‘Welcome to the new South Carolina’

By Phil Noble

In the closing days of the Republican presidential primary, the image that dominated S.C. media was Tim Scott and Nikki Haley campaigning with Marco Rubio.

An African American Republican U.S. senator and a first-generation, female Indian American governor endorsing a first generation Cuban America running for President of the United States. The average age of the trio is 46 years old.

Welcome to the new South Carolina.

This vivid image of the changing of the guard in S.C. Republican politics is just the latest and perhaps the most graphic manifestation of the new South Carolina that is being born. This is not the time or space for an in-depth chronicling of this transformation, but the drivers of this new South Carolina are new people, new ideas and a new economy.

Today, our state has the second fastest rate of in-migration of any of the fifty states. Folks from all over have found out what we natives have known for a long time: this is a truly great place to live. With these people have come new ideas; some good, some bad but most of all new. We as a state are learning to sift through all this and figure out what to accept and what to reject. But, one thing is for sure, this is all about new challenges to our traditional ways of thinking.

And third, this is a new economy. Gone are the days of sharecroppers, textile mills and isolated small town businesses. South Carolina has more direct foreign investment per capita than any of the fifty states; nearly 2,200 foreign firms are located here. Put another way, we have more international business in the state than we do public schools. About 20 percent of our state’s jobs are linked to these international companies.

Welcome to the new South Carolina.

Perhaps most striking of all, the events of the Emanuel Nine tragedy have turned the page on our state’s oldest and most tragic wound: race. Who would have thought that the racially inspired killings in Charleston – in the 150 anniversary year of the end of the Civil War in the city where the war began – would trigger the state’s removal of the Confederate flag, and an outpouring of compassion, reconciliation and love that would result in the city being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize? It did, and it has.

Welcome to the new South Carolina.

The recent presidential primaries are just the latest episode of this continuing saga of the struggle between the old and new South Carolina. And like all things in our state, it is neither simple or easy and more often ironic than straight forward.

In one way or another, the old politics in our state was usually based on race, and it was never more obvious than the 2000 Republican presidential primary when pictures of John McCain’s adopted daughter from Bangladesh were circulated to prove that he had fathered a black child. In this month’s election, we’ve seen robocalls from the Cruz forces waving the tatters of the Confederate flag controversy in an attempt to stop the Trump momentum.
And, the power and clout of the old politics Bush family name has faded nearly from sight. Remember, it was here in our state that our native son Lee Atwater constructed the political firewall for Papa Bush in his 1988 presidential campaign, and it still held firm for W’s race in 2000.

On the Democratic side, the old vs. new South Carolina is taking its own ironic twist. With Hillary at 68 years old and Bernie Sanders at 74, an average age of 71, they present a stark contrast to the Republican trio above that averages 30 years younger.

Ironically, it’s the old guy Bernie who has captured the enthusiasm on the young folks, i.e., the Millennial generation. The once young firebrand feminists of the Baby Boomer generation (Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright, both Hillary supporters) have now been reduced to telling today’s young women they will go to Hell if they don’t support Hilary simply because she’s a woman. Go figure.

So, what does all this turmoil of the presidential primaries mean for the new South Carolina? Both a lot and not much.

On the one hand, the new demographic and economic forces at work here are real, and the political changes they are driving are powerful, important and just beginning. On the other hand, whatever the results are in both primaries, they are not definitive or decisive in that we are at only the beginning of the birth process of the new South Carolina. Regardless of the individual election returns, the process of change will continue.

There is an old Chinese saying that has been called both a cure and a blessing: “May you live in interesting times.” And so we do, here today in the Palmetto State.

Welcome to the new South Carolina.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group stated by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform. phil@scnewdemocrats.org

Author: Duane Childers

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