We live in a big country, and that means regions can have a lot of particularly disparate experiences. For example, did you know that places in the American South experience lawn crayfish? That’s what it sounds like, by the way; it’s an invertebrate related to the common crayfish that lives in your lawn. Many people from the North, myself included, look at that and say “Why is my seafood dinner hanging out next to my begonias?” But in the South, that’s just a thing.
I mention this because we’ve had a solid week now of the Washington Post reporting on the story that Roy Moore, the Republican special election candidate for the Alabama Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, solicited sexual acts from multiple underage women when he was an ADA in his thirties. And much like the lawn crayfish, some prominent people in the South have accepted and defended Moore doing his squirmy, unsettling thing, while all of us in the metropolitan North demand to know what on earth is going on. It’s a predictable, regional mess that can have real life consequences for us all, so I’m writing a bit more about it today. Here are some examples and analyses of the past week’s horrorshow defenses, which have pretty much been The Worst Game of Handmaid’s Tale Bingo:
- “There’s nothing wrong with the story as reported.” The most prominent variant on this claim came from Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, who compared Moore’s actions to Mary and Joseph in an interview with the Washington Examiner. It reflects one of the most important underpinnings of this entire thing: as locals have started saying, they already knew he was preying on teenagers. In the incredible political atmosphere of 2017, grass roots deconstructionist Republicans feel safe simply stating that molesting children is normal per the Bible. (Although in this case, I’m not sure I’d point to a famous instance of a virgin birth to prove my point about sexual misconduct.)
- “It was so long ago, and people shouldn’t be held accountable for mistakes made in their youth.” Never mind that he was in his thirties, and a licensed attorney at the time of all four allegations; that isn’t relevant. Jim Zeigler, the guy responsible for the Joseph and Mary quote, even included a messed up Romeo and Juliet argument that Moore simply habitually loved younger women in his youth, citing the fact that his current wife of 35 years is 14 years his junior. (As if marrying a young adult when you’re an established professional, whom you make your own legal secretary, creates an equitable relationship rather than an additional lever for control.)
- “If this is true, it’s reprehensible.” This one is particularly insidious, and it’s one of the biggest reasons I think this story should not have been published. Republican officials know they can say this with abandon to thread the needle, because in Alabama, the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuses is long gone. We are never going to have “more facts,” because there will never be a trial, which means everybody in the Tea Party faction of the GOP who doesn’t live in Alabama can get away with this scandal’s version of offering “thoughts and prayers.”
- “This was in some way the teenagers’ fault.” I was waiting for this one in particular to show its ugly head from the moment I read this story, for obvious reason. And sure enough, we have an Alabama state rep calling for the women who spoke to the Post to be prosecuted, saying that they enabled Moore by not reporting him if these stories were true. Keep in mind that Moore was an ADA when these allegations would have happened. Would you go tell the police that their colleague tried to illegally get sex out of you, or your daughter? Relatedly, I will be extremely surprised if these women aren’t doxxed and threatened with rape or death, which is Reason #2 this story should not have been published in this timeframe.
- “It’s too late for you to interfere; he’s already our candidate and you can’t make us remove him.” This one is the biggest crayfish in the yard, and it has the unfortunate credibility of being absolutely true. It’s too late for the RNC to remove him from the ballot and Alabama officials have no desire to remove Moore for something they already knew about and probably condone. In fact, we’re already seeing Alabama Republicans respond to pressure at this stage by mobilizing their local base. Even worse, when it’s known that Luther was the favored establishment candidate, and the establishment tries to intervene past when it’s effective, local politicians are accurately stating that there was an attempt to tamper with the elective process. The Tea Party base is not noted for favoring truth, but that doesn’t mean they don’t respond to it when it’s in their favor.
Basically, this was a gross miscalculation that assumed Alabama natives would have the same rules of conduct we can expect in Washington, DC — a faulty and potentially dangerous assumption. I get why the Post, and possibly the establishment GOP, thought they could ride the tide of sexual harassment allegations and voting referenda from Tuesday to damage Moore’s chances in a close special election. But those things didn’t happen in Alabama — the location that elected Jeff Sessions over and over. It’s not an area known for listening to women’s voices. I don’t know why they thought that living in Trump’s post-decency political realm would make that any better.