2017 has been rich in political earthquakes and we have yet another to add to the list. Doug Jones has become the first Democrat in 25 years to win a US Senate seat for Alabama, a traditionally safe Republican seat with a predominantly white, religious and conservative electorate. Alabama will now have a Democrat in the US Senate. This is an outcome that would have seemed all-but-impossible a year ago and still seemed unlikely even as voters headed to the polls on Tuesday, given the flaccid and unispiring campaign waged by the Democrats, who have learned nothing from 2016 and have shifted even further to the right.
There can be no doubt that the issue was largely decided by the nature of the Republican candidate Roy Moore. The campaign was tainted with the stench of moral corruption, exacerbated by the hypocrisy of this crusader of the extreme religious right, whose never-ending sermons on the subject of morality (“America can only be saved if it goes back to the Word of God as revealed in the Bible”) were somewhat at odds with the unedifying spectacle of a man who preyed on young girls.
In addition to his partiality for teenage girls, this born-again Christian believes that homosexual activity should be made illegal, as it is contrary to the Bible. He is opposed to abortion and says that no Muslim can ever be president of the United States, or be elected to congress, because he claims it is against US law. He was naturally ecstatic about Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as capital of Israel. But his ravings had alienated even many Republicans. In the end his repulsive hypocrisy was too much for the conservative folk in Alabama to stomach.
Although Moore has so far refused to face the facts, shouting "it's not over", this is more an expression of desperation than a sober assessment of the situation. Jones won with 49.9% of the vote, to Mr Moore's 48.4%. All votes from precincts around the state have been counted. The margin of victory is well above the half a percentage point that would have triggered a recount.
Despite Moore’s bluff and bluster, President Trump congratulated Jones in a tweet shortly after US media declared him the winner, adding that "Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time". But the Senate seat will only come up for re-election in November 2020. And a lot can happen between now and then.
The big question is: to what extent was this result determined by the scandals that swirled around the Republican candidate like a foul-smelling whirlpool, and to what extent was it the beginning of a reaction against the Trump Presidency itself?
While the specific factors concerning Roy Moore played a big role, this result was also a kick in the teeth for Steve Bannon and Donald Trump, the latter of whom gave his most enthusiastic support to Moore even when other leaders in his party were keeping their mouths firmly shut. But then the president is not renowned for the gift of diplomacy and has extreme difficulty in keeping his mouth shut over anything.
The implications of this unexpected victory for the Democrats may be far-reaching. The loss of what should be safe Republican territory deals a heavy blow to the president. It narrows the Republican majority in the Senate to a paper-thin 51-49. After winning governor races in Virginia and New Jersey in November, no doubt the Democrats will be hoping that these results indicate the rise of an anti-Trump mood that might enable them to gain control of the chamber in the 2018 midterm elections.
That may or may not be the case. It is too early to tell. But what attitude should Marxists take to all this? It is understandable that many are celebrating the defeat of an arch-reactionary scoundrel in an election. This campaign has exposed the stinking hypocrisy of the American religious Right. That this should have occurred in the Deep South undoubtedly adds to the Republican debacle. That a candidate as lifeless and empty as Doug Jones could defeat Moore in a place like Alabama shows the depths of the anger against Trump. It is yet another symptom of the profound changes that are taking place in American society and politics, but we must differentiate from the healthy anti-Trump sentiment and the cynical maneuvers of the Democrats to manipulate this in their favor.
Any celebrations should be tempered by the fact that the differences between Republicans and Democrats are not so great as some people imagine. This fact was confirmed by Jones, who immediately said he now wanted to find “common ground” with other politicians in Washington (i.e. with the Republicans). “I have always believed that the people of Alabama have more in common than divides us,” he told supporters at his campaign victory rally in the city of Birmingham. And let us not forget that Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, Jeff Flake, and other arch-reactionary enemies of the working class supported the Democrat Jones in the name of "decency."
That Republican and Democratic politicians have more in common than divides them is something we can agree on. The fact that one capitalist politician replaces another capitalist politician in the Senate changes very little for the people of the United States. Disappointment will follow euphoria as night follows day. No serious change is possible unless and until the monotonous cycle of Republicans and Democrats is broken once and and for all and the American working class builds a mass socialist party.
Only socialism beats Trump!
To fight Trump, fight capitalism!
Break with the Democrats!
For a mass socialist party of the working class!