It was one of those truly unforgettable days for those of us entangled in the history of American politics, as we watched the December 12 Alabama election unfold on local TV screens. The Democratic victor, Doug Jones, as we all know now, is on his way to the U.S. Senate after toppling the original odds-on favorite, Judge Roy Moore, accused molester of teenage girls and well known for his contempt of the basic contents of the U.S. Constitution.
The pundits had little taste for calling this one in advance, given that for many years in deep red Alabama, having an (R) after your name has been a near guarantee of victory in such races. But for a lot of Republican voters who held their noses and voted for the Dem or chose to stay home, it seemed to me there was a big embarrassment factor at work.
Moore was a dreadful candidate by any standard and clearly there was a split between those who voted for him to spite those damn Yankees and the ‘fake’ news media and others who thought the prospect of sending him to Washington would cement an image of Alabama to the rest of the nation as backward and ignorant.
This immediately brought to mind Stanley Kramer’s classic 1960 movie, Inherit the Wind, a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Tennessee. The basic plot of both is that a school teacher is arrested for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution to his students in violation of state law.
In an early scene in the movie, local businessmen howl their frustration about out-of-state news coverage of the case.
“Monkey trial! Here’s another one from Chicago. Heavenly Hillsboro. Does it have a hole in its head or its head in a hole? I’m telling you, we’ve gone too far.” Another man: “What do we care what a bunch of foreigners and city-slickers think?”
But the local banker, who likely holds the mortgages for all these people, carries the day: “Are you aware that major universities around the country will consider our students ineligible because of this law? Now I don’t want to hang a shingle on Hillsboro spelling ‘horse and buggy,’ but I won’t invest in antiquity. I want my bank holding credit with New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois. And I may want my son to go to Yale.”
Leaping forward more than 90 years, it’s hard to imagine that there were not similar private conversations in Alabama prior to the election.
In 1925, the real life Bible-thumping and former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan (Fredric March) tangled with early civil rights attorney, the flamboyant Clarence Darrow (Spencer Tracy). Journalist H.L. Mencken (Gene Kelly) looked on cynically at the spectacle.
During the trial, Mencken wrote for the Baltimore Sun about a religious rally to buck up the spirits of the agitated Bible Belt population. In the movie version, a fundamentalist preacher curses his own daughter for expressing doubt about anti-evolutionist cause in which he’s so invested.
This proves to be too much for the Bryan character (Matthew Harrison Brady). “Remember the wisdom of Solomon in the Book of Proverbs. He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind,” Drummond says, urging the townspeople to knock it off and go home, rather than going ahead with their clear intent to lynch the man on trial.
Although it was a huge upset, Roy Moore didn’t lose by a lot, and as of a week after the election, he had yet to concede his defeat. Clearly however, Republicans in Alabama can no longer expect to inherit seats in Washington by merely wearing their party label. Alabama’s lasting image in the rest of the United States remains to be seen.
Bruce Lloyd is a veteran journalist, who has been a longtime resident of Guam and Saipan.Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org