NON-FICTION
Sweet Home Alabama
M.G. Poe

Photo by Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash

Growing up, I went to a private Christian high school that leaned heavily toward Southern Baptist fundamentalism, that was 95% white, that considered the law of God above all other laws, that stated, as per both Christian Bible and Judaic Torah, that the man was the spiritual and physical head of the household, all others subordinate unto him; he, of course, subordinate unto God. There was a specific moral code of “dos and don’ts” to which we were expected to adhere that included how to dress, how to interact socially with the opposite sex, what to believe and not believe, even what to think or not think. I grew up surrounded by conservative ideals the authority around me accepted as absolute truth and expected their young people to accept, as well. “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 from the Old Testament sums it up well. There is much practical truth in this wisdom as anybody familiar with the psychological patterns of social culture and human nature will attest. After all, a community of like-minded individuals is certainly easier to control than one of free thinkers. I bought into these conservative ideals, tried to live them, “prayed on them,” felt all sorts of guilt when I failed them. I am a born-again-liberal now, a left-wing, progressive Californian, and if you know me, you would never suspect that was part of the world in which I grew up.

I am also a child of the South, born and bred, and I get back to Florida now and again to visit family and friends. Get me anywhere southeast of the Mason Dixon line, and there’s no denying the feelings of warmth that still engulf me at seeing the familiar places I used to once call home. Get me around Southern folk anywhere and you’ll gradually notice my clipped California tones turning softer, the edges of my conversation blurring into sentences of lilting twangs that always seem to contain ‘y’all’.

I am proud I have Southern in me. There’s a purity and generosity of spirit in the South not often found in other places. Built into the Southern American’s psyche is a stalwart sense of love and pride in their southernness that includes a creed of responsibility to family and friends, hard work, and loyalty to country. Being Southern is more than just a regional classification, it is a way of living and being. Southerners can be truly welcoming to outsiders too, our charm and hospitality legendary.

We can also be very suspicious of outsiders, of things not southern, and stubborn about it to the point of obstinacy. It is a suspicion as symbiotic and natural as Spanish moss on a live oak and as unconscious as the deafening sound of cicada songs on a hot summer’s eve. With that distrust comes an unflinching loyalty to their own and a hesitancy to accept change. It’s a tribalism that, whatever anybody may say, is as strong and pervasive in the culture as the insipid heaviness of humidity that hangs in the air.

You can see it in the transparent bewilderment on Kentuckian Senator Mitch McConnell’s face, in the veiled apologies of South Carolinian Senator Lindsey Graham’s speeches, in the discomfiture of the secrets Virginian Vice President Mike Pence strives so reluctantly to keep. Not one of them wants to admit they made a mistake in backing the Republican Party’s nominee for President in the 2016 election. Each one of these Southern white men believes themselves to be both honorable and righteous. When they are alone, they probably each wish they had the guts to do something different: to stand up to inequity, to say no to special interests, to put the welfare of their constituents before the party line, maybe even to call Donald Trump a moron to his face. But they don’t; they still can’t. Their tribalism to party and the culture in which they were raised is as strong as any religious fervor, and thus far has subsumed their individuality.

Enter Alabama, where the mélange of strong Southern tribalism blends exquisitely with ultra-conservative values, religious conditioning, and the Republican party creating a unique state of reality in which the processes of corruption and hypocrisy pulse under the guise of “doing the right thing.” What results is a people under the influence and a macabre collection of malfeasance-oozing politicians as the status quo.

The roll-call includes: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, ex-Senator, liar, possible Russian colluder, racist (his 1986 nomination for Federal District Judge was denied by the Senate on the basis that he was, indeed, a racist).

Governor Robert “Love Tapes” Bentley, who resigned under pressure after being indicted for covering up misuse of campaign funds, as well as lying about the nature of his relationship with staffer Rebekah Mason after phone recordings of him in conversation with Mason describing their sexual exploits in detail were made public. He is actually the third Alabama Governor to be prosecuted and convicted of criminal offenses.

Ex- Speaker of the Alabama House Mike Hubbard, sentenced to four years in prison for 12 ethics violations after using his office to make $1.1 million in income for his businesses. After his indictment, he was voted back into the Speakership by a margin of 99-1. Found guilty and ordered to pay back the monies he stole, the restitution was put on hold. He is still free on bond.

And finally, Judge Roy Moore, alleged sexual predator, pedophile, religious fanatic, and current Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by A.G. Sessions.

Moore has serious dissociative issues both as a politician and as a person. A religious extremist, who believes in the supremacy of God over the Constitution in government, he has shown he isn’t afraid to break U.S. Constitutional laws in order to impose what he believes is God’s will. Upon being elected Circuit Judge, he hung a wooden plaque of the Ten Commandments behind him on the bench making his jury pools pray before deliberation. When elected Alabama Attorney General, he installed a 5,280-pound granite block depicting Constitutional quotes and two large tablets with the Ten Commandments outside the state judicial building. When sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU), Moore dismissed it saying the Ten Commandments were the "moral foundation of U.S. law" and appropriate in a judicial setting.

Married, father of four, Moore studied at West Point serving as a Captain in Vietnam. As commander, his methods of leadership were so extreme his troops threatened him repeatedly with fragging. Elected twice to the Alabama Supreme Court he was also suspended twice before resigning in 2017 after ordering Alabama probate judges to ignore the Federal Court decision on same sex-marriage.

Moore has stated that Christianity's declining influence "corresponds directly with school violence, homosexuality, and crime.” “You wonder why we’re having problems in Newtown, Connecticut?” he asked the First Baptist Church in Guin shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. “…the killing, stealing, committing adultery is because we’ve forgotten the law of God.”

