Commiserating and kvetching with a fellow writer Tuesday night, I confessed that it had been six weeks since my last opinion piece. I hadn’t been sure what to write, but mainly there was the issue of hope. News says, “This is the way things are,” and opinion writing often replies, “This is the way they could and should be.” Hope bridges the chasm between the present and an imagined future. Others had managed that leap; I hadn’t.
Talking about the way we should be had felt as pointless and miserable to me as repeatedly stepping on a rake with a pie attached to its handle. “Roy Moore will win, then net neutrality will get repealed,” I mumbled, then unfurled a long line of expletives. (Yes, I’ve called the hotlines; I’ve written the emails.) She shook her head in solemn agreement while I excused myself to the restroom.
When I returned to the table, my new friend stood and told me the election results were in, and the joy explosion on that patio made our fellow diners drop their forks and raise their eyebrows. We had not spontaneously gotten engaged, though they’d have been forgiven for wondering, as there was ecstatic hugging and a loose tear rattling around my eye. But people get engaged every hour of every day; Alabama hadn’t elected a Democratic senator for 25 years. There was something like real hope inside it.
There was something like real hope in the group texts that came pouring in when I got home, which said things like “It’s a Hanukkah miracle!” or “I can’t believe this is real life.” How did we consider it beyond the realm of possibility that voters would reject a Senate candidate who had multiple allegations of sexual misconduct with minors stacked against him? How could we consider it a miracle that a man banned from a mall for being a suspected predator would not prevail over an opponent whose reputation was unstained?
The evidence has long shown that voters, including some women (greetings, fellow whites), do not particularly care about protecting women. Trump lost the popular vote, but he still pulled 63 million after Pussygate. (“The majority of Trump voters held their nose and voted on economic concerns,” the line goes. I don’t particularly want to have that entire conversation again, but let’s establish that his supporters did the math and figured they could live with the sexual assault, the racism, the xenophobia and the narcissism if it came with a tax break.)
Moore’s policies and beliefs are as damning as his record of preying on minors. Moore is against DACA. He does not believe in climate change. He has called homosexuality “an inherent evil.” He has declared that “the transgenders don’t have rights.” He’s a birther.
Perhaps from here we can’t see Moore correctly, the argument goes. I never imagined we could. I’ve been to Alabama exactly twice and I don’t imagine anyone who flew in yesterday understands Alabama any better than out-of-state reporters tend to understand California when they stop by for a fire. But when it came to the multiple, well-sourced accounts of Moore’s predation, I’d hoped against hope a line was crossed. If our country wasn’t ready to love the women girls become, were we at least prepared to believe the girls they’d been? The polls didn’t tell a clear story. Yes, the Democrats had important, even record-setting, wins in October — but not in this nearly-impossible-to-win state. And yet.
Doug Jones’ victory is a pathetic thing to celebrate in a year that’s been filled chock-a-block with frustration and fear. (And yes, the GOP-controlled Federal Communications Commission is still hellbent on ruining the Internet.) Don’t get me wrong: I’m elated; I haven’t felt this kind of joy in a good long while. And I’m sick and tired of being a buzzkill, a yeah-but-er. Having said that — yeah, this victory rules, but that joy is complicated because Moore should have never been the Republican nominee. Because the race never should have been close. Because black women shouldn’t have had to bail the country out once again. Because the systematic voter suppression in Alabama shouldn’t have kept so many from the polls. Because we shouldn’t live in a country that so narrowly defeats someone like Roy Moore.
But we do. We live here, and what else do we have to celebrate these days?
Congratulations to Doug Jones, who is not Roy Moore and also seems like a pretty good dude on paper. Thank you for a positively lovely evening.
Melissa Batchelor Warnke is a contributing writer to Opinion. Follow her @velvetmelvis on Twitter.