• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Moore vs Strange: Bible-Thumper or More of the Same?

September 2017


President Trump arrived in Alabama Friday night armed, as is his wont, with any number of barbs, jabs, and blandishments. Some were fresh bones to pick, others, old slights. Above all, the president was there to toss his support behind “Big” Luther Strange, the towering incumbent junior Senator from the Yellowhammer state. Sounding as though both first and surname could be peeled directly from the panel strip of a Marvel comic, Luther Strange has been Alabama’s senator for the past year. An unelected congressman, he’s held the position since Jeff Sessions’ promotion to Attorney General at the beginning of this year.


Alabama’s governor at the time of Sessions’ promotion, Robert J. Bentley, chose to fill the vacancy Luther Strange. He was considered to be a safe, stalwart conservative in the image of a McConnell or a Ryan. Prior to this appointment, Strange served as an attorney general for the state of Alabama. He did so with a kind of an antebellum ardor—a reactionary bent that’s uncommon outside of Alabama’s borders. Several times Strange sued the federal government and the Obama Administration for matters pertaining to transgender students, the Clean Power Plan, and ExxonMobil’s recompense for the Deepwater Horizons oil spill. Prior to that, he was a lawyer in private practice in the state’s capital at Birmingham. Earlier still, he was a lobbyist for the Transocean Offshore Drilling Company working in D.C.


Thus far, his has been an auspicious and industrious career. However, that doesn’t guarantee his future success in politics. The republican nomination of Senator (for which he now openly contends) has been from the outset well contended. His opponent, after an original field of nine was whittled to two, is the notorious “Ten Commandments Judge”, Roy Moore. His nickname, unlike Strange’s, leads to natural conclusions about the former’s sanctimony rather than the latter’s tall stature. Judge Moore’s notoriety is grounded in his fundamentalism, his recalcitrance, his religiosity, and his zeal, all of which when combined have hampered his judicial duties.


When he took his office as a state supreme court judge in 2001, Moore declared imperiously that “God’s law will be publicly acknowledged in our court”. Apparently, in Moore’s opinion, that “wall of separation” made famous by Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptists was insufficiently high. The good judge saw no impediment in building back up the city of God atop the secular society within which it exists. Further, by “God’s law”, one has to assume that Moore meant not that of Vishnu, nor Woden, nor Saturn, but rather that of our capricious Yahweh. This much goes without saying when dealing with such a holy American man.


It’s one thing to flaunt one’s religiosity, quite another to apply it in public matters. His intention, unsubtly framed, was to subvert or at least provoke the Constitution’s establishment clause. This most essential clause, enumerated first in our sturdy Bill of Rights, proscribes the establishment and consequent promulgation of any national religion. Seldom is the argument made, but it’s worth pointing out that the Constitution says nothing in regard to the establishment of a “state” religion. So long as the federal government doesn’t try to disseminate its own creed, the strict constructivists and interpreters of the Constitution will say that Maryland can be officially catholic, Massachusetts officially protestant, and so on as you will. One can be sure this archaic argument wasn’t lost on Moore.


Esoterica aside, Moore found himself the subject of controversy for other reasons. He defied the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v Hodges, the case whose ruling awarded for the first time same-sex couples a right to marry and to have that marriage recognized by federal and state governments. Hitherto, the recognition of such invidious marriages was confined to the states in which they were permitted, while the federal government had no role.


Because of his obstinacy, Moore was reprimanded time and again. Eventually, these slaps on the writs led to his suspension as Chief Justice of the Alabama supreme court. Curiously, this hadn’t an effect on his popularity amongst Alabamans, which remained consistently high throughout his ordeals. It’s not hard to imagine why this is.


Moore is the kind of brazen bible-thumper so many in this deeply religious state adore. He’s seen as the last bastion of religious expression, the dying breath of a Jesuit fever. It’s for this reason, by and large, that Moore leads Strange in the senate-race polls; the margin has never dipped below double digits. And if the lessons of history are to guide our future inferences, the winner of the Republican primary will likely win the Senate seat. The last Democrat to be elected to the Senate from Alabama happened in 1992, and he no sooner defected to the Republican Party a mere two years into a six-year term.


