Both sides of my family hail from Alabama: my mother’s people from the coal mining country of Walker County in the north and the tiny burg of Union Springs farther south; my dad’s, from a speck of a cotton-mill town just east of Montgomery.
It has been ages since I lived in the state, but I still have scads of relatives scattered across it. I harbor tribal loyalty in the Auburn-Alabama football rivalry (War Eagle!), as well as a weakness for green-bean funeral casserole. And I invariably feel a pang when some not-so-great aspect of my ancestral homeland winds up as a cautionary tale on the front pages of the national media. (Case in point: last year’s Washington Post look at how opioids have become the currency of choice in the town where my grandma grew up.)
But then Alabama goes and does something screwy like nominate Roy Moore for Senate, and I find myself banging my forehead on my desk and shrieking at the dog, “What the hell?!”
Yes. I am aware of the populist rage afoot in the land. I did not need Hillbilly Elegy to tell me about the alienation that working-class whites—especially in rural, economically challenged areas—feel toward the sneering, culturally blue swaths of the nation. (That said, the book was a ripping good read.) I am all too familiar with the bubbling stew of racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, nationalism, antisemitism, anti-intellectualism, anti-establishmentism, anti-governmentism, anti-mediaism, and revanchism that Donald Trump has ushered center stage in American politics.
But seriously, Roy Moore?
Alabama is a deep-red state, and its elected officials should reflect that disposition. But Moore is no garden-variety outsider raring to drain the swamp. Nor is he a traditional conservative committed to keeping America safe for religion, guns, and low marginal-tax rates. Or rather, Moore may very well be both of those things, but he is also—and I want to put this as delicately as possible—a bit of a loon.
Most people, if they’ve heard of Moore at all, remember him vaguely as “the 10-Commandments judge.” This shorthand hardly does justice to the multi-year legal and PR spectacle Moore waged for the right to blend church and state. The flamboyantly pious Moore launched his career-making crusade in 1992, by placing a wooden plaque of the 10 Commandments in his Etowah County courtroom. The ensuing cultural and legal battles raised his profile and helped him get elected chief justice of the state supreme court in 2001. Shortly after being sworn in, he upped the culture-war ante by installing a massive granite monument of the 10 Commandments smack dab in the middle of the court building’s lobby. Lawsuits followed, and a federal judge ordered the monument—affectionately nicknamed The Rock—removed. Moore refused. Two years and multiple court rulings later (none in Moore’s favor), the conservative champion was officially booted from the bench by a judicial ethics panel.
By then, however, Moore was a hero among social conservatives, a fierce Christian warrior who put principles over power. He spent the next few years traveling the country with The Rock, speaking—preaching, really—to fellow warriors about the need to restore this nation to its Christian roots.
In 2012, Moore returned to the political arena, reclaiming his seat as Alabama’s chief justice. Before long, he was back on the national radar, this time for defying federal law regarding same-sex marriage. Now, Moore has never been a big fan of gay rights. He is on record as believing that “sodomy” should be illegal, drawing parallels between it and bestiality, and decreeing that homosexuality renders a person fundamentally unfit for parenthood. During his first run as chief justice, he used a 2002 custody case as an occasion to pen a fiery screed against “homosexual behavior,” denouncing it as “a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one's ability to describe it.”
Small wonder that, in 2016, the chief justice directed Alabama probate judges to ignore the Supreme Court’s recent decision legalizing same-sex marriages and to continue enforcing the state’s ban on such unions by denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Once more, he was brought up on judicial-ethics charges and, in September of last year, was suspended from office. He resigned shortly thereafter to run for Senate.
Just to review: Moore had his judicial wings clipped—twice—for refusing to uphold the law of the land.
Even when not on the bench, Moore found ways now and again to grab the spotlight. In 2006, when Keith Ellison became the first Muslim elected to Congress, Moore penned an op-ed for World Net Daily, asserting that Ellison should not be allowed to serve in the House because of his religion. Ellison’s request to be sworn in on the Quran (rather than the Bible) really got Moore’s goat. In addition to arguing that someone who embraces the Quran cannot possibly commit himself to the U.S. Constitution (to be fair, Moore is an expert on the subject of putting one’s religious beliefs ahead of the rule of law), the erstwhile judge argued that “common sense alone dictates that in the midst of a war with Islamic terrorists we should not place someone in a position of great power who shares their doctrine.”
Moore is a zealot in the wild-eyed, Old Testament sense of the word. He is eternally trolling for a fight, and, when it suits him, he is as dishonest as, well, Donald Trump.
Moore, like Trump, shamelessly pedaled the Obama “birther” nuttiness for years (and as recently as December). It most definitely bled into his professional behavior. In 2013, he was one of two dissenting votes in the state supreme court’s dismissal of a case that would have required Alabama’s secretary of state to certify a presidential candidate’s birth certificate before the candidate’s name could appear on the general election ballot.
Almost as shamelessly—and just as baselessly—in an interview with Vox last month, Moore asserted that certain communities in the United States are already operating under Sharia law. When pressed for details, he flailed around for a second or two (“Well, there’s Sharia law, as I understand it, in Illinois, Indiana—up there. I don't know”) before pooh-poohing the very concept of facts. “Well, let me just put it this way—if they are, they are; if they’re not, they’re not. That doesn’t matter.”
Indeed, Moore has made painfully clear that facts do not matter to him. Neither does he feel compelled to respect laws with which he disagrees. (He answers to a higher power, you see.) This may appeal to Alabamans sense of independence, feistiness, and moral virtue, but it bodes ill for Moore actually accomplishing anything in the Senate.
A pugilistic, self-aggrandizing grandstander like Moore is exactly what Alabama doesn’t need representing its interests. Doesn’t the state have enough to contend with already?