What’s Not Happening With Mr. Jones

Photo by Jamelle Bouie | CC BY 2.0

There’s something happening here, but ya don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?

Roy Moore was removed from his position as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in November 2003 by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary for refusing a federal court’s order to remove a marble monument of the Ten Commandments he had preposterously installed in the lobby of the Alabama Judicial Building.

He has said repeatedly that 9/11 was divine punishment for American’s “blasphemous” toleration of homosexuality and women’s right to choose. (Was it also punishment for Moore’s long history of sexual predation against girls as young as 14 years old?)

A Very Low Bar

I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that I’m relieved that the Christian fascist Alabama superfreak Roy Moore won’t be ascending into the United States Senate next year.  And that I enjoyed seeing the malevolent gangster-capitalist Donald Trump (“Boss Tweet”), the socio-pathological Republican Party, the proto-fascist Steve Bannon, and the theocratic and alt-rights smacked down (mainly by Black voters) in one of the reddest of the nation’s red states.

Still, how excited do progressives really want to get about Doug Jones’ special election victory over a candidate who was badly tarred with accusations of child molestation – a despicable and clownish predator whose pursuit of teenage girls in his 30s led to him being banned from a shopping mall?

We should beware here of “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”  A couple years ago I got momentarily proud when I beat a big and younger guy in a one-on-one basketball game he brazenly challenged me to at a local gym. Then, after the contest, I realized that he was playing on one good and one prosthetic leg. The bigger story was that a one-legged man nearly beat me…in basketball.  I knew my hoops dream days were long over.

The apocalyptic evangelical racist-sexist Judge Roy Moore almost won, despite his epic handicap in the race.   He got nearly three-fourths, 72 percent, of the white male vote and nearly two-thirds, 63 percent, of the white female vote in Alabama’s very strange special election last Tuesday.

Speaking of strange, Luther Strange, Trump’s choice in the Republican primary race for the special election, would have defeated Jones handily.  He would have had strong support from Trump, Bannon, the religious right, the alt-right, and the RNC and he would have triumphed.

It seems unlikely that Jones will be re-elected in 2020.  It’s still Alabama, after all. If Jones does win again in three years, he will likely do so as a right-leaning Blue Dog Democrat who can be counted on to block genuinely progressive legislation of the kind favored by most U.S.-Americans.

When “Our Families Were Strong”

I found it strange, or at least disturbing, that nearly all the national horror expressed about Roy Moore focused on his sexual crimes against white girls and women. His history as a sexual predator is horrific and richly worthy of condemnation and disgust, of course.

But so was his all-too tellingly neglected statement in Florence, Alabama last September after a Black citizen asked Moore when he thought America had last been “great.”

“I think it was great,” Moore said, “at a time when families were united – even though we had slavery – they cared for one another…Our families were strong.  The country had direction.”

It’s not often that you hear a politician contending for higher office pine for an era that included the vicious racist torture and exploitation system that was Black chattel slavery, a great stain on the nation that will never be completely washed away.

Whose families were strong in the South under the slave system?  Slave-owning cotton planters’ families, perhaps.  Slave families were regularly torn asunder and made miserable by the sadistic slave regime, which routinely broke up slave families.

The “country[’s] direction” in the slave era pointed to secession after Abraham Lincoln’s election, followed by an epic Civil War that killed more than 750,000 soldiers and led Lincoln to utter these famous and righteous words as the struggle neared its conclusion:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogethe.’ (emphasis added).

(Why did Moore go the pre-Civil War slave era when grasping for a time when America was supposedly “great” because its “families were united”? The usual reference point for Trumpian statements on past American “greatness” is the post-WWII Golden Age of unparalleled U.S. power and prosperity but my guess is that that period didn’t do it for Moore because it hatched the modern southern Civil Rights Movement, launched in Montgomery, Alabama in 1956.)

“It says something about Moore,” CNN’s Z. Byron Wolff wrote last week, “that he could say something this incredible and not have it gain much notice.”

Actually, it said more about the nation’s racially clueless and amnesiac, anti-historical media and politics culture.

My guess is that the Florence slavery comment was noticed loud and clear across Alabama’s Black electorate, to whom Doug Jones owes his victory above all.

Liberals are awash with praise for the milquetoast Clinton-Obama-Pelosi-Schumer moderate and elite Democrat Jones but it was Black voters (who marked ballots 98% for the candidate who did not pine for the good old days of slavery) who saved the United States from a new black eye in Alabama.

“There’s Honor in Compromise and Civility”

Jones’ triumph is not without progressive downsides. Beyond stating standard Democratic opposition to the arch-regressive Trump-GOP tax bill (slated for passage despite widespread public disapproval) and calling (along with moderate Republicans) for restored funding of the endangered federal children’s health insurance program, Jones pretty much mimicked the 2016 Hillary campaign by running above all as NOT Roy Moore.

Look at Mr. Jones’ campaign advertisement, titled “Honor.”  It opens with scenes from the Civil War, telling a story from the Battle of Gettysburg – of a skirmish in which Col. William Oates of Alabama and Col. Joshua Chamberlain of Maine led troops on opposing sides. “Those times have passed long ago,” Jones says, “and our country is better for it, but now we fight too often over other matters. It seems as if we’re coming apart. I want to go to Washington and meet the representatives from Maine and those from every other state, not on the battlefield, but to find common ground — because there’s honor in compromise and civility, to pull together as a people, and to get things done for Alabama.”

