Racism and Trumpism in Alabama

As Alabama votes ​in the special Senate election, historian Gerald Horne and TRNN senior editor Paul Jay discuss why an alleged sexual predator and slavery apologist is even in the running.

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PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay and while you’re watching this show today, please remember we’re in the midst of our winter fundraising campaign. For every buck you donate, we will have a matching grant of a dollar. And we can’t have discussions and analysis and reports like you’re about to see, without your support, so please, at some point, at this time, if you haven’t donated already, somewhere around here is a donate button. But let’s get going.

Alabama is voting today in a special Senate election for the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became the Attorney General. According to polling, Democratic Party candidate Doug Jones is running neck and neck with Republican Roy Moore, who rode in on a horse to cast his ballot earlier today. I guess this is to prove that he likes the good old days. Aside from Moore’s alleged sexual predatory behavior towards teenage girls, a great deal of attention is focused on Moore’s comments about the US Constitution, particularly his calling for a repeal of the 14th Amendment.

Well, according to the Legal Information Institute, the 14th Amendment addresses many aspects of citizenship and the rights of citizens. The most commonly used and frequently litigated phrase in the amendment is equal protection of the laws, which figures prominently in a wide variety of landmark cases, including Brown v. Board of Education, which dealt with racial discrimination in schools; Roe v. Wade, which dealt with reproductive rights; Bush v. Gore, fairness in election recounts; Reed v. Reed dealt with gender discrimination. Here’s Moore on a right-wing radio talk show in 2011. The host says it would be good to eliminate all amendments after the 10th. Moore says that would eliminate many problems in the way government is structured and then they go on to discuss the 14th Amendment.

ROY MOORE: That would eliminate many problems. People don’t understand how some of these amendments have completely tried to wreck the form of government that our forefathers intended. Well, the danger in the 14th Amendment, which was to restrict, has been a restriction on the states using the first 10 amendments by and through the 14th Amendment, to restrict the states from doing something that the federal government was restricted from doing and allowing the federal government to do something, which the first 10 amendments prevented them from doing.

PAUL JAY: Here’s an example of the federal government restricting something. In Scott versus Sanford in 1857, the Supreme Court held that African Americans were not US citizens. Let me say that again, in 1857, the Supreme Court held that African Americans, even if they’re free, were not US citizens. The 14th Amendment however, guaranteed that everyone born or naturalized in the United States and under its jurisdiction would be a United States citizen. It also ensured that federal citizenship was also made primary, which meant that states could not prevent freed slaves from obtaining state citizenship and thus federal citizenship. As such, the 14th Amendment effectively overturned Sanford versus Scott. In the name of state’s rights, this is what Moore wants repealed.

Now joining us to discuss the controversy over the 14th Amendment and the state of racism and Trumpism in Alabama is Gerald Horne. Gerald holds the John J. and Rebecca Moore Chair of History in African American Studies at the University of Houston. He’s the author of many books, most recently “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America.” Thanks for joining us again, Gerald.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.

PAUL JAY: Before we kind of dig into more modern day Alabama and why this kind of attitude, I should say, of Moore continues and seems to have significant support of at least half of the voters of Alabama, if not a majority. Let’s go look into this issue that they seem to be raising with such seriousness. The issue of the 14th Amendment, even every amendment after the 10th which includes the amendment that eliminated slavery, but they focus on the 14th. Why do they focus on that?

GERALD HORNE: They focus on the 14th Amendment for a number of reasons. First of all, as background, you should know that The Economist, the British publication, did a major story a few weeks ago detailing how there is a movement afoot in the United States to have a new Constitutional Convention that potentially and theoretically could not only jump the 14th Amendment but could jump everything, including the First Amendment, that is to say the right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Second of all, the right-wing United States objects to the 14th Amendment not least because they object to what they call birthright citizenship. Recall, that under the 14th Amendment, you are a citizen of the United States if you are born in the United States. There has been a…that women from Mexico and from China who are pregnant come into the United States in order to have so-called “anchor babies,” so that their babies then automatically become residents, if not citizens of the United States of America, giving them a leg up to gaining citizenship themselves.

And then, of course, overthrowing the 14th Amendment in some ways would help to rewrite the results of the US Civil War which inflicted a wounding defeat upon the so-called Confederate States of America, a defeat that they have been trying to reverse ever since. A defeat that they have been trying to reverse, first of all by installing monuments to their so-called heroes across the landscape, but now it seems that that is not enough and so they’re going for the entire enchilada, so to speak, to overturn the 14th Amendment which in many ways would rewrite the narrative of the US Civil War.

