Roy Moore Senate Victory Hints ‘Trumpism’ Isn’t About Trump, It’s About Hate And Fear
The Republican primary race for now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s replacement in the Senate is interesting, because it both shows the reach and the limits of the cult of personality President Donald Trump has created for himself.
When the twice-ejected Chief Justice of the Alabama State Supreme Court Roy Moore took the stage a few days before winning his primary bid for the U.S. Senate (and all but assuring his victory in December), he told an “amusing” anecdote about Duck Dynasty crank Phil Robertson, that is almost surely not true.
In the inane story, Robertson faces off against a “New York City lawyer” who shot a duck that fell on Robertson’s property. When this fictitious East Coast Liberal-type (who also hunts, apparently) was greeted by Robertson armed with a shotgun, he threatened to sue the multi-millionaire duck hunter and fake pastor. Then, using his creamed-corn and grits guile, Robertson done tricked that New York City Jew, er I mean “lawyer,” into letting him kick him a bunch. Ah, what a delightful story.
He then went off on a tangent about how “the law” mandates people stand for civic honorifics like the national anthem and the pledge of allegiance. This is, of course, not true: there is a U.S. code entry for suggested conduct but to mandate it would violate the First Amendment. At least, that’s what the United States Supreme Court says, but Moore has a history of ignoring their rulings.
Given his violent rhetoric about Muslims and his staunch opposition to civil rights for anyone who isn’t a white Christian, it makes sense that Trump whisperer Steve Bannon would endorse his candidacy. However the president Bannon helped to make endorsed Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed by Alabama’s governor to fill the seat until this election. “Your reckoning is coming,” Bannon said this week at the same Moore Rally where he rambled on about God, guns, and Phil Robertson.
Even though President Trump sent a flurry of (now-deleted) tweets promoting Strange and even appeared at a rally in the state for him, Bannon told the crowd that “a vote for Roy Moore is a vote for Donald Trump.” The most valuable thing Trump possesses is his name, and Bannon can even use that better than he can.
Those of us who watch politics and politicians with a professional’s eye are still trying to figure out who these uber-passionate Trump folks really are. What unites them as a political coalition? What are their values? Given Trump’s eagerness to spend money on walls, infrastructure, jobs, and defense, they aren’t conservatives in any traditional sense.
Now, some believe they do have them figured out. Some on the right think they are just people forgotten by the government and are fed up, though they often come to these conclusions by asking them leading questions and providing no factual context to verify or debunk what voters tell them. Some on the left think it’s simply racism that motivates the Trump coalition, the last dying gasp of white supremacy.
The one thing that seemed certain, though, was that Donald Trump was key to “Trumpism,” the name given to the post-conservative right-wing coalition. Yet, Roy Moore was able to marshal those forces for his upset victory, and he couldn’t be more different than the current commander-in-chief. While Trump has no real ideology, Moore is a theocrat who thinks civil rights are just the loopholes through which the majority can silence or supplant the minority.
Moore is most famous for his opposition to equal marriage and his stance that homosexuality should be illegal. During a custody battle between a man and a woman now in a lesbian relationship, he denied the mother custody because homosexuality is “an inherent evil against which children must be protected” according to one of his rulings. Before that, he made national headlines for refusing to comply with a court order that called for the removal of a Ten Commandments monument at the Alabama State Capitol.
So what it is it that unites Moore and Trump in the eyes of the voters? It’s that he gives them simple answers to complex problems. Like Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, Moore tells them it’s not their fault. However unlike Matt Damon, these voters are all too willing to transplant the blame on someone, anyone else.
Moore is someone who believes religious law trumps civic law, but ironically hates the idea of that religious law being anything but Christian dogma. He has called Islam a “false religion” and falsely claimed that parts of America are governed by “Sharia law.” When Congressman Keith Ellison, a Muslim, was elected to represent his district in Minnesota in the House of Representatives, Moore said he shouldn’t be allowed to serve because of his faith. Like the president, Moore isn’t sure that former President Barack Obama is, in fact, an American citizen and thinks he’s a “secret Muslim.”
