Many years ago, as a young soldier (in civvies, but somehow they always knew) quaffing a few beers in a Georgia bar as far from the post as I could afford to get, I saw a young black soldier (in civvies, but I could tell) come through the door with a lovely date on his arm. She was white. Actually, blonde. I was sore afraid, and looked for a table to get under, envisioning the bar existing only as a pile of kindling when the riot was over.
As far as I could tell, not one person in the bar — remember I said it was far from the post, so it was not an all-Army crowd, but mostly locals — no one gave the couple a second glance or seemed to comment on their presence. That was in 1968, and it was then I began to rethink my easily-acquired caricature of Southerners as racist hicks. Having rethought it, and having similar Southern epiphanies many times over the years, I retained some faith in the decency of Alabamans, and became convinced they would not elevate the odious Roy Moore to the Senate of the United States.
I regret I did not have the courage to go on the record with my conviction before election day, or to commit more than a buck or two to a bet on the outcome, but I have become gun-shy about making predictions. But for the record, this is why I thought Doug Jones would win:
- The polls that showed Moore ahead, or the race too close to call, were deeply flawed, as almost all polls are today. Especially in an off-year, special election — and especially in Alabama — they are based on calls to landlines, which today skews the results to older, more conservative people who have not yet adapted to cell phones (let alone smartphones).
- One of the few journalists to actually visit Alabama before spouting off on cable television, an old Alabama hand at that, reported in a little noted observation a few days before the election that he had never seen so many yard signs out in any previous election. He estimated there were five time as many as in the last presidential election. And he added that every one of them he saw was for Doug Jones.
- Similarly, the few journalists who wrote about the campaign on the ground, instead of jawboning about a referendum on Trump, or a test for Bannon, or a revolution of women, or any of the other substitutes for political thought, described Jones’s campaign as a vibrant, well-organized ground game with its eyes fixed firmly on the prize — the identification and delivery of the next committed Jones voter. The other side was calling names, spewing invective, and invoking Jesus.
Thus Alabama demonstrated, just a month after Virginia demonstrated, that a strident minority of radicals will not necessarily win an election when moderate people understand its importance and manage to find the motivation to sacrifice the hour or so it takes to go vote. (This is what we are called upon to lay on the altar of democracy today — an hour a year of binge-watching reality TV.)
I know I will hear from commenters and others that I am hopelessly naive to think that voting makes a difference, that election are not all “rigged,” that we are not helpless pawns in a world run by the money, for the money.
It is true that powerful forces are working hard to defang democracy, to dilute the votes of the non-wealthy. From voter suppression to gerrymandering to super-pacs to fake news and back, the cudgels are large and wielded with abandon. Yet as depressed as you may become at how often they work, notice should be taken of how often they fail. The Koch brothers have lost an awful lot of elections in the past few years in which money (for their side) was no problem.
And then there is this: I am told often that one who believes as I do that the industrial world is beyond saving, is in reality in the process of collapse, has no business believing in, or participating in, elections. It’s inconsistent, I’m told, even hypocritical.
To which I answer: we all knew, all of us, before we ever learned anything about climate change or chemical farming or the end of petroleum, that on a day certain in the future we were going to die. We did not then curl up in a corner to await the inevitable, we resolved to live lives as good as we could manage and to greet death, on the day he comes, with dignity. That resolve should not — cannot — be changed by the simple fact that death is coming for more of us, sooner, than previously estimated.
It’s just a detail, like the date on which the sun will inevitably burn out. Carry on.
Carry on Alabama, and America, and every one of us, the best we can.
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