Friday, November 17, 2017

Moore Than A Feeling

At just the point when Americans are finally shining a bright, harsh light on sexually predatory behavior, Alabama seems on track to elect a man accused of preying on underage girls to the U.S. Senate. Steve wonders whether Alabama is hopelessly behind on one issue... or simply terrifyingly ahead on a different one.
People say that the United States is a divided country, which – while not inaccurate -- does not come near to doing justice to the extremity of our current situation. It’s like saying Harvey Weinstein has “impulse control problems.” While true, it somehow misses the real point entirely.

The United States of America is not simply divided, it is becoming radically polarized. There is a difference.  In a polarized society, the differences of opinion are pushed to the end point of extremism.  Any sense of overlapping middle ground disappears. To be in one group is to be wholly opposed to every single position taken by the adversary.

Whether one draws the fault lines along the breech between rural and urban America, the poisonous widening gap of income inequality, religious or secular philosophy, progressive or conservative social policy, the simple truth is that the primary way this polarization is operationalized is through voting for a Republican or a Democrat. Therefore, increasingly, each of these subdivides is being articulated through a single lens: political party affiliation.  Where our political spectrum once included Dixiecrats and Rockefeller Republicans, there is now only a binary break between fire engine red or indigo blue.

Complicating this problem is the fact that the Republican Party in particular has a very hard time agreeing on what it stands for, often finding the power of unity only when expressing opposition. The Republicans cannot agree on healthcare, immigration, and now tax policy, but manage to wholeheartedly agree that Hillary Clinton’s actions in the Benghazi incident were treasonous. Donald Trump has a hard time advocating for major pieces of legislation because these topics tend to be “more complicated than anyone knew,” so he finds it easier to simply say that everything Barack Obama accomplished should be dismantled, whether he has a better idea or not.

In this thick gruel of angry and resentful bile, we sometimes hypothesize that the polarization in our country is so profound that one could easily imagine some Upper West Side liberals would actually vote for a chocolate brown schnauzer if the adorable little puppy was indeed the nominee of the Democratic Party and the only alternative was a Republican.

Now pardon us for our wild imaginings as we concoct an even more ridiculous example: that a down-on-its-luck hamlet in rural Mississippi would actually elect as its mayor a militant anti-LGBTQ warrior who flagrantly repudiates the United States Constitution and who serially preyed on underage girls twenty years his junior simply because he is the Republican candidate and not a Democrat.

It would be ridiculous indeed, except our topic today is not just one little down-on-its-luck town in rural Mississippi, and we are not imagining things.  

In a matter of weeks, the allegedly great state of Alabama may well elect a man to the U.S. Senate who committed a number of acts that should have disqualified him from public service before even the first accusation of sexually predatory behavior targeting young girls.  In 2003, Roy Moore had been stripped of his title as Alabama’s Chief Justice for refusing to remove his personal monument of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Judicial Building, demonstrating an open hostility towards the constitutional protections of religious freedom. More recently, Moore earned his gay-basher street cred by ordering Alabama judges to continue to prohibit same-sex marriage after the federal government had struck the law down as unconstitutional.  For a second time, he was relieved of his duty as a judge.

Now we have a Cosby-grade parade of nine defiant women in Alabama with the guts to stand up in public, on the record, and accuse this man of forcing himself on them when they were young women, some, indeed, under the age of consent.  Moore was so widely known as vulgar predator that he was actually banned from the Gadsden Mall to protect young women from his advances.

And yet – and please do take a moment for a truly deep breath and very resigned sigh -- in polls conducted after Moore’s sexually predatory behavior came to light, the people of Alabama remain deeply conflicted. Of the five major polls take, one had the race as a dead heat.  Two indeed have the Democratic candidate up, in one poll by four points and in the latest Fox Poll by eight points, 50% to 42%. But two other polls showed that Moore was still holding a clear lead… in one poll by six percentage points, and in a second poll by ten.  
People in Alabama don’t seem terribly influenced by the stampede of Republican national leaders – McConnell, Ryan, McCain, and others -- who have already disavowed Moore and urged him to step aside. Of course, those Alabama voters could be waiting for a signal from the Misogynist-in-Chief, a man with very little maneuvering room in this particular matter. Trump, of course, faced allegations of sexually predatory behavior during his presidential campaign, and took the exact same position that Moore embraces as his defense – that every single woman who came forward was a liar. Given that McConnell,  Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and even Trump’s own daughter have all publicly said that Alabama women are credible, Trump is hiding from the press, keenly aware of the Catch-22. If all of Moore's accusers are credible, then why are Trump's accusers all liars?

But back in Alabama, national opinion is as distant as the number two team in college football polls, and political damnation from Washington is a badge of honor.

The population of Alabama is 4,680,000, and the state website claims that there are 3,330,802 registered voters. Let's go with the poll from the Republican Party's own propaganda wing, Fox News, and say that 42% of Alabama voters still intend to vote for Moore even after learning about the accusations that he committed sexual predation toward underage women.That translates to 1,398,936 voters in the state of Alabama.

