Alabama isn’t among the most successful of the 50 United States, to say the least. It may cling to being the heart of Dixie, but its economy is lagging, its education system is failing and its public health service is among the worst. In the modern era it gained renown mainly as the reactionary state led by the racist George Wallace that staged some of the most dramatic moments of the Civil Rights Movement and for Lynyrd Skynyrd’s hit song “Sweet Home Alabama,” which reflected 40 years ago some of the local resentment against snooty Northerners that could well play a role in Tuesday’s special elections.
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Despite its relative obscurity, it is hard to overstate the importance of the decision that Alabama voters will make about who will replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Senate. The face-off between Republican Roy Moore, an extreme conservative who is accused of molesting teenagers and minors, and Doug Jones, who became famous for prosecuting two Ku Klux Klan perpetrators of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963, which killed four African-American girls, is much more than a close contest over a coveted seat in the Senate. Its outcome will lift Trump’s prestige or puncture it and will certainly influence the future direction of the Republican Party.
A victory for Moore is a victory for Steve Bannon is a victory for the wild and unbridled side of Trump’s personality. It could demolish the more moderate and restrained establishment of the party. The Grand Old Party, as it has called itself since the American Civil War, will fully reflect the image of its leader, the President. The two will be fused together.
But the ramifications of the Alabama elections extend well beyond political calculations. If Alabama voters elect Democrat Doug Jones as their next Senator, they will show the world that there are red lines that cannot be crossed even in a deep Red State that gave Trump 62% of its vote in the November 2016 elections. If they opt for Moore, who faces credible allegations of his tendency to stalk underage girls, the voters of Alabama will reject the recent wave of male accountability for past sexual harassment and give aid and succor to the expected white male chauvinist backlash.
If Alabamans vote for Moore, despite everything that is known about him, they will prove - as if Trump’s election wasn’t proof enough - that the antibodies of American democracy have been seriously weakened. They will show that in the era of Trump, any depravity is possible. They will embolden and encourage the forces of darkness that surround Trump and excite his loyal base of supporters.
No less than eight women have accused Moore of stalking/harassing/molesting them. Most of them were either directly above or below the legal age of consent, and in any case much younger than him. Most of the American public believes them but Moore denies the charges and Trump - who has even more female accusers than Moore and who likewise denied the charges, though no one actually believes him - has come out strongly in his support. The Republican Party tried to distance itself from Moore but then reversed direction and followed in Trump’s footsteps after Congress succeeded in passing tax reform. So that’s how the U.S. President and America’s ruling party wound up calling on Monday for the voters of Alabama to support a candidate who is reactionary if not racist and possibly anti-Semitic ultra-conservative who is also accused of harassing minors. Lincoln, it can be confidently said, is turning over in his grave.
Democrats, on the other hand, are ambivalent about who they’re actually rooting for. If Jones wins and Moore loses, they will certainly celebrate another Senate seat that whittles down the GOP majority to 51-49 and humiliates Trump in the process. Some party strategists, however, are hoping for a Moore victory that would taint the GOP with his common denominator with Trump and portray Republicans as old white lechers who never admit and never apologize and never pay a price for the testimonies of the women they assaulted in the past. The historic 22% advantage that Democrats achieved among women voters in last month’s Virginia elections has fired their imaginations. A Moore-Trump victory would provide a vehicle to stir up angry American women, who might then pave the way, Democrats hope, to a resounding victory in the Congressional elections in 2018.
For now the polls are pointing to a close race with 3-5% advantage for Moore. Any other result but his victory will be viewed as an upset. Among his supporters one can find those who back his retrograde views and other who don’t want women to get too uppity. Many have been convinced by Trump and Fox News that the campaign against Moore is a conspiracy of elitist liberals who want to rob the good people of Alabama of their dignity and respect. Many of them won’t give bleeding heart do-gooders from the North any reason to celebrate, even if it means tarnishing Alabama’s already questionable name.
Most of Trump’s advisers wanted him to stay out of Alabama and stay away from Moore, which only encouraged the President to do the opposite. It’s the same process that led to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which he reached against his advisers’ counsel and any diplomatic rationale. Perhaps Trump sees Moore as a brother in arms whose election will somehow strengthen Trump’s own denials of past harassment of women. He has made it clear that he cares more for the Republican majority in the Senate than the personal behavior of Moore or anyone else. Many Republicans, especially Evangelicals, agree with him. Questionable behavior, conduct unbecoming and even attacking young girls are all absolved in pursuit of the desirable ideological goals.
A Moore victory would strengthen Trump’s hand in the GOP and weaken the last remaining holdouts of integrity, including Alabama’s own Richard Shelby, who came out in opposition to Moore. A Moore victory would highlight the big difference between the Democratic Party, which sacrificed its own accused in a jiffy, to the Republicans, who are trying to bury their heads in the sand until the storm dies down. Many Republican moderates understand that Moore, in fact, implicates Trump rather than exonerates him, a point emphasized by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who called on Trump to resign.
A Moore victory would deal a blow to women’s demands for male accountability and would show that on this issue as well, America is split into two separates. Feelings of mutual fear and loathing, which have reached new heights under Trump, will soar even more. After persuading his followers that the reality that the media is reporting and the U.S. intelligence services are dissecting doesn’t really exist, and after undermining many Americans’ trust in the FBI and the justice system, Trump is reaching a new stage in his campaign against American democracy. If Moore wins, Trump will show that he can turn black into white and bad unto evil, transform despicable actions into trivial pursuits and anoint even sexual offenders as U.S. Senators. He will show that he is the master of reality itself. And if the time comes when the annals of his authoritarian drive are written, a Moore win could go down as one of Trump’s greatest days.