017 legislative session.
Packed in tightly, Bibles at the ready for a mass swearing-in, the crowd prayed, said the Pledge of Allegiance, and sat patiently through the speechifying.
There was no evidence of the political acrimony of the previous months. Everything was cordial and Southern and orderly.
Two weeks earlier in the same room, the 2016 legislature had ended its term in dismal failure and open distress. In one of its final scenes, the visitor galleries now packed for the opening of the 2017 session were closed off following repeated outbursts from protesters, and lawmakers cast votes as police arrested protesters and dozens locked out rapped loudly on the doors to the galleries.
During lulls on the pleasant opening day of the new session, I scrolled through Twitter, reading tweets rolling in from the long-awaited first press conference of President-elect Donald J. Trump, a clear sign that the madness of the 2016 campaign would not end any time soon, if ever.
As the contrast between the rare, feel-good moment on the floor of the North Carolina House and the train wreck in Washington, D.C., began to sink in, it was oddly comforting to be in Raleigh. Despite the extended, bitter political warfare we've seen and the fights we know are still to come, the place felt strangely sane. Politics here are in flux, especially with the return of divided government following the election of Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. But compared to the nation, things are far more predictable.
North Carolina is deep into a cycle of political change that started in 2010 when the Republican Party engineered the takeover of the all-powerful General Assembly. The following year, Republicans cemented that win with a notorious redistricting plan that has ensured supermajorities in the state legislature since 2012, the year the state also elected Pat McCrory, its first Republican governor since 1993.
Control of all three branches of government unleashed a tide of rightwing economic and social initiatives. It's not surprising that some have turned to recent history in North Carolina for clues on what might be coming out of Trump's Washington.
Prepare to have your imagination tested. If North Carolina's recent past is prologue for the nation, the scope and volume of the attacks will be head-spinning.
Immediately after the Republican takeover of North Carolina, a vast backlog of rightwing bills that never saw the light of day under Democratic leadership finally got to the floor. Some of these proposals--like printing a new state currency or denying parents tax deductions for students who register to vote on campus--were pure crazy talk Others became law.
Republicans pushed through tax cuts and dialed back regulations as they had promised during the election. Then came a rollback in civil rights laws, mandates requiring transvaginal ultrasounds and cutting off access to abortion, a school voucher program, fracking, a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and...