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Trump, GOP should listen to voters

Republican candidate Roy Moore, above, lost the U.S.

Republican candidate Roy Moore, above, lost the U.S. Senate race in Alabama on Tuesday to Democrat Doug Jones. Credit: AP / Brynn Anderson

The people of Alabama have spoken. The nation should listen.

Because the selection of Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore in the special election for a U.S. Senate seat in deep-red Alabama is likely a turning point in our national politics, one that conveyed many unequivocal messages.

Moore was an awful candidate, an anti-gay, law-defying bigot credibly accused of sexually molesting and harassing teenage girls when he was in his 30s. By rejecting Moore, voters also rejected the racism, misogyny and divisiveness embodied by President Donald Trump. Voters dismissed as well the dystopia of Steve Bannon, the president’s trusted strategist and Moore’s foremost champion.

The mess Trump made for himself in Alabama should be his guide on what needs to change: Stop the belittling behavior and stop trying to drive wedges among Americans. The fundamental promise of his 2016 campaign was to put regular people first. Get started on bipartisan plans for jobs, health care and rebuilding infrastructure.

Alabamians also sent a message to Republicans who control Congress. They want efficient governance, not dysfunction. Congress must show it is an independent and equal branch of government, that it won’t give the administration a pass on everything, and that it’s willing to exercise its oversight role. Why hasn’t Secretary of State Rex Tillerson been asked to testify about the crippling of the State Department; how can Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke continue with self-dealing scandals? Let’s hold them accountable. Most important is ensuring the Russian investigation is allowed to proceed to a conclusion and standing firmly behind special counsel Robert Mueller, instead of attacking him as they did in Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.

A lesson in GOP leadership came courtesy of Alabama’s other senator, Richard Shelby. Two days before the election, Shelby made a rare televised appearance to say he could not vote for Moore and had cast his ballot for a write-in candidate. Many Alabamians followed suit. Shelby didn’t have to do that, but by speaking up he called out colleagues who remained silent. Integrity matters, silence has consequences, and leadership has a moral component.

On election day, Trump wrote an ugly and demeaning tweet in response to New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s call for him to resign. Regardless of the message, the response was unpresidential. Trump and the GOP ignore, at their peril, the power of the #metoo movement, and its demand that sexual harassment and assault end.

The nation is at a fraught moment. Jones’ victory still doesn’t tell us exactly where America is. It moves the Senate within one vote of 50-50, and that alone should force negotiation and compromise. But we now know where the nation is not. It’s not with Moore, Trump and Bannon. Some things are more important than parties and tribes. Decency matters. So do dignity, respect, courtesy and the rule of law.

In his victory speech, Jones said Alabama was at a crossroads and that voters chose the right fork. With America at its own critical juncture, Alabamians have given the rest of the country the courage to do the same. — The editorial board