PAUL JAY: Well, certainly, one of the leaders of this movement, which is to my mind, really a neo-fascist kind of movement, is Steve Bannon. And it was an interesting fight between Bannon and Trump in the Republican primary that led to this Senate race where Trump did not support Moore and Bannon did. Bannon’s guy won. Bannon was out campaigning for Moore vigorously just the other day, but so was Trump. And in fact, they’re running as much against the quote “Republican elites” as they are the Democratic Party elites. But this Bannon-esque movement and Moore is becoming, I guess the poster child of it, is completely tied up with this ideology of the good old days of essentially, slavery.

GERALD HORNE: Well, you are correct. And unfortunately, one of the more insightful analyses of what’s going on in the United States has come from the Foreign Minister of Germany, Sigmar Gabriel, who in a very important speech in Berlin just a few days ago, suggested that not only would the European Union have to forge its own path, distinct from the path that has been laid out historically by the United States of America with the EU following behind, but as he sees it there will be Trumpism for some time to come without Donald J. Trump.

And I think that the cutting edge, the leading edge of Trumpism right now is in Alabama because if Roy Jones emerges victorious with regard to this US Senate election that’s unfolding as we speak, it would not only be a victory for Mr. Bannon, it would not only be a victory for Mr. Trump but the United States is also rather slowly but methodically working its way down the path to try to reverse the results, not only of the civil rights movement but ultimately reversing the results of the US Civil War which I think would be a disaster, needless to say.

PAUL JAY: Now, why do you think Moore, first of all with the accusations of his sexual predatory behavior, as I said towards teenage girls, all over the country, personalities are falling like dominoes where there seems to be credible accusers and certainly there seems to be credible accusers of Moore. It seems to be not having that much effect in Alabama but even more so, the deep racism Moore represents and this kind of politics of opposing Constitutional rights for African Americans. Why does that still have such strength in Alabama so many years after this was initially fought?

GERALD HORNE: Well, first of all I don’t think we’ve dealt honestly with the history of this country. That is to say even our friends on the left portray a slaveholders’ rebellion which was designed to implant white supremacy forever more as a so-called incomplete revolution, which is like calling the installation of apartheid in South Africa in 1948, which was designed to guarantee the rights for those of European minorities as a so-called incomplete revolution that somehow neglected and forgot to include the rights of the African majority.

But I think also it’s important to note that with the changing global climate with China in the passing lane, gaining and having… global income, a panic has ensued in US ruling circles and I think that ultimately in order to understand why Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon and those who back him, including the Mercer family, the billionaire family from New York, in order to understand why they’re backing this neo-fascist Roy Moore, you have to understand the panic that has ensued in US ruling elite circles, at least a portion of that circle with regard to the changing global climate and how it does not spell well for the future of the US ruling elite.

PAUL JAY: Why does that lead them to support a Moore, who plays out so badly for most of the Republican Party leadership, who are trying to distance themselves from him?

GERALD HORNE: Well, first of all, as you know more than most, there is a split within US ruling circles. That is to say that if the Trump faction of the US ruling elite somehow prevails, it seems to me there’ll be a shake out within the US ruling elite itself, and there will be losers just like there are going to be losers within the U.S. working class if Mr. Moore emerges triumphant. I think ultimately the goal of the Trump faction is to basically prevail in terms of their ongoing class conflict with the US ruling class and ultimately, it will spell doom I’m afraid, for those at the bottom of the US working class which ultimately speaks to the fate of the Black and Brown sector of the US working class.

PAUL JAY: Now part of this vote in Alabama is also to do with changing demographics. The longer term demographics are certainly a large increase in the Latino population. More and more Blacks are getting engaged and voting than in the past, at least in the recent past other than perhaps Obama. Is part of what’s going on here an attempt to consolidate, as much as they much can, this power, certainly based on rural Alabama and deal with voter suppression? Certainly, the 14th Amendment also dealt with issues of voting rights which is another reason I don’t like it.

