Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Moore Values

By Finbarr Curtis 

In a recent twitter exchange, the former judge, current senate candidate, and perpetual sexual predator Roy Moore accused Jimmy Kimmel of mocking "Christian values." In response to Moore's challenge to come to Alabama and settle things "man to man," Kimmel said: "Sounds great Roy - let me know when you get some Christian values and I'll be there."

In the language of the internet, Kimmel's response is generally referred to as an "own." The ownage was only further compounded when Kimmel noted that he would make the trip but leave his daughters at home. 

In the politics of resentment that drives Moore and his supporters, however, this brief exchange was only further evidence of "Hollywood elites' bigotry toward southerners." By inviting Kimmel's condescension in order to stoke a feud between Hollywood and the South, Moore performed the rhetorical alchemy that transforms the content of all political criticism into nothing other than an assault on white Christian identity. 

The reason that Moore's brand of white identity politics needs the Kimmels of the world is that there is nothing about Moore that is indigenous to Alabama. As a former Alabama voter myself, I can attest that Alabamans do not routinely attend formal political events dressed in cowboy costumes while waving a gun. Rather, Moore is a coastal liberal's caricature of Alabama. He has spent a lifetime imagining all of the things that liberals hate, and then crafted himself in this image. This negative identification gives Moore's political performances their hyperbolic, over-the-top quality. The more he offends liberal civility, the more he triggers the sort of condescension that validates his image of a spokesman for victimized white southern Christians railing against a shadowy establishment comprised of economic, political, media, and educational elites.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, a remarkable number of commentators took these self-identifications of white victimhood at face value. This resulted in an array of stories that portrayed Trump supporters as fueled by "economic anxiety." But a lawyer and judge like Moore is hardly poor or powerless. Like many vociferous Trump supporters, Moore is best described as a local elite. Local elites are the district attorneys, small business owners, and insurance salesmen who make a comfortable living in places like Gadsden, Alabama.

Elites like Moore hold a great deal of civic sway in the communities in which they live, and are committed to  protecting what they imagine to be a threatened "way of life." This life is the idealized small-town world of family and neighbors who attend the same churches, patronize the same small businesses, and cheer for kids in the same little league and high school football teams. All of this makes Moore feel safe. It is what allows him to leave his doors unlocked, or to know that he can get out of speeding ticket because he is old friends with the sheriff's dad. Maintaining these relatively homogeneous social spaces depends upon tightly shared norms and a commitment to racial and sexual hierarchies in which everyone "knows their place," and this in turn requires submission to the forms of authority that produce and govern these norms. For this reason, Moore is strongly committed to symbolic displays of submission to visible representations of authority like the flag, the police, the military, or the ten commandments inscribed on a big rock

The fixation on authority confuses liberal commentators who read the ten commandments for their ethical or theological content. According to Moore's critics, rules are reasonable propositions people agree to follow. This leads to charges of hypocrisy leveled against those who cherish monuments of the ten commandments but cannot themselves list them, or to the repeated spectacle where people like Moore engage in private sexual behavior at odds with their professed public morality. The gap between private behavior and public image is what leads Kimmel to mock Moore for his hollow Christian values.

The reason that Kimmel's jokes fail to sway Moore's most ardent supporters, however, is that for them the point is not to follow the rules but to have them. What Moore finds so frightening about contemporary liberalism is that liberals want to redraw rules to accommodate diverse forms of private behavior in ways that appear to eliminate shame and sin. By doing this, liberals challenge the authority of the social norms that make local elites like Moore feel safe and powerful, and then threaten to replace these values with regulations produced by a government accountable to religiously, ethnically, and sexually diverse publics in an increasingly urban nation. When Moore talks about "the establishment," he means urban liberals who claim to welcome this diversity, or at least a gentrified version of it. 

None of this is to say that Moore's politics are the organic expression of an Alabaman way of life. Rather, Moore's values are shaped by an exaggerated fear of outsiders, a paranoid conviction that diabolical liberal enemies will manipulate diverse sexual, racial, ethnic, and religious groups to undermine white Christian social power and privilege. In his defense of local elites against national elites, Moore is the embodiment of the current Trumpian movement to reduce the GOP to nothing other than anti-liberalism. He follows an electoral strategy crafted by people like Steven Bannon who mobilize intense support from small town and suburban white Christians and no one else. While Trump's campaign managed to squeak out a narrow electoral college victory with 46 percent of the vote, this approach has a bleak demographic future. Taking a page out of the Jim Crow playbook, the current GOP has accepted that it is the party of minority rule and needs to undercut democratic institutions in order to survive. Strategies like gerrymandering, voter suppression, immigration restrictions, and even cooperation with fellow ethno-nationalist movements abroad are felt to be existential necessities among a minority who seeks to keep power by any means necessary. Once you decide that these are your values, it is easy to feel persecuted.

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