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Opinion | Race to the bottom

Joey Kennedy

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What is it about Donald Trump that attracts such a following in Alabama? He’s from New York, after all, and being from the Northeast almost always generates skepticism in Alabama voters.

Folks, he’s a Yankee.

As for his politics, Trump is playing conservative right now, but he’s actually been all over the place. He supported abortion, before he didn’t. He was a friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton before he decided that “Lock her up!” was better politics. He’s a serial sexual assaulter, with serial sexual assaulter friends and sexual assaulter Cabinet and staff members.

Trump said he’d be too busy as president to play golf, and he’s already played more golf in less than two and a half years than Barak Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton combined for their full terms.

Oh, and Trump is a racist.

What is it about President Trump that Alabama voters like so much?

It’s a fair question. As colleague Eddie Burkhalter pointed out Wednesday, while Trump’s approval ratings are falling in most every state he won in 2016, he’s still gold (orange?) in Alabama.

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According to Morning Consult, a Washington D.C.-based polling firm, Trump’s approval ratings in just about every state, and especially in the important battleground states (Alabama isn’t one of those; we give our votes away), is plummeting. And the latest poll was taken before the recent mass shootings that have focused attention on Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric. Again.

Trump’s rallies are virtual racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic rock festivals. His tweets have basically become a parody of himself: petty, racist, anti-immigrant, mocking, bullying.

Trump is a mean person. He’s that guy on the playground who pushes around the smallest kid, and all the other kids just turn away and let him because they’re too cowardly to step in and just happy it’s not them he’s picking on.

The cowards in this analogy, by the way, are the vast majority of Republicans, especially those in Congress (all seven of the Alabama Republicans in the House and Senate included) who let him do whatever, and turn their heads or, worse, bury their heads in the sand. Some literally cheer him on.

Why is that so popular in Alabama? We’re a proud state. We dare defend our rights, right?

Why do we worship a bully who is a pathological liar and who berates the least of these?

Because he’s different? Because he rejects being “presidential”? Or because he says and does what we want to say and do?

As sad as it may be, it comes down to one word: race.

As individuals, the people of Alabama are the best people anywhere. They work hard, they take care of their families, and they generally have a live-and-let-live philosophy of life.

Still, our state’s long history with violent racism has left its mark and its legacy. Many in Alabama see George Wallace in Donald Trump. He says what they’re thinking, what they really believe, and now those terrible thoughts and beliefs can be acted upon, because the leader of our nation says they can.

It’s OK to be racist. It’s OK to put women “in their place.” It’s OK to hate the gays. It’s OK to want to send “them” back. And we know who “them” are, don’t we?

Our candidates for public office – for the U.S. House and Senate, the Legislature, even local government offices – say and do the most vile things. And our voters reward them with these public offices.

In most every state, Trump’s antics are becoming tiresome. In Alabama, they’re still brand new and refreshing, so much so that many of our public officials and wannabe public officials mimic them.

We need a thorough, deep self-reflection. We need to ask ourselves what it is about Trump that is so damned appealing. He’s orange, for goodness sake. With raccoon eyes.

Sadly, when we do that self-reflection, when we really boil it down, it’ll boil down to race. Not the kind we run, folks, but the kind that runs us.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

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