Arguing with Integrity: Ford, Ramirez, Swetnick, Kavanaugh, and the Senate Judiciary Committee


Brett Kavanaugh should never have been confirmed for any judgeship, nor receive approval for his current bid for Supreme Court. My reasons for saying this are simple: charges of sexual assault from three credible witnesses; an increasingly well-documented history of public belligerence, including violence; a mounting body of lies about his own conduct; and an appallingly intemperate performance of outraged entitlement and partisanship before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The arguments against him on these grounds are solid and sufficient to carry the day, judged flatly on the merits. If they fail to do so, it will be on account of a nauseating party-line refusal to care about women’s safety and well-being, compounded by a cocktail of enraged white male entitlement.

The most recent polling makes this clear: 81 percent of black voters are opposed to confirmation, as are 65 percent of Hispanic voters. Across the board, 68 percent of voters support reopening the FBI background check. A full 86 percent of Democrats believe Blasey Ford as opposed to 10 percent of Republicans. (This Quinnipiac University Poll is pretty interesting on the granular level; for instance, white participants with a college degree oppose confirmation in much greater numbers than those without higher-ed credentials.)

But pull those figures apart and you’ll find multiplying questions and stories. Pundits are issuing analyses as fast as they can. Many sound worthy to some degree, but none of them settles my confusion about what it all means. Instead, they echo in my head like koans that never quite resolve:

The women who support Kavanaugh, what are they thinking and feeling? Overall, 37 percent of women—including 45% of white women—say Kavanaugh should be confirmed. