The political resurrection of Alabama's Roy Moore — the Moses of the South — and the mortal end of Hugh Hefner are not entirely unrelated.
It's not a straight line, mind you. But if Hefner's recent death the day after Moore won Alabama's Senate Republican primary runoff reminded us of how much American culture has changed in a couple of generations, then Moore represents the antithesis of those alterations and a mechanism for reversing them.
Hefner, who validated the objectification of women by embedding their sexualized bodies between the more-respectable pages of first-rate writing, embraced and championed libertinism and materialism. "Bad boy" behavior — philandering, licentiousness and exploitation — was re-imagined and sold as "freedom," a philosophy as distant from the Testaments as Moore is from the zeitgeist.
That Hefner was rarely seen except in pajamas surrounded by Playmates dressed like inflated bunny rabbits was kitschy and self-parodying, if you were more inclined toward Roger Moore than Roy Moore. To the fan base of the latter, whom most will remember as the judge who fought the ACLU to keep a Ten Commandments plaque and pre-session prayer in his courtroom, Hefner might as well have been an agent of Satan. Perpetually stalled in adolescence, he was an early advocate of the socially debased trends Moore saw as having led to the unraveling of the American family.
Never coy about his moral positions, Moore liked to keep The Ten Commandments post in his courtroom so that guests would understand that the tablets were the basis for our legal system. Among his more controversial and unwavering beliefs is that homosexuality isn't only a sin but also a crime.
Needless to say, this makes Moore an object of scorn among a majority of Americans, who see gays and lesbians as, well, human beings deserving of equal rights and protections under the same laws that Moore views as justifying the criminalization of same-sex relationships.
Adding piquancy to Moore's history, the case before his court that attracted the ACLU's attention involved two gay strippers, "Silk" and "Satin," who were accused of murdering a drug addict. Moore, who later became chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court, won re-election to his circuit court seat in 1999 by defeating none other than the prosecutor in the stripper/murder case. Moore argued then that Christianity's decline in influence "corresponded directly with school violence, homosexuality, and crime."
His tune hasn't changed a note. Though Moore has never singled out Hefner for criticisms (that I know of), Playboy's cultural influence surely ran counter to the values Moore hoped then — and his constituents hope now — to restore. Indeed, Hefner was long a supporter of the LGBT community.
Meanwhile, one notes that the current president of the United States may be Hefner's most sterling achievement. Donald Trump, who has surrounded himself with material excess and women worthy of male admiration, is both protege and prototype, the essential playboy who has acquired wealth and glamour — and boasts that he can do whatever he wants to women.
Last week, it was Trump — and by association, Hefner — whom Moore ultimately defeated.
The runoff's outcome may suggest that Trump's political capital is in decline but, more important, it proves that the Republican base is still wedded to the biblical philosophy expounded by Moore and endorsed by Trump's former chief adviser, Steve Bannon. Thus, the Alabama contest came down to a battle of former allies representing two very different worldviews.
If many have doubted Trump's Republican bona fides, there can have been little confusion over his professed Christian faith. "Donald Trump lives his life as Christ did," no one ever said. For the president, religion is a convenience — until it's not. Bannon, though no saint, is a Catholic who respects church doctrine, by his own admission, and is a street fighter for the hard-right.
In Alabama, he, too, defeated Trump.
Although incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, whom Trump enthusiastically endorsed, wasn't so far removed from Moore in his positions — including opposition to same-sex marriage — he was viewed, nonetheless, as part of the Republican establishment. His close association with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was no recommendation in the Bannon-Breitbart universe.
Alabama isn't usually considered a bellwether state, and certainly can't be viewed as a petri dish for political prognostication beyond the Mason-Dixon. But the standoff between Bannon and Trump via Moore and Strange may foretell the future of the GOP, which can't survive without its Southern Christian base. Ironically, Hefner, who put Trump on his magazine's cover in 1990, penned an essay when the thrice-married reality TV star secured the GOP presidential nomination, defeating Ted Cruz, a pastor's son. To Hefner, this victory signified "massive changes in the 'family values party'" and was "proof of ... a sexual revolution in the Republican Party."
Not so fast, Mr. Hefner, not so fast.