The outcome of a Senate race in Alabama may become a dividing line in history, but it won’t change things. Sure, one party will get a vote in the Senate, on most days anyway, but our political system won’t get back what it lost in 2017. That Judge Roy Moore, accused by numerous women of preying upon them as young girls, has remained a candidate and retained substantial support in polls is proof enough that tribalism has vanquished integrity.
A moral code, standards for ethical conduct, once defined the threshold for viability for elected office. No matter the political party, leaders weren’t just deemed able, but decent, empathetic, optimistic, dignified and honest. That disappeared long ago, with the help of Democrats and Republicans, but until just weeks ago even partisanship was expected to fold its tent in the face of something like alleged pedophilia. That bar for leadership has been invalidated as many voters in Alabama either say they cannot believe the credible and public accusations about Moore, or that what he did to children doesn’t matter since he isn’t a Democrat.
The accusers’ stories are so believable that Alabama’s sitting senior Republican senator, Richard Shelby, admitted he wrote in some other Republican’s name on his absentee ballot and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose seat will be filled by the winner, has said he has no reason not to believe the women who have gone public with their allegations. Indeed, not one GOP senator has expressed doubt over the accusations, many of them have called for Moore to step aside and some have called for him -- if victorious on Dec. 12 -- to be expelled from the chamber.
Expulsion is an empty threat, however, and should Moore win he will ride into town on his horse with his pistol in his hand, for good. If elected he will serve, with the approval of President Trump and his chief benefactor, Breitbart Executive Chairman Steve Bannon. Trump, who faced allegations from more than a dozen women of improprieties ranging from sexual harassment to assault, is supporting Moore’s election by campaigning against Democrat Doug Jones, calling the latter “WEAK on crime.” If proven, Moore’s alleged conduct with the then-children would make him an actual criminal. Now, partisans hungry to smear Moore’s victims set up a sting operation to plant a similar but fake story with the Washington Post -- which broke the original story regarding the GOP nominee’s past -- that was revealed to be fraudulent. This is where we are -- taking no prisoners means not even victims of likely acts of pedophilia.
Yet Democrats who hope despairing Republicans will join energized independents and liberals to push Jones over the top in the race are not the guardians of morality nor do they represent the party of women. They tolerated Sen. Ted Kennedy after Chappaquiddick and through his many years of drunken groping that may have constituted assault. And after Republicans failed to believe Anita Hill and defended and confirmed Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas against her accusations of harassment, Democrats surrendered their credibility on the matter by then tolerating President Bill Clinton after several accusations of assault by Juanita Broderick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey. Later they would defend him after he had a sexual relationship with a young intern and lied under oath about it -- blaming Republicans who impeached him for their sanctimony and political overreach. It was then, in the 1990s, that Democrats officially severed governance and leadership from good character, laying the groundwork for the election of President Trump. Only now are Democrats, with Hillary Clinton no longer dominating their party, shamelessly revisiting their support for her husband, decades later.
Just last weekend Democrats were aghast to watch the implosion of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on NBC's “Meet the Press.” Choking on her situational ethics, Pelosi tried to protect her support among members of the Congressional Black Caucus who had defended Rep. John Conyers following revelations he has paid out a settlement to a former staff member alleging harassment and in another case has been sued by an accuser, while remaining a champion of women. She called Conyers an “icon” but then insisted there would be “zero tolerance” for such conduct.
Republicans delighted in Pelosi’s epic fail, but while the Democrats have tried withholding judgment on Conyers as well as Sen. Al Franken -- who thinks squeezing women’s buttocks at the state fair while taking pictures together is just friendly hugging -- Republicans largely have gone mute on Franken and Conyers too. They are smarter than Trump, whom they will be asked about if they judge other accused predators, but the president couldn’t resist attacking Franken nonetheless. Referring to the picture where Franken is groping a sleeping woman’s breasts, Trump tweeted: “the Al Frankenstein picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words.” Then, in another tweet, Trump marveled “to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women…”
According to a new story in the New York Times, Trump is now claiming he believes the infamous “Access Hollywood” recording -- on which he brags about sexual assault, and for which he apologized -- is a fake. His supporters, some of whom are deeply religious and forgave him for his indiscreet “locker room talk,” will now abide Trump’s latest fantasy, no matter how frightening.
We can no longer demand the truth and agree on a set of facts. If we do, and those facts are inconvenient, tribalism will prevail anyway. But voters must accept if they no longer ask officeholders to have good character, they cannot ask for it elsewhere. Not at church, or in school, or at work. Not of anyone, not even for their young daughters.