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Josh Moon

Opinion | What the politics of fear has cost us

Josh Moon

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Steve Bannon speaks to a Roy Moore supporter at an election eve rally in Midland, Alabama, on Dec. 11, 2017. (CHIP BROWNLEE/APR)

We bought a boat. That’s what hundreds of people in Alabama did. They all chipped in and bought a nice, big boat for a bona fide scam artist. They also dumped thousands of dollars into the disheveled pockets of Nazi-whisperer Steve Bannon. 

And we tried to give more. Boy, did we try. 

The president of the Alabama Senate, Del Marsh, and his Republican pals did all they could. They passed a bill that would have allowed Alabama citizens to check a box on their tax returns and automatically fork over donations to the GoFundMe account set up to build a border wall. 

Imagine the boat that Brian Kolfage, Bannon’s co-conspirator in the fraud, could have bought with that tax check-off. 

But, alas, some people, like meddling APR editor Bill Britt, looked up a bunch of facts and junk and discovered that the donations could never actually go towards building a wall. And others read the bill and thought it was just stupid. And still more people thought there might be more important things for the Alabama Legislature to take up. So, the bill never made it to the floor in the Alabama House, and it died. 

And Kolfage and Bannon had to settle for (allegedly) scamming people out of just the tens of millions that poured in. 

Those two were charged Thursday morning by federal prosecutors in New York for swindling thousands of people out of their donations. Because, of course they did. Swindling is what they, and pretty much anyone associated with Trump, do. 

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Bannon makes the seventh person who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign to be indicted. And just two days ago, we learned that Trump’s son, son-in-law and yet another close adviser were referred by a Republican-led Senate committee to the DOJ for criminal prosecution. 

If Trump’s name ended in a vowel, he’d be locked up now on RICO charges.

It’s fortunate that such criminal behavior still shocks the conscience of much of the rest of the nation, because it barely makes a ripple here in Alabama. Where Marsh will face no political backlash whatsoever for his desperately stupid attempts to drag ALGOP voters into bed with obvious fraud. 

Why would he? He has an R beside his name on the ballot, and that’s enough. 

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Just like it was enough for Republican candidates over the last few years, despite at least one GOP state lawmaker being indicted or convicted of crimes in each of the last six years. And in one two-year stretch, the state lost its Republican House speaker and governor to criminal charges. 

It hasn’t mattered at all. 

In the 2018 midterms, Republicans in the state Legislature added to their supermajority. 

Now, such a phenomenon would be easily explained if, say, Alabama were experiencing an economic revolution, a new commitment to public health or even an age of educational enlightenment. We haven’t been. 

Our economy, as evidenced by the devastating effects of the pandemic, is built on the backs of service-industry jobs and low-wage workers. Our health care system is one of the worst in the developed world. And our public education system consistently hovers near the bottom nationally on almost every meaningful scale. 

And throughout the pandemic, these Republicans that state voters continue to trip over themselves to elect have proven time and again — through their deafening silence — that they have no plan to govern — not during a crisis, not on a normal weekday.

What Del Marsh demonstrated, though, is that the ALGOP does have a plan — a tried and true plan — to win Alabama voters: Fear. 

Fear of Hispanics. Fear of Black people. Fear of anyone or anything that looks, acts, thinks, dresses, speaks, worships or loves differently than you. 

It is the same fear that Trump is again pushing on the national level. The same fear he used in 2016. The same fear he has used to “rally his base” for the past four years. 

In Alabama, we have paid dearly for always responding as expected to the stoking of such fear. Voters here, year after year, vote against their own jobs, against unions that would ensure higher wages and better benefits, against expanding Medicaid and a better health care system, against a fairer tax system that would put money in their pockets, against a less-racist school funding structure that would elevate the whole of public schools, against stiffer regulations for polluting our lakes, rivers and Gulf or poisoning the soil where our children play. 

This is what the politics of fear has done in Alabama. And in many cases, that fear has turned to hate, and become impossible to turn. 

It’s a pretty crummy way to get votes, and it’s probably the absolute worst way to determine the men and women who will govern your state and country. Because most of the time, you don’t even get a boat out of the deal.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Sponsored hate has taken a beating. You can help kill it

“Turn by turn, the money spigot has slowly stopped flowing to America’s most hateful and divisive politicians.”

Josh Moon

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A banner left by a supporter of President Donald Trump stands in front of the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Turn by turn, the money spigot has slowly stopped flowing to America’s most hateful and divisive politicians in the wake of last week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

Disney was the latest company to announce that it would no longer provide campaign donations to the politicians who voted to reject the results of the 2020 presidential election. Walmart quickly joined it. And those two mega-donors joined insurance giant Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Marriott Hotels, American Express, Hallmark, Verizon, Comcast, Amazon, Mastercard, Citibank, AT&T and Deloitte — all of which pledged not to donate to the lawmakers who voted to undermine the election. 