(In yet another irony, while Moore blames Islam for the attacks of September 11, 2001, he also blames “godlessness” and “perversion” for it. If we weren’t all too busy getting gay married and laughing at swear words, God might have saved us from the terror attack, in his view.)
If we’re being fair, even so-called moderate Republican candidates are guilty of all of this as well. While they never go as far as Moore, they are not above employing Islamophobia, homophobia, and ethnic/racial divisions to advance their agendas. Yet, often bound by law or Constitutional checks and balance, these GOPers have been content to fail to deliver on their most hateful and outlandish promises.
Thus, Moore (and Trump and Bannon) lay the blame for these “failures” at the feet of the GOP establishment. They claim that those who understand government — and how to manipulate it — are actually beholden to “globalist” (read: foreign, but mostly Jewish) influences that seek to weaken Americans’ liberty. They drape themselves in the flag, but desperately want to live in an autocratic regime where one’s beliefs in politics and religion must be pure. (To be clear, the left has their own problems with purity but they haven’t started electing their cranks, yet.)
As Moore closed in on Strange in the latter days of this election, he turned to immigration. Even though Strange is 100 percent on-board with President Trump’s immigration plan and it was the president himself who forced the Senate to spend the past six months dicking around with healthcare, he is part of the problem.
Moore said that Strange and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were actually fans of “amnesty” for “illegal immigrants.” This came after Moore was embarrassed by a reporter because all of his objections to the DACA program weren’t actually part of the program. Instead of admitting he had no idea what the hell he was talking about, he just said he didn’t “speak the language of Washington” and continue to repeat his factually incorrect statements about federal immigration policy.
Strange was essentially a bobble-head, who would nod in favor of whatever Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted him to support. Moore, however, is like the so-called “Freedom Caucus” in the House, more likely to hamstring legislation because it’s not far-right enough for his tastes.
There are two important political lessons to learn from Moore’s victory. First, it’s that President Trump doesn’t have the Midas-touch he thought he did. The loss of his endorsed candidate to Moore has, according to CNN sources, left him feeling “embarrassed and pissed.” There is no other way to interpret these results except that just some 250 days into office, President Trump is more establishment now than he isn’t.
Since he entered the race, it seemed as if there was a cult of personality not ideology forming around Donald Trump. He was the avatar of the “right-wing rube” who was mad as hell and wanted to elect a person who seemed as mad as he was. When pitted against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who has her own unpopularity problems — even those who didn’t buy into the whole #MAGA philosophy figured they would roll the dice on Trump.
Yet, now that Trump is in office and people realize that what he said he would do is not going to be “so easy,” they are gravitating to candidates who sound like Trump even if Trump himself doesn’t support them. How this will affect the GOP races in 2018 is anyone’s guess, but it doesn’t appear that the politics of fear and anger at “foreign” (read: non-white people) are going anywhere.
That’s the second thing this election teaches us. This population is represented by hucksters and grifters who promise to provide solutions to problems but their whole platform is based on conflict against policies rather than their own proposals. Even in the deepest red or blue state, consistently electing people from one party who fail to deliver on what they promise sends voters elsewhere (or simply keeps them home). When they inevitably fail to deliver anything to their constituents, the only option right-wingers have is to put up someone meaner and dumber than the incumbent.
The GOP, at least in the south and other rural areas suffering from the very conservative policy ideas they think will save them, offers us a twist on the ouroboros. Instead of a snake eating it’s own tail, it’s a spiral of snakes eating each other’s tails, with all the rest of us caught up in the middle.
While the Democratic party has its own troubles, the GOP will be due for a reckoning that could decimate the party. It appeared to be coming when the Tea Party first reared its intransigent head, swallowing up the tail of neo-conservatives like Eric Cantor. Then it was the affable libertarians like Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ben Sasse, seemingly reasonable but just as hungry for snake tail as the rest of them. Finally, Trump and his ilk slithered up to them, unhinged their jaws and tried to swallow the whole damn bundle of snakes.
Only measured solutions and reasonable policy can prevent the coming calamity, which may still be a generation away from coming to a head. The only problem with this is that as long as voters keep responding to the politics of anger and fear, they will never run out of villains to blame for the nation’s woes.