Cokie and Steven V. Roberts: Power brokers in the temple
By Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts
Alabama’s three largest newspapers wrote a joint editorial on AL.com that said: “Alabamians must show themselves to be people of principle — reject Roy Moore and all that he stands for.”
Principle? What an outdated, old-fashioned concept.
Moore, the Republican nominee in a special Senate election next month, stands widely accused of preying on teenage girls. Twice, he has been tossed off the state’s highest court for defying judicial orders. He advocates barring Muslims from public office and criminalizing gay relationships.
He is a law-breaking sexual predator who exploits his followers’ darkest fears about any outsider who doesn’t look or act or pray like them. And yet many Alabamians seem determined to reject the Christian values of obeying the law, loving strangers and acting charitably toward others and vote for Moore anyway.
This is rank Hypocrisy with a capital H, and Gov. Kay Ivey reveals her true motives in backing Moore when she says: “We need to have a Republican in the United States Senate to vote on things like the Supreme Court justices, other appointments the Senate has to confirm and make major decisions.”
Trump is equally crass in his political calculation, accepting Moore’s denials and dismissing the accusations as ancient history that happened “40 years ago.” The president denounced Doug Jones, Moore’s opponent, saying “we don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat,” and even raised the possibility of campaigning for Moore before the vote.
“Folks, don’t be fooled,” Trump confidante Kellyanne Conway said on Fox, and we’re not: Trump wants Moore in the Senate no matter what he stands for. And that’s no surprise, since Trump and Moore stand for many of the same things and appeal to many of the same voters for many of the same reasons.
Last year, 80 percent of self-described evangelical Christians voted for Trump, a thrice-married billionaire living in Manhattan who bragged openly about his sexual conquests. Polls show two-thirds of evangelicals in Alabama backing Moore.
Why? Because Trump and Moore belong to Our Tribe and play on Our Team: the True Believers, not the Heretics. The Reds, not the Blues. The Republicans, not the Democrats. So ignore their many moral failings. They vote right.
Last year, 64 percent of voters said Trump was not “honest and trustworthy,” yet 1 out of 5 doubters supported him anyway. He might be a lying reprobate, they figured, but he’s our lying reprobate. And Hillary would be worse.
There is plenty of hypocrisy to go around here. Many Democrats, including ardent feminists, defended Bill Clinton against charges of sexual aggression and dismissed them as part of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Like Gov. Ivey, they ignored the president’s personal flaws because he was Their Guy who would appoint the right judges and advance liberal ideals.
Moreover, these liberals are just as closed-minded as any conservative when it comes to litmus tests on key issues like abortion, condemning any Democrat who does not toe the pro-choice line no matter how reliably they vote on other matters.
But the issue today is Moore-Trumpism, not Bill Clinton, and it’s important to know why that ideology continues to thrive. For Christian conservatives, many of the social issues they care most about — abortion, same-sex marriage, religious rights — are adjudicated mainly by the courts, not Congress, and that’s why Ivey and so many like-minded activists place judgeship nominations ahead of every other consideration.
That’s only part of it, however. Moore and Trump belong to a long and despicable tradition in American politics: hating and demonizing dark-skinned, strange-sounding “others” as somehow un-American. No wonder both men were key players in the “birther” movement that repeatedly — and wrongly — tried to marginalize Barack Obama as a foreign-born Muslim.
Moore, even more than Trump, plays the professional Christian Martyr, turning every attack against him into evidence of his virtue. “The forces of evil will lie, cheat, steal — even inflict physical harm — if they believe it will silence and shut up Christian conservatives like you and me,” he recently told his followers.
Here’s the problem facing those editorial writers who make a plea for principle. Long ago, the Moore-Trumpists decided that political success was the highest of all values. “I think what we’re seeing is an extreme politicization of Christianity,” Marie Griffith, author of a new book on the subject, told The Atlantic. “It has become so focused on power.”
The money-changers have returned to the temple. And the vote counters, political consultants and power-brokers have joined them there.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.