Hell, Hallmark went so far as to request a refund from Sens. Josh Hawley and Roger Marshall. 

In the state of Alabama, there will also be big changes soon. 

Several top companies — the Big Mules, as they’re known — are planning reforms of their own, and they’re considering sweeping changes to the manner in which they dole out campaign contributions. According to a source, the changes could alter the face of politics in this state — “they’re that significant.” 

I’ll take an “I’ll believe it when I see it” stance on that, but I am 100 percent convinced, after a number of conversations with executives at several companies, that changes are being seriously discussed and that something will happen. How significant those changes are, we’ll see. 

But if you’re a business leader in this state, why wouldn’t you take this opportunity to change things, and change them on your terms? 

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You have the perfect cover to stop supporting the crazy people that we’ve been sending to Montgomery for the last several years and instead bring this state a true two-party system. You can remove many of the people whose ideas and behaviors have thwarted economic expansion and killed off lucrative business projects. 

Imagine an Alabama that wasn’t governed by braindead, rightwing nuts who are constantly scheming to get farther to the right than the next guy, and to make big headlines while doing it. No more transgender bathroom bills. No more overtly racist monuments bills. No more attempts to get a Bible or Jesus into a school activity. 

Imagine the good we might do if we weren’t worried about all of that nonsense. 

I’m sorry, forgive me: Imagine all the money we might make if we weren’t worried about that nonsense. 

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This is the time to stop supporting lunatics. 

And for the good and decent people of Alabama — the real patriots — it is time to make sure they do so. 

We get caught up sometimes believing that progressives are a tiny percentage of the Alabama population. That’s probably because progressive candidates win such a tiny percentage of elections. 

But the truth is, if you check out the results of statewide elections, the real number is about 40 percent, maybe a little higher. That’s a huge number. And it could make a huge difference. 

No business can afford to watch 40 percent of its customers walk away. No company would even risk it. 

So, take a stand. Demand that the major companies in this state follow BCBS’ lead and change the way they dole out contributions. 

Pay attention to your local businesses and restaurants, and watch where they advertise. If they financially support radio hosts, podcasts or websites that spread misinformation and division, don’t support them. And let them know why. 

Don’t apologize for it, either. You’re not asking everyone to believe the same way you are. You’re not telling people they can’t have an opinion. You’re simply saying that you won’t support the hatefulness and divisiveness any longer. 

And Lord knows we could use less of those.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Auburn provost has been unfairly vilified

“For little reason, faculty are voting on a no-confidence label for a provost in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic.”

Josh Moon

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Auburn University's Samford Hall.

There has to be a villain. In every tough situation — every situation in which people are scared or inconvenienced — there has to be someone to blame it all on. Some focal point for all of that frustration. 

At Auburn University, that person is Bill Hardgrave, university provost and chief academic officer. 

On Tuesday, Hardgrave faces a no-confidence vote from the Auburn faculty, some of whom are upset with him — why Hardgrave specifically, I still don’t really understand — over the university’s decision-making during the pandemic. Drawing the most ire, it seems, was Auburn officials’ decision to increase in-person course offerings to 70 percent in the spring semester. 

But here’s the really weird part: No one thinks Auburn officials have handled the pandemic particularly poorly. 

In fact, it could be argued that they did pretty well. 

While there were early problems on campus when the fall semester started — just as there were at almost every university campus in America — Auburn, through a number of protocols and limits, apparently got a handle on things. There was no campus shutdown. There were no layoffs. There weren’t even furloughs or widespread pay cuts. 

Three professors I spoke with — two of whom have been outspoken critics of the university in the past — said they had been mostly pleased with the university’s response to the pandemic and thought the current upheaval was based more on COVID fatigue than on actual issues with Hardgrave. (The professors agreed to speak on condition of anonymity because they didn’t want to be seen as publicly undermining their peers.)

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And really, that seems to be the case. 

When pressed by media outlets for specifics on why they were calling for a no-confidence vote on Hardgrave, the leaders of this movement were all over the map. In an Opelika-Auburn News story on the uproar, faculty members said they were mostly upset over not having desired flexibility in teaching in-person or virtual class and they were angry that some of their ideas had not been implemented yet. 

But math professor Hal Schenck, a Rosemary Kopel Brown Eminent Scholars Chair, told the OA News — and sent an email to his colleagues saying the same — that Hardgrave was being treated unfairly and that the provost had held a series of town halls that produced good ideas that were being utilized by the university. 

