What Does the Alabama Doug Jones Victory Mean?

Following the Alabama U.S. Senate race for the past few months had been a deeply painful experience.

Judge Roy Moore’s relentless appeal to the worst of bigoted white identity politics. The revelations about his revolting sexual predator history. The hypocritical “family values” Evangelical support for him. The Republican Party’s craven falling in line behind this deeply unsuitable candidate, because ‘better a pedophile than a Democrat’. President Trump and Steve Bannon fanning the flames of intolerance and divisiveness.

Like many other people, I became increasingly depressed as election day neared, and the polls continued to show the Alabama electorate equally divided between Moore and his Democratic opponent Doug Jones. A Moore victory seemed likely, and with it the prospect of further descent into the ugly and destructive ‘take America backward’ direction set by the Trump administration and its cynical enablers.

Then came last night’s unexpected news: Doug Jones defeats Roy Moore in Alabama race. It took a moment to sink in, then came an overwhelming sense of relief, elation and calm. Our country can and has pushed back against the madness. If even a deep-red Bible Belt state like Alabama has been able to resist the downward spiral of political nihilism and reclaim a sense of political decency, there is hope.

The numerical details followed. Unexpectedly high African-American turnout in support of Doug Jones, and 56% of women voters. Strong showing among college educated suburbanites. More than twice as many white voters as had voted for Obama in 2008.

The headlines and op-ed comments this morning are dramatic in stating the magnitude of this political upset:

Jones Wins Alabama Senate Race in a Seismic Democratic Victory” (ABC News)

Alabama Election — Democrats Triumph over Roy Moore in a Major Blow to Trump” (The Guardian)

Doug Jones’s Stunning Victory Could Be the Beginning of the End of Tax Reform” (Vox)

As Goes Moore, so Goes Trumpism” (New York Times columnist Ross Douthat)

Alabama Election Seen as a ‘Miracle’ in a Europe Terrified by Trump” (Washington Post)

As is often the case, the most insightful comments on what it all means comes from columnist Tom Friedman of the New York Times: “Alabama Says No to Trump’s Tribalism.”

In this essay, he thanks the voters in Alabama for “voting as citizens, not members of a tribe” and for “sending a message to Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon that you are not as dumb as they think you are.” He evokes the ultimate dark logic of tribalism as he experienced it first-hand in the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s, and, by contrast, the visionary actions of Lincoln and Congress, even in the middle of the U.S. Civil War, to address the great economic and development issues of the country.

The election result in Alabama, he says, sends both Trump and the country the message that “We are fed up with your cynicism, we are fed up with your effort to break us into tribes, we want a president who is a uniter not a divider, because we have big hard work to do as a country right now — and it can only be done together.”

To this I would like to add two more lessons I see in this momentous election:

First, the Doug Jones Democratic campaign was well planned, well-funded and well run. Political campaigning expertise, focus on a positive message and persistent hard work count, and can triumph over fierce ideological passion and base appeals to tribal identity politics. The Jones campaign made over a million phone calls, knocked on 200,000 doors, and thousands of volunteers did a great get-out-the vote job on election day. The lesson going forward is that serious work on serious political campaigns will be the key to more Republican defeats in 2018 and 2020.

Second, there is an important parallel between what happened in Alabama and the Virginia election this past November that saw the defeat of Republican candidate for governor Ed Gillespie and the victory of Democrat Ralph Northam. In both states, the winner was a moderate, middle-of-the-road Democrat, attuned to the particular political ethos of his conservative state. Both were able to appeal to the centrist as well as the more progressive elements of the Democratic electorate, and bring in independents as well. The lesson going forward is that candidates need to be appropriate for their particular states and constituencies, not carbon copies of some ‘ideal’ Democrat for all seasons. What it takes to win in California is not the same as what it takes to win in Alabama.

Karine Schomer, PhD is a writer, speaker, scholar, political and social commentator, and, by profession, a management & cross-cultural consultant at www.cmct.net and www.indiapractice.com.

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Karine Schomer

Karine Schomer

I explore the worlds of society, politics, culture, history, civilizations, language, life lessons— wherever curiosity takes me. karineschomer@cmct.net