Roy Moore and the Danger of Ignoring the Far Right
I’ve been following the nomination of Roy Moore for the special election in Alabama with horrified fascination. It’s a bit like watching a train wreck – a man accused of sexual harassment, with a history of contempt for federal law, potentially getting elected to the U.S. Senate. It’s utterly discomfiting.
If I couldn’t stomach voting for a Democrat, personally I would rather throw away my vote by voting for an Independent or writing someone in than vote for Roy Moore. I would not want someone like him supposedly representing my will in Congress.
Nevertheless, there are people who do want to vote for Roy Moore, and what I want to know is why?
One year ago Donald Trump surprised everyone by beating Hilary Clinton and becoming the 45th President of the United States. People were absolutely stunned. I remember walking around my school and thinking it felt more like a funeral home than a law school (although sometimes they can be quite similar). Once the initial shock wore off, the attacks on so-called Trump voters rose like wails from the tombs of political despair. Anti-Trump supporters pointed their fingers towards their fellow countrymen, chanting racism, sexism, and uneducated nationalism, and effectively shutting down any sort of political dialog between them. The game of understanding the Trump voter was on, but no Trump voter was invited to the table.
Now I believe we are still seeing the ramifications of that backlash in the nomination of men like Roy Moore, and it troubles me. Here’s the problem – half of the electorate voted for Donald Trump, but no one can answer why. In spite of his abysmal popularity, we're also seeing the nomination of other candidates like Trump (namely Roy Moore and the candidates Jeff Flake supposedly couldn't beat), but still no one can answer why. I believe it is more complicated than simply voting along party lines. Here’s what fascinates me: I am less interested in the fact that Trump won the presidency than I am that he won the Republican nomination. Hilary was a bad candidate and after 8 years of a Democrat in office, with a Supreme Court vacancy on the line, it’s not really that surprising that Trump won the general election. But what is surprising is that he beat out every other Republican candidate to get there – candidates who were supremely more qualified for the job than he was, and who were supposedly standing up for the same values he was. To much of the country, he won like a thief in the night – no one saw it coming. To the rest of the country, he provided a long-forgotten group with a voice, and they thanked him by putting him in office.
The same is supposedly true of Roy Moore. What will be interesting is not if he wins the seat (although with the pressures against him from within his own party it will be kind of amazing if he does win), but that he beat out every other Republican candidate to get there. AND that the charges of sexual harassment, while devastating for the career of almost every other man accused thus far, may not ultimately impact his election to the Senate.
I do not believe that the people voting for these kinds of candidates are uneducated racists or white supremacists. Sure, some of them probably are, but I seriously doubt they all are. I can’t speak for Alabama, but I know many people who voted for Trump who are anything but racist or sexist and who are highly intelligent. They were simply American citizens with a different viewpoint.
I know some of you are going to push back on this and say I'm being unfair. Am I though? When was the last time you or I said a disparaging thing about a Trump supporter? When was the last time you or I had a real conversation with a Trump supporter? In fact, how many Trump supporters do you even know?
You're also going to say that the same can be said for ultra-conservatives who refuse to listen to their liberal neighbors. You're right. But that's not what concerns me today. What concerns me is that there are clearly people out there who are so worried about something that they are willing to look past the questionable morality of deeply flawed candidates (even for issues that would have destroyed candidates in previous eras) to protect values they hold dear – values they seem to believe won’t even be upheld by other candidates in their same party. In the words of Shakespeare, "Ay, there's the rub!"
There is no question that Donald Trump and Roy Moore are questionable candidates, at best. So how do we prevent other men (or women) like this from being elected? I think the first step is that each of us must do a better job of listening. Each side must step out from their entrenched positions and agree to meet each other in No Man’s Land. That doesn’t mean we have to give up our viewpoints, but we must at least listen. This may sound trite and obvious, but I am party to way too many conversations, even a year after the election, in which Trump supporters and conservatives alike (not always the same thing) are mockingly snubbed for their political views. Usually these are conversations in which no Trump supporters, and very few conservatives, are present, and if they are they generally remain silent to avoid the instant contempt that would be sure to follow. Alienating our friends through peer pressure may work in social interactions, but it has no power in the voting booth. No reconciliation will come if we continue to rely on social bullying as our only strategy.
It is also foolish for us to believe that we can simply sweep disagreeable voices under the rug and wait for them to go away. Liberals and moderates don’t have the market cornered on public policy. Neither do conservatives. We have got to stop pointing our fingers at our “uneducated” “crazy” relatives and neighbors and listen to the issues they’re bringing to the table. These issues are real. They’re about immigration and job opportunities and protecting families. Conservative values are not antiquated values; they’re simply different. To think otherwise is both condescending and ignorantly narrow-minded. We live in a country built to be a “marketplace of ideas”. Our very government was designed to be antagonistic, both between the three branches as well as within Congress itself, as a way of teasing out the best of both sides. This is one reason I am actually quite grateful for the electoral college. I think it is a beneficial thing that the country cannot be run by people in New York who know nothing about life in Kentucky, and vice versa. But we have to start by meeting each other at the table. Both sides must feel like they have a voice, and that their voice will be respected, even in the midst of disagreement and vigorous debate. We have to stop antagonizing one another and start listening to each other to find common solutions, and we must do it before any more men like Roy Moore or Donald Trump get elected.