Last week, the populist, theocratic, authoritarian former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore beat Sen. Luther Strange in a special election to fill the rest of Jeff Sessions’ term in the Senate. Strange was endorsed by President Trump, even though Moore, who pulled a gun out at a rally the night before the special election, is far more Trumpian than Strange is. In some ways, he is even more Trumpian than Trump. Moore’s closest analog may be fascist former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, whom the president recently pardoned.
Like Arpaio and Trump, Moore was a dedicated “birther” who believed Barack Obama was not really an American. He was booted from the bench twice for defying the ruling of a higher court. In one of those cases, he refused to remove the Ten Commandments from his courthouse, arguing that they are the foundation of the law.
Strange is no progressive—the race was for Jeff Sessions’ Alabama seat, after all—and still carries the stink of having been appointed by then-Gov. Robert Bentley, who later resigned after pleading guilty on two misdemeanor charges. Strange’s successor recused himself from the investigation of the governor, and allegations that Strange made a deal not to investigate him in exchange for the appointment are rampant.
“There is the question of how Strange got his appointment from a governor who is on his way to jail anyway, the guy who he is supposed to be investigating. Did he horse trade for the appointment?” asked Roger Stone, the often vile and reactionary weed-smoking, swinging, longtime Trump adviser with a tattoo of Nixon on his back, who testified before the House Intelligence Committee about his role in any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia on the same day as the special election in Alabama, and had been making the rounds with the press.
“Moore has run statewide several times previously, and has always had a hard ceiling in terms of getting about 25 percent of the vote. The fact that he was able to win this primary with the incredibly popular president of the United States—popular in Alabama, popular among Republican primary voters—supporting his opponent really speaks to the disgust of the base of Republicans with the Republican party leadership,” Stone said. “I think they were voting against Mitch McConnell, voting against an establishment candidate. I mean, it’s a pretty stunning victory.”
Still, Stone thinks that by not endorsing the populist Moore, who was heavily supported by former Trump advisor Steve Bannon and his Breitbart website, the president missed an opportunity.
“He could have sent [Republican senators] a very strong signal of what will happen when you cross your president, and instead he got conned into supporting Luther Strange,” Stone said. “Roy Moore will be a more loyal supporter of Trump’s reforms than Luther Strange would be. That’s what’s so Kafkaesque about this whole thing. It’s why so many people who like Donald Trump voted for Roy Moore and not Luther Strange. I think they recognized that Strange was the establishment candidate.”
The moral of the story, according to Stone: “Don’t take Republican political advice from Jared Kushner. He doesn't know anything about that politics. He’s a liberal Democrat. He doesn’t know anything about this. Why would you follow his advice?”
If there is a single Trumpian ideology becoming clear after a chaotic nine months in office, it is white supremacy. And there is no way that will not color an election in the Deep South. It was at his Huntsville, AL speech that was supposed to be in support of Strange that Trump called football players who kneel during the national anthem “sons of bitches.” He said that athletes like Colin Kaepernick, who began taking a knee in 2016 to protest police violence against African Americans, were a “total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.”
Trump also spoke of “our heritage” when he talked about taking Confederate monuments down, making it clear exactly what heritage he means. But it seems that Trump is trying to subvert Kaepernick’s protest against white supremacy into something more about “unity” and Americanness.
“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag—if they do, there must be consequences—perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”, Trump tweeted shortly after the election but before he took office. It was a strategic move intended to paint his enemies as enemies of America.
The attacks on black athletes seem so deliberate that it appears as if he is doing the same thing here. Trump wants to identify himself as much as possible with America itself so that his critics will come off as unpatriotic. But the Alabama special election shows the political danger of that for an anti-government demagogue like Trump: How does he identify himself with the nation and the flag while remaining free from the taint of the government and the “swamp” he is supposed to be draining?
This is why, for people like Stone, Trump’s support of the establishment candidate was a disaster, and why Trump increasingly relies on racism to reach his base. If Trump continues to appeal to whiteness, he may actually be able to keep working-class and middle-class white people on his side and keep them fighting against working and middle-class black people, with whom they share obvious economic interests. That is the only way the Republicans can win. Things will get worse.