“I think this is a really difficult time for everyone and I think, in general, my perception is that the [university] administration has been operating in good faith and doing the best that they can with limited information,” said Schenck. “The administration and the Provost have been doing a good job. I think that’s a perception of a lot of folks, and I also think that this vote of no confidence is being driven by a small minority of the faculty.”

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Schneck circulated a letter of support for Hardgrave that was signed by 50 faculty members, all of them chairs or senior members, the OA News reported. (The letter calling for a no-confidence vote against Hardgrave required only 50 signatures.)

Auburn officials, including university President Jay Gogue, have also been quick to point out that Hardgrave has gone out of his way to get input from faculty, and also from other interested parties. Two very important groups were the Auburn students and other support staff. 

After considering that combination of voices, along with the data from the fall semester and advice from state health officials, Hardgrave said he put together the spring plan. It took the best practices available and combined them with common sense. 

The final result was a plan that Hardgrave thought would have more widespread support. But then, he was cast as the villain. 

Now, for very little reason at all, Auburn faculty are voting on a no-confidence label for a provost in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic. Putting at risk losing students, discouraging top faculty from working at Auburn and placing the university’s accreditation at risk. 

And really, the only reason any of it is happening, from what I can tell, is that Bill Hardgrave was forced to make decisions on issues in which there were no right answers. And he was forced to make them in a tough time, when everyone was looking hard for a villain.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Alabama congressmen who incited a coup attempt should resign

“You have disgraced yourselves, the offices you hold, the state and the United States of America. You should all resign.”

Josh Moon

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People are seen in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Attn: Reps. Mo Brooks, Gary Palmer, Robert Aderholt, Mike Rogers, Jerry Carl, Barry Moore and Sen. Tommy Tuberville:

I write to you today on behalf of myself and the thousands of Alabamians who were utterly embarrassed and painfully ashamed by your involvement and incitement of today’s deplorable, harmful actions at our U.S. Capitol building. 

You should all resign.

You have disgraced yourselves, the offices you hold, the State of Alabama and the United States of America. In a fair and just world, the stain of this outright attack on American democracy, in which you participated willfully, would hang over you for the rest of your lives. 

And please, spare those of us with working brains the insult of watching all of you pretend as if you had noble intentions that simply went awry after a few people couldn’t control their tempers. Because nothing could be further from the truth. 

In reality, what you went to Washington D.C. today to do was to undermine a free and fair and properly conducted election simply because you didn’t like the results and because making a public spectacle would endear you to a group of voters to whom you, your GOP colleagues and a collection of rightwing media outlets have spent months lying. 

Those lies were meant to do one thing: Enrage this base in order to further your own political ambitions, both through votes and fundraising. And none of you gave two damns that you were knowingly damaging Americans’ faith in one of the bedrocks of this country — free and fair elections that result in the peaceful transition of power.

First thing this morning, there was Mo Brooks screaming like a maniac at a Trump rally, telling people it was time to “kick ass.” Joining the president’s call to march on the Capitol and his son’s warning that the mob was “coming for” any congressman who failed to challenge the election. And joining the president’s attorney who called for a “trial by combat.” 

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When the mob of domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol, causing thousands of dollars of damage, injuring numerous police officers and killing four people, Robert Aderholt was on the floor making an election challenge. Brooks challenged Nevada’s election results later in the day, despite knowing nothing more than what he read online about those results. 

And possibly the most embarrassing of you all, Tommy Tuberville, voted twice to challenge election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania, despite the fact that he couldn’t tell anyone which processes were violated and likely couldn’t find either state on a U.S. map. 

And that is what truly makes this all so utterly despicable and disgusting: None of you had cause to say anything. And even worse, every single one of you knew these elections challenges were complete and utter fiction. 

In all of your statements and comments, not a single one of you has provided a specific instance of election fraud that hasn’t already been adjudicated by a state or federal court, and that hasn’t been thoroughly investigated and debunked. There have been, at this point, more than 60 court cases, in which allegations of fraud or illegalities have been filed. In every single one of them, the court has found no evidence to support those claims. 

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On the floor of the Senate late Wednesday night, even Sen. Lindsey Graham was perplexed by the phony insistence of fraud. He said there were claims that more than 60,000 people under the age 18 voted in Georgia. He asked the people making that claim to just provide him proof of 10. They couldn’t do it. 

It was the same story in court case after court case. When it came time to put up or shut up, the Trump side had to shut up. In some filings they readily admitted that there was no evidence of fraud. 

