If guilty, Roy Moore has betrayed women - and Trump fans
Republican candidate faces the most serious accusations, writes Molly Kiniry
How did paedophilia become part of America's ongoing politico-cultural war? Is this how bitter and degraded the debate has become? If you thought the election of Donald Trump was a measure of how far trust in America's established political system had broken down, you ain't seen nothing yet. A new race - this time the Alabama Senate by-election - reveals that Trump's victory has not soothed the anger of many voters. Far from it.
When a recording was released last year of Trump bragging about sexual assault, some hopeful Democrats thought it might derail his campaign. On the contrary, many of his core voters thought it a perfect example of establishment conspiracy and "politically correct" agenda against which they wanted to rebel.
Trump dismissed the recording as "locker-room banter". But Roy Moore, Republican candidate in Alabama, is now accused of far worse than that - paedophilia. Moore is alleged to have initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32. Women have since come forward with stories of a creepy older lawyer who was always trying to get dates with high-school girls; one alleged he sexually assaulted her when she was 16.
This is ordinarily the part of the story where the disgraced politician quietly bows out of the race. But Moore (70) has not left the race. He is not spending more time with his family, finding God, asking for forgiveness, seeking therapy or entering a rehabilitation facility. When asked about these allegations, his memory fails him.
Campaign representatives have explained away the existence of these women (and his former neighbours and co-workers, who corroborate their stories) with the simple logic that they are liberals who hate Moore, who would, presumably, be willing to fabricate any story to keep him out of office. This argument has found some traction. Polls show that, astonishingly, 29pc of probable voters are more likely to support him because of the allegations.
This is a head-turning figure. Many Americans think paedophiles should face the death penalty. How could anyone prefer to support a candidate accused of such heinous crimes? The answer is they don't believe the allegations. They believe, as Moore has said, that there is a vast political conspiracy against him. Their rage against the political machine trumps their usual outrage at the nature of the allegations against him.
But unless and until he clears his name, Moore's candidacy represents a double betrayal. First, to those women upon whom he allegedly preyed. But secondly, counter-intuitively, to the very supporters - and Trump's wider base - who are now championing him.
Abused women and Trump voters have much in common. Both know the intimate, quiet pain of powerlessness. They know the ache of being ignored in favour of more "polite" conversation. From these shared experiences, they should be allies. By speaking up now, they are a bulwark against the hitherto dependable silence of the vulnerable, upon which the powerful so often depend.
Reflexively defending Moore against such appalling allegations, however, makes the whole Trump revolution seem like the squawkings of deranged gropers, rather than the justifiable complaints of those left behind by globalisation. As a result, those who have only just found a voice could find themselves silenced again.
In my first summer on the Hill, aged 19, a staffer I knew took a shine to me. He let me write floor speeches and took me to briefings. He also told me flatly, one Friday evening, that I should go home with him; when I demurred, he pressed on: "Come on, Molly. That's what interns do." Nearly every woman I know who works in professional politics has a similar story (so do lots of men). There are many rotten apples cloaked in the respectability of Washington's shiny marble corridors.
The Capitol is due for a reckoning over this sort of behaviour, and when it comes, I suspect many will echo the sentiments of one of Moore's neighbours in Alabama: "These stories have been going around this town for 30 years. No one could believe they hadn't come out yet."