Is this the Republican Party I signed on for when I quit the Democrats some twenty-five years ago? Last night’s primary win by former Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore suggests otherwise. The man reminds me of the bigoted Dixiecrats of old who once held the Democratic Party in thrall. According to the Washington Post this morning, “Moore made his belief in the supremacy of a Christian God over the Constitution the central rallying point of his campaign. His support for stronger immigration laws, less federal spending and a stronger military were all secondary issues.”
Well, it’s one thing to believe in God, and to believe in a “moral law” as God-given and everyone is entitled to hold such beliefs — or not to. But when religion begins to intrude on the political landscape in order to shape it in its own particular metaphysical image, then an antagonism must arise between those who think that way and those who believe we are a nation that eschews religious tests or any demands that our people embrace one and only one religious point of view. In a society like ours, the Constitution must have primacy over the Bible, even if one is a devoted believer in the Bible (or other designated sacred text) and even if one believes that the Constitution itself (its principles or ethos) are biblically inspired, that the values of one particular creed undergirds the political principles we have enshrined in it. Our system is built on freedom of belief. Religious tests, and the notion that religious beliefs trump secular ones, are inconsistent with that.
Moore made his name as a judge by bucking the law when it conflicted, in his view, with his religious beliefs and he won his primary last night in Alabama by making hay out of that. Now it’s perfectly respectable to disagree with a law and to speak out against it. Even resigning one’s post when you can no longer abide by the law as it pertains to your job in good conscience is good form. As the nineteenth century American political philosopher and activist, Henry David Thoreau, showed, civil disobedience is a respectable means of expression in a free society like ours. But that means accepting the consequences of what you do and Moore should have stepped down from his official position when his decisions ran counter to the law instead of disobeying it and waiting to be fired. That wasn’t accepting consequences but defying them. In our country one cannot defy the laws without undermining them. If we believe ours are good laws for a good country then you don’t undermine them. What kind of country would we be if everyone simply disobeyed the law whenever they disagreed with it? Is this the kind of man Americans in Alabama really want representing them in the U.S. Senate? Is he to be the new face of the Republican Party, the face that reflects people like Steve Bannon?
The GOP is closer today than it was yesterday to a final breakup of the coalition of conservatives, of many different types, which Ronald Reagan built on the bones of Barry Goldwater’s loss in ’64 as the old Dixiecrats, who became Republicans in the wake of that loss, tear the once respected Republican Party to shreds. What began, with Donald Trump, as a populist revolt for the soul of the GOP has turned a corner with the Moore victory.
Republicans like me, who cannot abide religious tests or cultural bigotry, may no longer find a home in the party that Lincoln built and Reagan restored.