The epic U.S. Senate contest in Alabama between Republican candidate Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones is far more than a local race. Certainly, the outcome of this special election will most directly impact the people of Alabama.
But much more is at stake here, as this election is a battle between the old South and the new South, the 19th century and the 21st. This is a referendum on the Republican Party as the party of Trump and white supremacy, of sexual predators and pedophiles.
And whether they know it or not, white Southern evangelicals are on the ballot, as this race will help decide whether this is the beginning of the end of their hold on power in the South, and if they are even capable of redemption.
On a superficial level, this contest is a matchup between two sons of Alabama who have emerged as polar opposites, having fought on different sides of the racial divide. As a prosecutor, Jones went after the Ku Klux Klan. He brought two white terrorists to justice for their 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and the murder of four little Black girls.
Moore, on the other hand, is an accused child molester who reportedly stalked teenage girls. A homophobe, he blames the LGBTQ community for the accusations against him. A virulent racist, he longs for the days when Black folk and women could not vote, doesn’t believe President Obama is a natural born citizen or that Muslims such as Keith Ellison should be barred from serving in Congress.
And he yearns for the good ol’ days when America was great and Black people were slaves, but that’s fine, he claims, because families were united.
A recent VICE News segment with Republican pollster Frank Luntz and Moore supporters sheds light on exactly what the hell we’re dealing with, as a focus group of Alabama voters whitesplain why it’s fine for a man in his thirties to chase after a pubescent girl.
“Let’s be real, it was a different world. Forty years ago in Alabama, people could get married at 13 and 14 years old,” said one man, making the case that back then, “there’s a lot of mommas and daddies that would be thrilled that their 14-year old was getting hit on by a district attorney.”
Moore is very much channeling the Alabama of decades past, the Alabama of George Wallace, the late governor and presidential candidate who stood in front of the schoolhouse door and proclaimed “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”
Moore and his followers claim to be God-fearing Christians. Well, they represent the Christianity of the slave master, as much as others have worshiped the God of justice and liberation. As neo-Confederate experts Ed Sebesta and Euan Hague have noted, this is known as Confederate Christian nationalism (pdf), which views the Civil War as a religious war, and the Confederacy as a devout and orthodox Christian nation fighting against a wicked North.
The White Jesus of Roy Moore justified the rape of Black girls by their slave masters, and the hanging of Black bodies from poplar trees. That’s the white Christianity that cheered on as John Lewis had his head bashed in on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
White Southern evangelicals make for a morally bankrupt movement, and their infiltration of U.S. politics and the GOP specifically is pathological. Support for Roy Moore points to a crisis of white evangelicals in America, people that Rev. William Barber of North Carolina calls “extreme Republican religionists”–white evangelicals whose religion is wrapped up in white nationalism and white supremacy.
They use their faith to vouch for non-Christian “policy pedophilia” such as tax breaks for the wealthy, and cuts to healthcare and social services. The name of their game is holding on to power and money. Welcome to the present-day Republican Party.
Evangelicals are even behind Trump declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, believing in their wingnut interpretation of prophecy that Jews must be in control of Jerusalem in the “End of Days” when Jesus returns, and they must embrace Christ or perish.
Meanwhile, Alabama remains consistently near the bottom of the barrel in health, education and social welfare, and one of the poorest states in the country. A UN human rights official traveling through Alabama’s Black Belt was shocked to find the most dire raw sewage contamination problem of any developed country, with Third World-style outbreaks of E. Coli and Hookworm due to a lack of access to safe drinking water.
Meanwhile, half a century since the civil rights movement, Alabama state election officials are suppressing the Black vote in Jim Crow fashion. Around 3.7 million adults in Alabama, or 1 in 9 people, cannot vote because they have a felony conviction or no voter ID.
A state court also ordered officials to preserve all the ballots in this election for 22 months and not destroy them, which is a federal law the state had refused to follow.
Alabama is an embarrassment to itself and to the nation because of the regressive, swamp-running white folks it selects as its leaders. Whether the predominantly Black cities of Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma prevail on Election Day is anyone’s guess.
Whether the progressive Alabama of the future–which has attracted high-tech businesses and the biotech and aerospace industries– will win out over Roy Moore’s caricature of a backward state rooted in reality remains to be seen.
Regardless of the outcome of the U.S. Senate race, that Moore was able to get this far reveals the state’s challenges in moving up from the bottom of the barrel and overcoming its troubling history. White Alabama, like the Republican Party, is experiencing an internal rot, and Roy Moore, Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump are the symptoms.
But now, Alabama has a chance to make it right.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.