Fairness requires that we acknowledge that many of those who remain loyal to Moore would claim to believe that he is not a sexual predator, but a fine, upstanding Christian who is actually the victim of a slander campaign bent on destroying his candidacy. We have now seen many interviews with local Alabama voters adamantly airing their suspicion that either leftist groups or even establishment Republicans are behind a massive smear campaign.

Fairness further requires that we give this view due consideration. Talk with anyone who has ever felt that they have been incorrectly or unfairly branded with sexual harassment, and you will hear an angry tail of presumed guilt and a stain on the reputation that never goes away completely.

This is when factors like the credibility, specificity, and authenticity of accusers must be judged. The sheer number of accusers -- now standing at nine -- matters.  The willingness of accusers to go on the record matters. The number of corroborating witnesses – people who will vouch that they heard contemporaneous accounts of the story – must be weighed. Then there is seconding testimony, such as the story of Moore having been banned from the local mall because of his reputation as a stalker of young women, which seems too precise to possibly have been fabricated.

It is all of these factors that require that those still aligned with Moore to begin – also in fairness – to rethink their blind loyalty. The indications that this nominee is guilty are, in the words of that seventies smash hit, “more than a feeling.”

This means that a healthy percentage of those 1,398,936 people clinging to Roy Moore accept the heavy circumstantial evidence of his guilt… and would still rather vote for a predator who would outlaw homosexuality and who serially violates girls under the age of consent rather than vote for a Democrat.

Hey, Harvey Weinstein, maybe you’ve found the state that will embrace you as a true man of the people. Louis C.K., maybe you can still book a hall in Birmingham. Donald Trump, perhaps we now know why your margin of victory in Alabama was the biggest since 1972.

But, then again, Kevin Spacey, better keep your distance.  In Alabama, it’s only ok to prey on young people of the opposite sex.  Sweet Homophobe Alabama.

Many writers and reporters and busying themselves piling on the depraved and perverse psychology of Roy Moore, but the only reason that Roy Moore is at the center of the national conversation today is because 1,398,936 people in Alabama are still ready to send him to Washington to represent them.

Yes, we can have a huge problem with Roy Moore, but perhaps we have a bigger problem still with the 1,398,936 people who plan on voting for him.  Perhaps they fear that a Democrat would take away the guns they claim they need for those occasions when people like Roy Moore stalk their daughters  Perhaps the only explanation is that people in Alabama are not voting for Roy Moore, they are just voting against everyone who they perceive to be a threat to their guns, their religion, and their way of life.

Roy Moore may be a sexual deviant, but in our radically polarized society, a Republican man who preys on teenage girls appears to still be better than a Democrat.

It is clear that the polarization is only accelerating.  Call it the new Moore’s Law. The degree of polarization doubles every eighteen months.

And then, somewhere down the line, turning and turning in the widening gyre, the center cannot hold.

The polarization of the United States is now a maelstrom experienced by its citizenry by the physics concepts of centripetal and centrifugal forces. Centripetal force drives orbital bodies closer to the center of their rotation.  Centrifugal force is the sensation we feel as we cut a corner too sharply and panic that we cannot maintain our trajectory and will tumble wildly out of control.

Right now, we feel the growing sensation of centrifugal force.

Now, we hear educated, level-headed people openly muse about whether the gulf in our polarized society is so great that we ought to consider dividing the country into two nations roughly formed around the red state south and heartlands and the blue state coasts. When challenged about their loyalty to the United States, these people are apt to shoot right back that in the current state of our politics there is darn little that resembles the United States to which they once pledged fealty.

Are we reaching the point in which we declare “irreconcilable differences” and tell the 1,398,936 people in Alabama that we have changed our mind, and if they want to secede from the Union this time we will help them pack?

As tempting as that seems as Roy Moore creepily creeps dangerously close to a seat in the U.S. Senate, we cannot.

At times like this we need to remind ourselves that while 1,398,936 is a despicably high number, it pales in comparison to the 65,844,954 Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton… itself a very substantial majority relative to the 62,979,879 who voted for Donald Trump.

We must fight to preserve the centripetal forces that hold the country together. Yes, those forces include freedom, equality, and opportunity, but perhaps in times like this we realize that the most powerful centripetal force holding the country together is the belief that we have something worth fighting to preserve.

To surrender to Donald Trump, Roy Moore, and Vladimir Putin is to allow the 1,398,936 to win.

Forty-six years ago, Neil Young wrote a song on his “Harvest” album entitled “Alabama.”  Forty-nine Neil Young albums later, the words are haunting:

“Oh Alabama…
I'm from a new land
I come to you and
see all this ruin
What are you doing, Alabama?
You got the rest of the union
to help you along!
What's going wrong?”

Forty-nine years later, we still need to help Alabama along.

Sadly, however, the question today is this: is Alabama the laggard state of Neil Young’s ballad, or is it actually a terrifying look at the future?

Is Roy Moore one of the most horrific spasms of a culture that is finally coming to grips with its inherent misogyny, or is he the harbinger of a new wave of candidates that are measured by – and only by -- how zealously they fan the flames of radical polarization?

If Roy Moore keeps enough support to stay in this race, we’ve got a bad feeling about the answer.

And if he wins, it will be moore than a feeling.

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