GERALD HORNE: Well, keep in mind that California is a negative example for the Republican Party. It’s no accident that many within the Trump circle, including Steve Bannon, Steve Miller and a host of others spent time in Southern California, including the Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin. Keep in mind that California now has a Black, Brown and Asian majority. Keep in mind, as well that with that Black, Brown and Asian majority, it has become very difficult for the Republican Party, the party of whiteness, to prevail. The Republican Party, basically, is on a path to extinction in the state of California. That is one of the reasons why you have this attack on the 14th Amendment and its provisions for so-called birthright citizenship.

That is why the Bannon wing of the Republican Party has put so much emphasis on Roy Moore prevailing. That is why you’ve had an attack on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and that is why voter suppression in the state of Alabama has been so successful to the point where a significant percentage of the Black vote in Alabama will not be able to weigh in, not only because of voter suppression and the fact that you have voter ID laws and then the places where you get voter IDs have been shut down, but also because of felony disenfranchisement. That is to say the prison industrial complex sweeps up Black men and Black women to a larger degree in particular and then, when you have a felony on your record you’re not able to vote. Alabama, in some ways, is a laboratory that is pointing to the direction of US politics going forward in the 21st century.

PAUL JAY: A question has come in. And let me say again, we’re live on TheRealNews.com. We’re live on Facebook, YouTube and maybe some other places, so we will take some questions over the course of this discussion. There’s a question here from Max Parthus. He says, “Let’s remember to talk about the 13th Amendment, how it continues to allow slavery to exist in Alabama and nationwide.” And by that, he means mass incarceration. He says Alabama’s prisons are 200% capacity.

GERALD HORNE: Well, of course. I’m sure the caller, or the writer is familiar with the documentary, “13TH” by Ava DuVernay, which presents a very graphic portrait of what we refer to colloquially as the prison industrial complex. But it’s also important to note that the other amendments beyond the first 10 amendments in the United States Constitution also deal with such issues as the 15th Amendment, which deals with voting rights. It also deals with the right of 18-year-olds to vote as well and it would not surprise me at all if there is a movement to get rid of that amendment because as it is well known, younger voters are not as in favor of the Republican Party as older voters, particularly older white voters tend to be. I think that we have to gear up for an all-out assault on our Democratic rights in this country.

PAUL JAY: Alabama’s one of the poorest states in the country. I think GDP per capita, I think Alabama’s about 43rd or something on the list. Many of the whites who will be voting for Moore today are poor, poor workers, poor out-of-work workers but they’re voting for a candidate who’s very associated, as you said, with Trump and Trump and his billionaire backers. I know they have all the rhetoric of running against the GOP elites. But they’re voting for politics that clearly are not going to do much to better their well-being. And there’s a long history of them voting that way and their well-being does not get better. How do you explain these deep rooted attitudes in Alabama that just don’t seem to change, in spite of how bad conditions are for most of the working white people of the state, even though it might be better than Black people?

GERALD HORNE: Well, look at the US Civil War, 1861 to 1865. The question then was, why would so many young men defined as white, who were not slave owners vote to perpetuate the racial plutocracy of a handful of slave owners? I think in order to understand and answer that question, you have to understand that as they saw it, they were on the bottom rung then but with a little pluck and a lot of luck they could gain the stolen land from Native Americans somewhere down the road and be able to stock that land with enslaved Africans. That’s point number one.

Point number two, if you fast forward to the late 20th century and today, you’ve seen an all-out attack upon labor unions in this country which has helped to suppress if not repress class consciousness to the point where many in the white working class do not necessarily identify themselves with their class. They identify themselves with their “race,” which puts them at cross purposes with those who are not part of that race mostly in Alabama, speaking of the Black working class.

PAUL JAY: And do you think some fault for this should also be laid at the Democratic Party and many of the union leaderships, not all, but many of the unions who simply gave up on the white working class of the South? They don’t work there. They don’t campaign there. And if it wasn’t for this kind of anomaly of the sexual accusations against Moore, I don’t think Doug Jones and his candidacy would be doing very much here. This would just be written off by the Democratic Party as a place not worth spending money on. Did they not just give up on these people?

GERALD HORNE: Well, I think the fatal flaw actually begins in the 20th century with the all-out war against socialism, which led to an all-out war against unions which was seen as a stalking horse for socialism. That led to a deal that was cut with the People’s Republic of China some four odd decades ago where China was slated to be a low wage haven for US transnational corporations forever more. But China has now turned the tables and is now surging ahead. It’s in the passing lane, particularly with regard to 21st century technologies like quantum computing, like green energy, like robotization, etc.

