December 12, 2017

Alabama Votes

Alabama in United States
By TUBS [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
As Alabama voters go to the polls today, it is tempting to speculate about whether they will do (what I believe is) the right thing. In 2016, we learned - or at least we should have learned - that polls can be very wrong. That said, it is difficult to ignore the fact that Roy Moore is ahead in all of the polls I have seen. While that does not mean he will necessarily win, it seems reasonable to conclude that his chances of winning are decent. If this happens, many on the left will undoubtedly take to social media to insist that Alabama voters endorsed pedophilia. I wrote previously about what the continued support for Moore tells us about tribalism, but we can see something similar from many of Moore's opponents.

For the average Republican voter in Alabama, this election is not about supporting pedophilia. I find it unlikely that most of these voters are having an internal dialogue about how electing a Democrat would be far worse than electing a pedophile. This is one of the left's many unfortunate tribalistic narratives. So what is the average Republican voter in Alabama doing? Clearly, some do not believe the allegations against Moore. They've decided it is all "fake news" and not the sort of thing that will deter them from voting for someone they have long supported. I imagine more are doing the same thing most of us do when faced with a candidate we don't like. They are trying to figure out whether they can vote for Moore, support a write-in alternative, or stay home. I do not expect more than a few to vote for Doug Jones any more than I'd expect a Democratic voter who did not like the Democratic candidate to vote for the Republican.

If Moore wins, Alabama's reputation will be tarnished. I have no problem with that. If Moore wins, Alabama's reputation should be tarnished. Remember, the allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore are only one of many reasons he is unfit for public office. We should take a critical look at any state that elects someone like Moore. But if Moore does win, I think it would be a mistake to accuse Alabama voters of supporting pedophilia or any other sort of sexual misconduct. This is more about the toxic effects of political tribalism than about supporting sexual misconduct.

Those of us on the left have a long list of valid criticisms of Roy Moore. We will be disappointed if he wins, but I don't think we should be surprised by such an outcome. And if Moore does win, I expect we will see an outpouring of unhelpful tribalism from many on the left. They will demonize Alabama voters in much the same way many continue to demonize those who voted for Trump. I think this is unfortunate because it accomplishes little more than electing more people like this. That is something I do not think we can afford.

Polarization and tribalism are destructive forces that are doing little to help our democracy. We need to replace them with reason, nuance, civility, critical thinking, healthy skepticism, and freethought. And we are not going to accomplish this so long as we continue to indiscriminately vent our feelings of outrage through name-calling, ridiculous memes, and reliance on bigoted characterizations of those who disagree with us.

Update: Against the odds, Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore. According to Religion News Service, "It was the first Democratic Senate victory in a quarter-century in Alabama, one of the reddest of red states, and proved anew that party loyalty is anything but sure in the age of Trump."