He has twice, in 2013 and 2016, argued against the rape shield law designed to protect victims of sex crimes during criminal proceedings by preventing defendants from introducing evidence of victims’ past sexual behavior, history, or reputation. Dissenting from the majority opinion of conservative justices, he stated that the law should not protect victims in sexual assault cases.

As of this writing, eight women have now come forward accusing Moore of sexual assault; four of those women have said the alleged assaults happened before they were 18. One of them, Leigh Corfman, says she was only 14 years old when Moore tried to “seduce” her.

Roy Moore continues to deny these allegations, calling his accusers liars, refusing to stand down from the nomination.

Does this behavior sound familiar?

The Alabama Senate Seat Special Election is scheduled for December 12, 2017. According to Alabama state law, it is too late to remove Roy Moore from the ballot. Though the point is moot, as the Alabama GOP has given Moore their full endorsement. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey proclaimed, “Every Alabamian has the right and duty to vote to determine who they want their Senate person to be.” When asked if she believed the women accusing Moore, Governor Ivey responded, “I have no reason to disbelieve any of them. There is never an excuse or rationale for sexual misconduct or abuse. It bothers me…[but] I believe in what the Republican Party stands for and most important we need to have a Republican in the United States Senate…and so that’s what I plan to do, vote for Republican Roy Moore.”

Above all, the tribe comes first.  

On November 16, 2017, at a truly bizarre press conference, a number of conservative Alabama faith leaders gathered to endorse Moore. Andy Schlafly, Christian conservative activist, founder of Conservapedia, called Moore a “man of character” needed by the GOP in the Senate, to “stand up against the swamp and the establishment,” further stating that Moore stood for things “good, clean, and honorable.” Rabbi Noson Shmuel Leiter of Torah Jews for Decency said, “We need Judge Moore to stand up to the LGBTQ transgender mafia.” As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes put it, “According to them, a man accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls must be elected to the senate to hold the line against sexual perversion.”

The irony is that these men and women actually believe they’re doing what is morally correct. When they undiscerningly blur the lines between the intent and function of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment (the one which indicates separation of church and state?), they actually believe they are guiding their congregations to “right-minded thinking.” They choose not to examine the evidence against Moore because if they did, they would recognize what he is and then have to defend the indefensible and break tribal law, or at the very least admit they don’t know what to do next.

Is this situation really any different from the one in Washington?

All Alabamians, however, are not towing the socio-political tribal line without discernment. On November 18th, another group of spiritual leaders came out denouncing Moore, calling his views an “extreme form of Republican religionism.” Reverend Angie Wright, associate director of the Greater Birmingham Ministries said, “It is an extraordinary, almost unprecedented thing for pastors to take a public stand against a candidate for public office, but these are extraordinary times that require all of us to take extraordinary measures."

The Alabama Media Group, which owns three of Alabama’s largest newspapers as well as the website AL.com has gone one step further, publically endorsing Democrat Senate Candidate Doug Jones, urging voters to “stand for decency” and “reject” Moore.

In Washington, as the disgusting sludge of sexual misconduct allegations continues to erupt from both House and Senate showing no party preference, President Donald Trump predictably champions Moore, casting doubt on Moore’s accusers in order to further his agenda and keep the Senate majority a Republican red. Surprisingly, perhaps because they fear the skeletons in their own closet being uncovered, mainstream Republican Senators and Congressmen have distanced themselves from Moore, admitting that they have “no reason to doubt” Moore’s accusers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly stated that Moore should step down from the race and, should he be elected, will be investigated.

As they declare believing Moore’s accusers, thereby admitting Moore’s culpability, how much longer will they ignore the President of the United States’ own sexual misconduct allegations? How will they reconcile the testimonies of the fifteen women who have accused Donald Trump of sexual assault of which he, like Roy Moore, continues to deny? And, as the House and Senate launch ethics investigations into the various sexual misconducts of their own members, when will they acknowledge the publicly admitted sexual misconduct, sexual assault allegations, and ethics violations of the President and call for an ethics investigation into those? How many more politicians will run the gauntlet before The President of the United States is held publically accountable for his actions?

And, what of the people of Alabama? A preponderance of them still support Roy Moore. According to a November 13 report from Vox.com, 29% of Alabamians say the allegations against Moore increase their support for him.

As of this writing, most polls show Moore in an almost dead tie with Democrat Doug Jones. A poll of 3,000 Alabamians conducted for Raycom News Network by Montgomery-based Strategy Research, reported the two candidates only 2% apart. Three percent of responders remain undecided. Five percent say they will write-in a candidate.

Anyone, it seems, preferable to a Democrat.

The journey toward cognition and enlightenment is ever ongoing, and for every American living in our current turbulent, polarized society critically necessary. I somehow managed to break free from the strict tribal authoritarianism under which I didn’t even realize I lived. I consider myself fortunate, for the influences of such inclusive, closed-circuit social systems are extremely hard to escape. Alabama is in the top five of states won by Trump in the 2016 election and a secure part of the Trumpian base. That will not change overnight. If Roy Moore wins the Special Senate Seat Election, and he has a likely chance, like the election of Donald Trump, it will indicate just one more symptom of the ongoing disease of moral turpitude presently debilitating the United States. Like any sickness, it must run its course, the hope being that the fever raging will in the long run help heal the body rather than overcome it. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it does bend toward justice,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The first steps toward change and justice are those of awareness and admittance.

Perhaps there is yet hope for both Alabama and Washington. Only time will tell.

Let’s keep them in our prayers.


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