The last laugh

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There’s something in the air this time of year.

Winter’s spine has been worn fragile and finally broken with the timid onslaught of spring. On the back end of all that ice, we start to get the idea that things are looking up. The green shoots and popping buds feed our positivity. And the ever-freshening air whispers a promise — that things are getting better.

Without that cautious optimism, April Fool’s Day would not be possible. The common denominator of every good mark is that he wants to believe, right until the moment the rug gets pulled out, the queen disappears, the smoke blows away.

There’s an analogy to be made here as the state General Assembly continues its assault on those it’s been charged with serving. And like the people of our state right now, it’s a tortured one.

The institutions North Carolinians have always held dear are eroding faster than the sands of our coastline — which we’re not supposed to talk about. Our universities, enshrined in our state constitution to be affordable, effective and aligned with the public good, have been subject to petty retaliations and misplaced priorities. Funds for our public schools are being systematically siphoned off by private interests. Our green spaces and water supply are, apparently, negotiable items in this new reality. And our very cities are being redefined by regulation, redistribution of wealth and, in the case of SB 36, by fiat.

The reasons given for these sweeping changes in the North Carolina General Assembly rarely sway from the talking points of increased fairness to business-friendliness, though those of us who aren’t falling for the gag know them for anything but. Once in a while, in unguarded moments, some of them will more accurately characterize this legislative overreach as payback — though for what, specifically, they will not say.

The biggest joke of them all is a religious freedom bill that would allow magistrates and other public servants the choice to “opt out” of official duties that conflict with their religious beliefs. A similar law passed in Indiana has become the disgrace of a nation. It’s already cost them a salesforce.com convention and a Wilco concert. Cities such as San Francisco and Seattle have already condemned the law, and the state of Connecticut has enacted a full-on boycott, whatever that means.

Like other draconian pieces of legislation passed by our General Assembly of late, the religious-freedom bill seems destined to die in the courts because of its innate discriminatory nature. But it will get plenty of laughs before then.

It has all the elements of a classic prank: a fantastic proposition, an imaginary payoff, a reveal that comes long after the perpetrators have vanished.

Some people will fall for it every time.