In the Pennsylvania case cited by Sen. Josh Hawley, who watched his political future wither and die on Wednesday, despite Hawley’s claims that the improper mail-in ballot question hadn’t been addressed by the state, it absolutely had. Three different times. 

But you don’t care about any of that. Because there was never truly about your deep concern for election integrity. It was about your naked ambition. 

So, on Jan. 6, 2021, disregarding your oaths to defend and protect the constitution, you instead helped incite insurrectionists and became active participants in a coup attempt to overthrow the American government. 

All of you should do the only honorable thing left for you and allow men and women who might take the job and their oaths more seriously to hold those offices. 

Resign.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Trump recording exposes his foolish enablers

“We’ve all now heard a desperate and maniacal president say a bunch of quiet parts out loud.”

Josh Moon

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President Donald Trump at the White House. (WHITE HOUSE PHOTO)

The election fraud has been discovered. After two months of wild accusations and failed court cases, finally, over the weekend, actual proof of election fraud related to the 2020 presidential election was unearthed and presented for all the world to see. 

It came in the form of an audio recording, which captured President Donald Trump repeatedly threatening and coercing Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn the results. President-elect Joe Biden won Georgia by a little less than 12,000. 

That result has withstood countless audits, including hand recounts and voting machine audits, in every Georgia county. Dozens of allegations of fraud have been investigated and found frivolous or overstated. And dozens more legal challenges have failed, almost all of which, the courts found, lacked a shred of credible evidence of fraud. 

Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, both pro-Trump Republicans, have backed the election results, saying they have investigated thoroughly and found no evidence of fraud or illegal activity. Trump’s own attorney general, William Barr, and the Department of Justice, which investigated claims of fraud or irregularities in Georgia’s election, also found no evidence. 

And yet, here we are. With the president calling Raffensperger a “child” and repeatedly pressuring him to alter the election results. 

And even worse: There are elected Republicans — a whole bunch of them in Alabama — still defending Trump, still raising questions about the election results, still pretending that there is a realistic case to be made for widespread voter fraud. 

Fools. 

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Oh, sure, I could be kinder and gentler. I could spend several paragraphs analyzing the psychology behind what these people are doing and how they’ve been so totally and comically owned by a rather low-skill con man. I could even, as TV pundits so often do, pretend as if there’s some savvy level of political gamesmanship taking place here.  

Fools is easier and most accurate.

Because that’s what they are. No matter if they’ve genuinely been hoodwinked by this lunatic in the White House or if they’re fully cognizant of the dangerous, absurd game they’re playing and are simply using it to shore up votes in coming primaries. 

They are fools. 

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If you believe that Donald Trump and his brand of hateful, ignorant, shallow, self-serving politics will transcend his presidency and carry forward into future elections, you are a fool. I’ve seen this playbook, with its plays better run by a better player — George Wallace — and it does not last. It does not move voters later, primarily because its execution requires a level of acting and self-righteousness that few people can emulate. 

Certainly, Mo Brooks and Tommy Tuberville and the rest of the Alabama Trump brigade lack the charisma and ego to pull it off. Unfortunately, they also lack the intelligence to know this. 

They weren’t even smart enough to see this obvious ending — the one where they’re left holding an empty bag and exposed as fools — coming like a great big freight train.

Their gullibility and cheap ambition have left them out on a limb, committed to defending an obvious crook. A man who is on tape seeking to undermine a free and fair American election simply because he lost. A man who was openly encouraging a state’s top election official to “recalculate” and “find” enough votes to swing the election. 

And they cannot backtrack now. Because there is no new evidence that the fraud they’ve claimed doesn’t exist. There’s nothing new here, except we’ve all now heard a desperate and maniacal president say a bunch of quiet parts out loud. 

So, to backtrack for Tuberville, Brooks and the gang would be to admit that they ignored the clear and overwhelming evidence that was there all along. That they ignored state elections officials when they repeatedly told everyone that the fraud allegations had been investigated and proven untrue. That they ignored facts and truth and basic common sense. That they used racist dog whistles and idiotic stereotypes to undermine the integrity of an American election simply because the results weren’t to their liking. 

And mostly, to backtrack now would mean they’d have to admit that they lied to voters, because it was easier to sell people what they wanted to hear than it was to actually be a good, hard-working public servant. 

So they’re stuck with this mess and exposed as the fools they are. And I hope it ruins them. I hope no one ever again takes them seriously, in politics or business or their personal lives. I hope they are shunned and marginalized. 

Because the fools who would knowingly peddle lies, with the express intent of damaging the country, its elections and democracy itself, deserve nothing less.

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