There’ll be no silly radical and populist peoples’ or class and social justice warrior-ship from Doug Jones!

Gee, Mr. Jones, does it seem like “we’re coming apart,” what with the top tenth of its upper U.S. One Percent owning as much wealth as the nation’s 90 percent, this while half the citizenry has no savings, half is living in or near poverty, 21 percent of U.S.  children are growing up at less than the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level, and 41 million U.S.-Americans, 12.3 percent of the population, are “food insecure” – and all this as Washington sits on the precipice of passing an arch-plutocratic tax bill designed to make the New Gilded Age yet more viciously unequal and plutocratic?

We’re “coming apart” and “fighting” and not being “civil” and finding “common ground”?  You don’t say!

To quote the Nobel laureate Bob Dylan (“Ballad of a Thin Man”), There’s something happening here/But ya don’t know what it is/ Do you, Mr. Jones?

The commercial was a telling DLC-Clinton-Obama-like nothing burger of bipartisan healing and consensus with the standard deceptive and supposedly non-/post-ideological and pragmatic overlay of just waning wanting to “get things done” across partisan lines. It matched Jones’ timid and centrist Blue Dog campaign, which was devoid of any remotely red-progressive meat in accord with majority U.S. public opinion in support of federally funded universal national health insurance, restored union organizing rights, a $15 an hour minimum wage, campaign finance reform, free child care, and a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Jones’ campaign said nothing, of course, about the cripplingly expensive Pentagon System, which steals vast resources from social expenditures while funneling wealth to high-tech “defense” (empire) corporations like Boeing and Raytheon.

Though he certainly knew he could not defeat Moore without Black votes, candidate Jones did not really take up the problems of the racist criminal justice mass arrest and incarceration system or the nation’s giant racial wealth and wage gap or the endemic violation of Black voting rights or the savage persistently separate and unequal status of Black K-12 education.  Black Democrats simply got campaign calls telling them about Moore’s sexual misconduct and reminding them that Jones once prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a black church in Birmingham.

To make matters worse, Jones insulted Alabama’s Black Americans by using a Black guy as a prop in a flyer that read as follows: “Think if a Black man went after high school girls anyone would try to make him a Senator?”

Election Madness That Keeps People Off the Streets

Along with the Democrats’ off-year election victories in Virginia and elsewhere last month,  Jones’ narrow triumph (just barely big enough to likely survive a recount) reinforces the nation’s disastrous attachment to narrow-spectrum two (major capitalist)-party electoral politics, something that keeps millions while restricting citizens choices to two corporate and imperial options well to the right of the nation’s all too silent progressive majority: the reactionary white nationalist fax-populism of the ever-more apocalyptic GOP and the murderously mild fake-progressive and semi-multicultural neoliberalism of the dismal, dollar-drenched, and imperialist Dems.

How telling it was to see Jones and his backers chanting “USA, USA” as they celebrated their victory over a one-legged bible-thumping superfreak. World citizens beware: expect Superpower to be reinvigorated with another Democratic Party-led re-branding over the next three years.

Meanwhile, U.S. Americans must realize that elections, Democrats, lawyers, special investigations, and changes in the partisan affiliation of ruling- and upper professional-class personnel atop the American System of Empire and Inequality, Inc. are not going to save us.  As Chris Hedges rightly noted in the summer of 2016:

The predatory financial institutions on Wall Street will trash the economy and loot the U.S. Treasury on the way to another economic collapse whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Poor, unarmed people of color will be gunned down in the streets of our cities whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. The system of neo-slavery in our prisons, where we keep poor men and poor women of color in cages because we have taken from them the possibility of employment, education and dignity, will be maintained whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Millions of undocumented people will be deported whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Austerity programs will cut or abolish public services, further decay the infrastructure and curtail social programs whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. Money will replace the vote whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is president. And half the country, which now lives in poverty, will remain in misery whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton becomes president. This is not speculation. We know this because there has been total continuity on every issue, from trade agreements to war to mass deportations, between the Bush administration and the administration of Barack Obama. trade agreements to war to mass deportations, between the Bush administration and the administration of Barack Obama. The problem is not Donald Trump. The problem is capitalism. And this is the beast we are called to fight and slay. Until that is done, nothing of substance will change…To reduce the political debate, as [Bernie] Sanders and others are doing, to political personalities is political infantilism. We have undergone a corporate coup. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will not reverse this coup. They, like Barack Obama, know where the centers of power lie. They serve these centers of power.

As will Mr. Jones.

The dysfunctional over-focus on who’s sitting in the White House, the governors’ offices, the Congress – as opposed to the more urgent politics of “who is sitting in—in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories” (Howard Zinn) – is reinforced by the special elections that pop up between the regularly scheduled and highly time-staggered biennial and quadrennial (presidential) electoral extravaganzas sold to us as “politics” – the only politics that matters. As Howard Zinn reminded us as the rise of the “deeply conservative” (Larissa MacFarquhar) and fake-progressive neoliberal imperialist Barack Obama fed an “election madness” Zinn saw “engulfing the entire society, including the left” in the spring of 2008:

Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war. Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).