It’s hard to be optimistic about America these days. But Tuesday night, in perhaps the reddest state in America, came a bright glimmer of hope.
Doug Jones’s upset win over Roy Moore in Alabama’s special Senate election is about something much bigger than politics. It’s good over bad; light overwhelming dark; the forces of progress and decency defeating those of reactionism and intolerance.
Jones, who as a US attorney prosecuted the men responsible for killing four black girls at the 16th Street Church in Birmingham in 1963, is, from all appearances, a decent and good man.
Moore is not.
He’s a bigot, a homophobe, a misogynist, a law breaker, and an alleged child molester. He’s a charlatan who used his religious faith as a cover for the cynicism, divisiveness, and hypocrisy that defined his putrid worldview.
On the same day that President Trump tweeted out a disgusting sexual slur against Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Jones’s win is a reminder that we don’t all have to be dragged down into the sewer with Trump, Steve Bannon, and their coterie of enablers and sycophants.
It’s embarrassing enough for Trump that he was pretty much the only national Republican to enthusiastically endorse Moore. It’s worse for him the GOP’s majority in the Senate has been narrowed to one seat, which could both imperil his massive tax cut plan and also put the Senate up for grabs in 2018.
But perhaps the most damaging part is that if Moore had won it would have made Trump largely bulletproof on his past predatory behavior toward women. If Moore could survive accusations of molesting and harassing teenage girls, surely Trump could deflect questions about his past actions. Moore’s defeat makes that much harder. Calls from Democrats for Trump to resign because of his past sexual improprieties will almost certainly grow louder. Media scrutiny will increase, and Republicans will find themselves under greater pressure to defend the president at the same time that prominent men, with infamous pasts, are dropping like flies. Trump won’t resign, but this story isn’t going away.
While Trump may be safe for now the same cannot necessarily be said of congressional Republicans. Not only did they lose a solid red Senate seat, but Trump’s endorsement means that the stench from Moore will remain adhered to the party for the foreseeable future.
But how Moore lost is what should concern them — because it’s the same way Republicans have been losing — or barely winning — all year. Democrats are wildly energized and enthusiastic.
If Republicans can’t hold a Senate seat in Alabama they can’t take anything for granted anywhere in America. There is a political wave building in this country and it has potential to drown the political careers of a lot of Republican officeholders.
Finally, a word needs to be said about the foundation of Democratic enthusiasm — African-American voters. After the 2016 election some in the Democratic Party said the party needed to find a way to win over disaffected white voters who had pulled the lever for Trump.
Tuesday night, however, was a good reminder that the Democratic coalition is built on a base of non-white voters. For Jones, the key to his victory was the unbreakable loyalty of African-American voters to the Democratic Party. We saw a similar phenomenon in Virginia in which Republican Ed Gillespie tracked closely to Trump’s numbers in traditional GOP strongholds, but was simply subsumed by a torrent of Democratic voters, both black and white. If Democrats want to keep their political momentum going into 2018, they’d be wise to make sure they keep tending to their key constituencies.
In the end, it would perhaps be worth it for all Americans, particularly white Americans, to think about the fact that while around 70 percent of white Alabamans went with Moore, it was African-American voters who kept a bigot and alleged sexual predator out of the US Senate. Even more important it was those same voters who kept hope alive that in America the arc of the moral universe will continue to bend toward justice.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.