President-elect Donald Trump’s rally in Mobile last weekend wasn’t just a display of national politics. The rally, the last stop on Trump’s post-election “thank you” tour, called national attention to Alabama’s state politics — which is something we should really just keep to ourselves. That’s because when it comes to “showcasing” Alabama politicians, no matter who you choose to put on a political pedestal it won’t be long before they fall off, if they haven’t tripped already.
Let’s face it: When Montgomery sends us politicians, they’re not sending their best. Some, I assume, are good people.
But before you even get into who in Alabama politics was onstage at the so-called “thank you” rally, we have to talk about who wasn’t there — sort of. When Trump’s plane touched down, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley was there to greet the president-elect: the same governor who’d refused to endorse the real estate mogul’s bid for the Republican nomination. The same Luv Guv who Trump should’ve long ago nicknamed Reach Around Robert. But after that short appearance, Reach Around Robert went missing in action. At the rally itself, Kay Ivey, the lieutenant governor, spoke instead.
It may not have been his failure to endorse Trump that kept Gov. Bentley from the podium at Ladd-Peebles, though. It may have been the other Goat Hill characters that scared him off, chief among them State Rep. Ed Henry, who has spearheaded the effort to have Bentley thrown out of office: Impeachin’ Ed, you may call him.
Then there’s Alabama’s Attorney General, Big Luther Strange, or maybe more appropriately in this context YUUGE Luther Strange. Strange recently wrote the Legislature to inform them of an ongoing criminal investigation involving Bentley, another tidbit that may explain Bentley’s no thanks to the thank you tour.
Strange announced earlier this month that he’ll seek Jeff Sessions’ seat once Sessions ascends to the office of attorney general. At the rally, Strange told the crowd — to huge applause — that he wakes up every day and tries to find another way to sue Obama. It’s a line Luther’s used for a long time, and one he hopes will now propel him to Sessions’ Senate seat.
What Strange didn’t tell the crowd, though, is something those familiar with Alabama’s AG know well: every time Big Luther woke up and sued Obama, it cost state taxpayers thousands of dollars, and most of the time Luther lost anyway.
And there’s another problem: During his speech, President-elect Trump decried what he characterized as a rising number of murders in the U.S. If that’s true here in Alabama, Luther Strange, our top law enforcement officer, has been the one responsible for not addressing it during his term in office. Maybe Trump should realize that and cut Big Luther down to size.
In any case, Impeachin’ Ed and YUUGE Luther weren’t the only state politicos who flocked to Mobile to see the incoming president. Over half a dozen Republican state lawmakers made it to the event, many of them addressing the audience before Trump’s arrival. The problem? If ever there was a swamp to drain, it’s Montgomery.
Various legislators, state and state Republican Party officials spoke to the crowd about topics ranging from ethics reform to balanced budgeting. But trust me, these aren’t the people to be lecturing us on either of those topics, or really anything between.
Just look at ethics reform. State lawmakers lecturing us? You’ve got to be kidding me.
And there lies the central irony of the thank you tour: Donald Trump’s road to the White House is intersecting with South Union Street, which is never a place you want to go. Most of the lawmakers who were at the rally voted for Jailbird Mike Hubbard as speaker not just once, but many times, even after he was indicted for the crimes of which he’s now been convicted. That’s not draining the swamp. That’s jumping in it head first with your mouth open.
Aside from the festering odor of the swamp Trump promised he’d drain, the biggest insights of the rally for me came at its loudest moments. The first was when Trump mentioned Michelle Obama, who in a recent interview implied that the election made her lose hope. Before he’d even finished his statement, at the very mention of her name, the stadium was louder than it had been the entire rally — the crowd roaring with boos and stomping in the bleachers.
I immediately thought of former First Lady Dianne Bentley, now divorced from the governor. Where was the stadium full of people thundering their disapproval of Reach Around Robert after his extramarital scandal broke? Where was the former First Lady’s stadium of roaring supporters? Not at Ladd-Peebles.
The second real insight came with the start of the inevitable chant, “Lock her up! Lock her up!” It happened more than once, and to my surprise, Trump waved it off. But each time, as I looked at Trump supporters, who at various times had directly booed and hissed at me personally as a member of the media, I thought about every email I’ve sent and received from a state official from their Yahoo, Gmail, or AOL account.
I thought about lawmakers, including Rep. Barry Moore and Rep. Jim Carns, who both spoke at the event, who both have personal email addresses listed directly on the Statehouse website. Were they to be locked up to? Why aren’t their emails the subject of every front page headline?
To be clear, I don’t think these ironies are all lost on the typical Alabama voter. The average Alabamian has common sense and uses it, even when it comes to politics. The problem is that we, the media, just aren’t doing enough to get the story out. The media hasn’t recognized the ability of the public to sense — deeply and confidently — the truth of a story when it’s presented squarely and fairly to the reader.
So here’s the truth, fair and square: Alabama politics isn’t something you should want to export to Washington. The intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and South Union Street, though, is right before our eyes, and Mobile’s thank you rally was its culmination. America may soon become much more like Alabama, and I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Now, it may be sweet home Alabama, but soon, maybe around Jan. 20 or so, it’ll be sweet home America, and what a sight that’ll be.