And therefore, the US ruling elite is panicked. They feel that they have to dig more out of the hide out of the US working class in order to prevail against China in this global race. And therefore, you see the Mercer family and the Trumps and the Bannons supporting Roy Moore in order to perpetuate that goal of digging more out of our hides so that in their minds they can prevail in this titanic conflict with the People’s Republic of China.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, Bannon positions everything in relation to the battle with China and what he calls Islamic fascism or Islamic terrorism, but more focused on China these days it seems. Another question that’s come in from, this one’s on YouTube. “It’s being reported on MSNBC,” this is Loudon1780 is his name on YouTube, “that the election participation is expect to be only around 25%. How much of it is voter suppression? What are the reasons? Is there something specific to Alabama?” It is kind of odd if they’re right, it’s about a 25% turnout with such a hotly contested election.

GERALD HORNE: Well, I agree with that but keep in mind that, as is well known, Doug Jones can only win if there’s a massive turnout from the Black American vote. But as I sift through the tea leaves, I don’t see Doug Jones making the kind of impassioned appeal to Black voters that would drive them to the polls. It’s more or less a justifiable attack on Roy Jones and what he portends, but you have to put forward a positive agenda. Now, from Mr. Jones’ point of view, he realizes that if he makes an impassioned appeal to Black voters, that would only gin up the racist white vote and therefore might serve as a backfiring mechanism on his part. Right now, that is the dilemma that is faced by the anti-GOP forces in the state of Alabama.

PAUL JAY: Doug Jones does not seem to be presenting a Sander-esque kind of campaign. And Sanders, clearly in many areas, I’m not so sure about Alabama, but in many areas of the country that are pro-Trump, Sanders actually does pretty well because he has also an anti-elite message. I don’t know. Would you think that would have played out better in Alabama?

GERALD HORNE: Possibly. It’s really hard to say. Given the dearth of class consciousness in the United States of America, given the fact that unions are more or less on their back, given the fact that their percentage of representation of the US working class is in a long-term decline, we face a very steep uphill climb in the United States of America. That’s not to say that I’m endorsing or supporting the rather tepid platform of Mr. Jones. If I were in Alabama, I would certainly cast a vote for him, if only as a blocking mechanism against Roy Jones. But I’m afraid to say that many Black voters in the state of Alabama, after witnessing decade after decade of Republican Party hegemony in that state, probably feel that it’s a futile gesture to try to get in front of the Republican Party steamroller which seems to be rolling ahead effortlessly.

PAUL JAY: One of the reasons they are is the extent the rural vote seems to count for more than the urban vote, where there are more African Americans and more educated white workers too. This also was something dealt with in the 14th Amendment at one point. How much does that still play a role, that the rural vote simply gets counted with more emphasis than the urban vote?

GERALD HORNE: Well, look at the presidential election. Look at the Electoral College, which gives voters in Wyoming, which has a population of about 500 or 600 thousand in some ways an advantage over a state like California, which has 33 million people. That is to say that Wyoming has two US senators and California has two US senators. Now in the 1960s, as part of the attack against the right wing, you not only had the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you had a number of Supreme Court decisions such as Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims, which sought to install the principle of one person, one vote. That is to say that before the Supreme Court decisions, voting representation oftentimes was based upon geography.

That is to say it empowered rural areas and states like Texas that had a large geographic reach but did not have many people. I think that one of the attempts made by Mr. Moore and his supporters in order to overthrow the 14th Amendment is precisely to overthrow those Supreme Court decisions and help to empower further rural areas, like in northwestern Alabama, which right now is the citadel of Roy Jones’ support.

PAUL JAY: Reading through the tea leaves here, the press seems to be suggesting in the latest polls that Moore is likely to win this today. As I say, we’re doing this as the vote is going on, so people may be watching this later and we may know the winner at this point. It’s probably likely to be Moore. What does that mean, this sort of a debate? Does this mean anything nationally or is this really something specific to Alabama?

GERALD HORNE: Well, with regard to nationally, keep in mind that the Republicans did not prevail in the Virginia gubernatorial race but that had a lot to do with the turnout, not only of Black voters, but also in the area stretching south from Washington, D.C. through Fairfax County, through Arlington, all the way down to Dulles Airport where you have a substantial percentage of Asian American voters and Latino voters, who turned out against the GOP. Now, proportionately, in Alabama you do not have as large a percentage of Asian American voters as you have say, in Northern Virginia or of Latino voters as you have in Northern Virginia.

