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Alabama and us: the nation divided


It seemed so likely that Roy Moore was headed to the US Senate that last week's news was a little hard to grasp.

To the relief of many of us, though, the winner of the special election in Alabama was Doug Jones, a Democrat whose history includes prosecuting two of the men who bombed an African-American church in Birmingham.

Roy Moore's defeat is being attributed to sexual-abuse accusations, particularly one involving a 14-year-old girl. That issue itself is enough to derail a political candidate, but there were plenty of other concerns about Moore. This is a man who believes homosexual conduct should be illegal, that the Christian Bible should take precedence over US law, that Muslims shouldn't be permitted to serve in Congress. He was removed, twice, as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for defying federal courts orders.

And so, for whatever reasons, Alabama voters have given a Senate seat to a man who believes that health care is a right; who supports Obamacare, the Children's Health Insurance Plan, contraceptive coverage, more funding for Medicaid, and abortion rights. Who supports a living wage, DACA, LGBTQ rights. Who wants sentencing reforms to deal with the disproportionate incarceration of blacks and Latinx. Who respects scientists, believes climate change is real, and supports subsidies for renewable energy.

Still, more than 650,000 Alabama voters wanted Moore, not Jones. Jones' margin was only 1.5 percent. And the breakdown indicated in media exit polls is simply distressing.

Sixty-eight percent of white voters went for Moore. While most women voted for Doug Jones, most white women voted for Moore. Moore was the heavy favorite of white voters with no college education. And among whites who have a college education, 52 percent of women and 62 percent of men voted for Moore.

As Jones' supporters celebrated, there was a bit of media buzz about Alabama having sent President Trump, the Republican Party, and the nation "a message." Maybe so. I'm not sure what that message is, though. If sexual abuse is what led to Moore's defeat, Republicans will just make sure that's not lurking in the background of their candidates in the future. The party will still be happy to embrace candidates who are virulently homophobic and racist and who thumb their nose at federal law.

And since black voters were key in Alabama, Republicans will ramp up their voter-suppression efforts.

White Alabama voters aren't the only Americans who say people like Roy Moore represent their values. That's how we ended up with Donald Trump in the White House. We can console ourselves that they were in the minority in Alabama, and that they are in the minority in the country as a whole. And we can trust that thanks to changing demographics and a more tolerant younger population, the nation will become more accepting, more intelligent.

But right now, Alabama's remarkable election result contains both good news and a sobering reminder. Doug Jones won by less than 2 percent of the vote. The people of his state, like those of the rest of the nation, are deeply divided. And the most serious, most damaging division isn't over issues like taxes, health insurance, defense spending, or net neutrality.

We're divided over core values. Over things we believe intensely and are hard to compromise on. Education is key – education and integration, getting to know other people, being with people of other races and religions and sexual orientation. It's no accident that in Alabama, as in the rest of the nation, the blue areas are the urban areas – the more integrated, more compact and crowded areas – and the red its more segregated, homogeneous areas.

Hillary Clinton's "Stronger Together" campaign slogan is a pretty good guiding principle for the country. But as Alabama's election shows, we are very much not together. And we have a long, long road ahead of us to get there.