All that being said, and with most polls pointing to a Moore victory and a Strange defeat, President Trump’s support for “Big Luther” during these past few months seems…strange. In fact, it appears only to have strengthened as the poll numbers look ever more unpropitious. It’s difficult to understand Trump’s support for Strange, as clearly he seems to be picking out of the starting block an ill-fated pony. Perhaps, though, Trump knows something we don’t. After all, he knows better than anyone that polls aren’t always and blindly to be trusted. Trump must think intuitively that Strange has a good shot at winning. Hence, Trump made it a point to speak to Alabama’s voters before they took to the polls.


Landing at Huntsville, a prosperous town in northern Alabama along the banks of the Tennessee River, Trump gave a rambling, ninety-minute speech to a fervid group of Strange’s and, more likely, Trump’s supporters. Trump, in the unrestricted time allotted him, took the opportunity to stoke flames of old and kindle controversies of new, all while doing little to move the needle for Strange. It was supposed to be Trump’s stump for Strange, but it devolved—as it customarily does—into an unfocused, desultory diatribe about the life of a besieged head of state.


Donning a pink candy-cane-striped tie, Trump stood in front of thousands to talk about topics new and trite. Under the heading of the latter, the president continued to bemoan the calamity that is NAFTA, to exalt the return in droves of American jobs stateside, and to assure us of the boon that will most assuredly be “clean” coal. As for the new, the president took an original swipe at North Korea while hurling an unprovoked offensive against the NFL.

In one of many divagations marking the evening, President Trump spent some time talking about North Korea. He called Kim Jong Un, the DPRK’s irascible autocrat, “Little Rocket Man”. Trump for the first time added the diminutive “Little” to his earlier insult of Kim Jong Un made first at the UN summit in New York. Since that time, a veritable war of the words has ratcheted up between the Donald and the despot.


Because no slight, no matter how sophomoric, can bounce off paper-thin skin, Kim Jong Un quickly responded to Trump’s first insult at the UN. Kim did so by calling Trump a “mentally deranged dotard” and a “political heretic”. The first dig quickly became an Internet meme and had those unacquainted with the more common term dotage or the language of Bacon, or Boyle, or Shakespeare scrambling for a definition and a lesson in the Elizabethan tongue. As for the second remark, I don’t imagine many Trump detractors, nor supporters for that matter, will consider it an insult. In fact, those opposed to Trump will likely agree with Kim Jong Un’s “heretical” attribution to this president; his supporters, on the other hand, wear it like an apolitical badge of honor as they chant like a mantra, “drain the swamp”.


While North Korea, by its own doing, is securely “in” the political arena, and thus expecting of and open to Trump’s punches, professional sport generally isn’t. The NFL was dragged into the political brawl, however, when the president decried those players who take it upon themselves to kneel during the singing of the national anthem. Said players are relatively small in number, representing only a small percentage of players on the field, but their sign of irreverence has consumed attention. Seething at the idea of players being so disrespectful as to kneel before the image of the flag, Trump imagined an idyllic scenario in which NFL owners (many of whom are white) would toss the “sons of bitches” (of whom most are black) off the field for “disrespecting the flag”.


Immediately interpreted as a racist remark, the media was quick to impute racial animus on him again. I don’t think the president said what he did with a racist edge, but this sort of a conclusion unfortunately lends itself more readily to him and his administration, both of whom have fallen embarrassingly short on issues pertaining to race in the past. More than anything, his statement about NFL players being tossed off the field for their protestations looked to me little more than red-meat for a deeply red state—and a football-crazed one at that.


He finished the night by turning back to topics of old. He covered his lamentation of Hillary Clinton and he touched on Melania’s heels that she’d worn during the hurricane. After that, he had enough fuel in the tank to talk about the ever-evasive border wall and that oh-so pesky issue of healthcare. The one needs building—the other to be broken down. He gloated about the economy and said that he felt like an Alabaman at heart—something of a consanguineous, kindred spirit returned to an adopted Southern home.


But turning the attention from Trump to others, an impracticable task, admittedly, it wasn’t clear if Strange was any better off for having hosted the president. The “Trump bump” didn’t come as anticipated, or at least not as drastically as some in the Strange camp would have hoped.

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