It’s going to be difficult to say if Roy Jones wins, what this means for the rest of the country. Certainly, I think it will help many to understand that in Dixie as a whole, the Republican Party outside of Virginia still has a strong foothold. With regard to the so-called Christian evangelical vote, or the white Christian evangelical vote, if Roy Jones wins, that vote will be a major reason why and I think that it will help to unmask that vote. That is to say, if they vote for an apologist for slavery or a sexual predator, that certainly helps to undermine and vitiate their notion that they’re voting in favor of so-called morality and values. What it will help to reveal is that their major principle is white supremacy with religion as a kind of mask to obscure that fundamental principle.

PAUL JAY: I maybe misheard you but I think you were saying Roy Jones and you meant Roy Moore, right?

GERALD HORNE: Oh, sorry. I’m thinking of the heavyweight boxer.

PAUL JAY: All right. Well, we’re going to wrap it up for now. We’ll be back tomorrow. We’ll talk about the results and such. Any final comment about what the significance of this vote is?

GERALD HORNE: Well, I think that if Roy Moore prevails it’ll be a dark day, not only for the state of Alabama, for the United States of America as a whole. It will portend a situation where you basically have a double standard. That is to say the mainstream press has talked about how Al Franken was chased out of the US Senate so that the Democrats can claim the high ground with regard to this emerging issue of sexual harassment and sexual predation.

But another way to look at it is that if you’re a Republican, you get a free pass with regard to sexual harassment, sexual predation, even with regard to pedophilia. That is to say if you’re Donald J. Trump and you’re being accused by at least a dozen, if not 16 women of sexual harassment, you are not forced to resign. If you’re Roy Moore and you’re accused of pedophilia, you can still be elected to US Senate. But if you’re a Democrat like John Conyers or like Al Franken, you’re forced to walk the plank. I think that’s a very dangerous signal to send but I’m afraid that’s what we’re faced with as we speak.

PAUL JAY: I’ll just add to that if Moore wins, this becomes a great victory for the far right of the billionaire class, the Robert Mercers, the Sheldon Adelson and whose front man is Steve Bannon. And it changes a lot, I think, the dynamic between the Bannon-esque wing of the party and the Mitch McConnell and more standard Republican Party. I think it’s a real shot at them that they can whip up, and are willing to whip up the most overt racism in order to achieve their objectives. And it puts on notice this Republican Party leadership that either are going to succumb to this more open fascism or they’re likely to go down themselves.

GERALD HORNE: Well, I think we also have to sharpen our analysis. If you go back and look at the press clippings in the late fall of 1991 when David Duke, a Nazi and Klansman, won 55% of the white vote running for governor of Louisiana, all the press clippings suggest that it was economic anxiety that drove so many white voters to the polls to cast a ballot in favor of him. They tended to downplay the fact of racism and that is a weakness, including on the left in the United States. That is to say they become born again Marxists or more precisely, born again economic determinists when it comes to analyzing a David Duke or a Donald Trump or a Roy Moore and they tend to downplay naked racism which is a fundamental flaw and a fundamental error.

PAUL JAY: But the naked racism perpetuates itself because as you said earlier, the origins of it is it serves the billionaire class, although they weren’t billionaires back when, to divide the poor whites and the poor Blacks and there continues to be such poverty and such amongst the poor whites in Alabama and it is now as it was then. It’s just a hell of a lot easier to blame Blacks for your misery than to blame the elites.

GERALD HORNE: Exactly, but I think that a diagnosis leads to a prescription. That is to say if part of your diagnosis is that racism is an issue, then you conduct an all-out assault on racism. If your diagnosis is that it’s purely economic anxiety, then you focus wholly and exclusively on that issue and oftentimes you ignore the propulsion of racism. And I think that’s the mistake that’s being made as we speak.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, I’d agree with that. And I’d also say, including ourselves, independent media spends very little time covering the Deep South and I’d love to have a full-time journalist that does nothing but. In fact, if someone is out there, got some money to help us pay for one salary to start with and we’ll have a journalist that does nothing but covers these issues in the Deep South. It’s way past due. Thanks very much for joining us, Gerald.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.

PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us live on The Real News Network.