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Editorial: Alabama Race Shows Identity Struggle

In two weeks, Americans will focus on a curious bye-election to be held in perhaps the most conservative Republican stronghold in the country. Alabama will select its next US Senator.

This election was occasioned by American President Donald Trump’s bizarre selection of the courtly, largely unqualified Jeff Sessions as his top law enforcement officer. Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General by a sceptical US Senate after providing evasive, misleading and possibly untruthful answers to the Democrats’ questions about Russian involvement in the 2016 American presidential election. Apple-converted-space

So Sessions left the Senate. Alabama Republican Governor Robert Bentley appointed state Attorney General Luther Strange to fill the senate seat until a special election could be held. That’s the one coming up in December. But in the relatively few months since Bentley appointed Strange, several things have happened. First, the sanctimonious Bentley had to resign under terrific public pressure after his hidden affair with a female aide was revealed.

Then the Alabama Republicans held a special primary election to determine the party’s nominee for the Senate seat. Strange was supported by Trump, who even campaigned for him in the state. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell supported Strange. Almost every prominent Republican followed with similar endorsements.

Strange’s primary opponent was the colourful, controversial, alleged predator of teenaged girls, Roy Moore, a Bible-thumping orator who defies expectations outside Alabama about elected officials and has made a career of also defying the odds. Virtually alone among his prominent supporters was former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who since his departure from the White House has returned to the right-wing nativist news site Breitbart News. Bannon has also been busy organising GOP primary challengers to incumbent Republican House and Senate members deemed insufficiently obeisant to the president and his program.

Moore, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, had earlier been forced from office for defying a federal court order to remove a stone tablet bearing the Ten Commandments from the front of his courthouse. But he nonetheless defeated Strange in a runoff election September 26, and was immediately disavowed by all of the same Republicans who favoured Strange.

Then the forces unleashed by the unmasking as sexual predators of iconic comedian Bill Cosby, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, respected journalist Charlie Rose and Democratic senator Al Franken rapidly caught up with Moore. By a recent count of The Washington Post, nine women have alleged Moore forced himself sexually on them. Some were underage. Consequently, major Alabama newspapers have exhorted voters to resist the urge to put Moore in the Senate.

Moore’s Democratic opponent in the December 12 election is former US Attorney for northern Alabama Doug Jones. Jones, perhaps intentionally, has become lost in the furore over Moore’s flamboyance. He is almost never quoted in the national press, and he appears to be hoping enough Alabama voters will be offended and repelled by Moore’s behaviour that he will prevail as a Democrat against normally impossible political odds. If that is indeed Jones’ strategy, it’s difficult to disagree that it may represent his best chance.

Republicans are once again caught in a vice of their own making. On the one hand, they are consistently the party of the conservative, religious, God-fearing voter. On the other hand, they are occasionally confronted by the immorality and sinfulness of their elected officials. Perhaps because of the obvious gap between rhetoric and reality, Republicans caught in this vice almost always adopt the failed strategy of denial and, when confronted by overwhelming public evidence, seek forgiveness from their Christian constituents. The sheer hypocrisy of it all is staggering.

It is tempting to put Trump at the top of the list of GOP miscreants. He is, after all, the self-aggrandising blowhard who allowed himself to be caught on tape boasting about using his fame to indemnify him against potential charges of inappropriate behaviour toward women. A dozen women have come forth with stories of his aggressive actions toward them.

But Trump seems no hypocrite, in the sense that few believe in his allegiance to any church but the temple of money and power. Moore, consistently running with Bible in hand, may find himself fatally ensnared by his own actions and arrogance.

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