Americans may never agree on Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court, but most of us can agree that his confirmation proceedings have been a nightmare. The best we can do, at this point, is to pause and consider a few of the ugly realities this tragic debacle exposes in our politics and our culture.
Perhaps the most troubling one is our lack of regard for – or understanding of the nature of – Truth. Consider this emotional statement of Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to Dr. Ford: “You are speaking truth that this country needs to understand. How we deal with survivors who come forward right now is unacceptable.” Booker continued, “Your brilliance, shining light onto this, speaking your truth, is nothing more than heroic.”
His framing the issue as “how we deal with survivors who come forward right now” begged the question. The point of hearing Dr. Ford’s testimony was not to decide “how we deal with survivors” of sexual assault, but rather to determine whether Dr. Ford, was, in fact, assaulted by Kavanaugh.
Moreover, as former Senate Judiciary Committee member, Dr. Tom Coburn, pointed out last week, “[T]here is not her truth or his truth. There is only the truth.” Either Justice Kavanaugh assaulted Dr. Ford, or he did not. It is wrong to choose sides based upon which narrative fits better with our own preferred political outcome.
Another harsh reality this saga has exposed is our bitter desire to demonize our political and ideological opponents – and the sad fact that even otherwise reasonable people can be successfully bullied into submission by such tactics.
A Washington Post blogger recently opined, in some amazement, that “two women in an elevator” may have been the impetus for Sen. Jeff Flake’s call to hold off on the final confirmation vote for an additional week to allow for a second FBI investigation. The reference, of course, was to the two women who got in Flake’s face as he boarded an elevator to the Judiciary Committee meeting room. One of them demanded, “Don’t look away from me! Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me!”
This hysterical confrontation implied that to proceed with a positive vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation would be to tell women that sexual assault doesn’t matter, and that the Senate doesn’t care about the individual women who have been victims of it. This is not a logical conclusion – not by a long shot.
There are numerous good-faith reasons why many decent, caring senators were ready to vote for Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation after hearing testimony about the allegations from both sides. They could have found Kavanaugh to be the more credible witness, or believed that Dr. Ford mistook him for someone else. They may have been persuaded of Kavanaugh’s innocence by the utter lack of corroboration of Dr. Ford’s story.
In this context, it was both irrational and uncharitable to leap to the conclusion that only a senator who is an uncaring, insensitive boar could vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. We should never cave to such histrionics. We should afford them about as much deference as the wise mother affords her toddler when he shouts, “If you loved me, you would let me eat ice cream for dinner!”
Finally, an alarming number of responses to the allegations against Kavanaugh exposed the depth and persistence of our tribalist instincts. We want to classify people, and then label them based upon their class rather than their individual merits.
For instance, just consider the title of a recent Washington Post article by sociologist Shamus Khan: “Kavanaugh is lying. His upbringing explains why.” The appalling thesis of the article was that because Brett Kavanaugh is from a wealthy family, we should all assume that he is a liar.
This proposition should shock our collective conscience not only because we believe in due process, but also because we believe that every person is more than the sum of his or her race, gender, ethnicity, education and socio-economic status. Yet we have been shamefully quick to abandon our noble conviction that justice requires us to evaluate a man according to “the content of his character” – not the content of his parents’ bank account.
Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation proceedings have been a sad reflection of our politics and our culture. Let’s at least learn our lessons and purpose to do better.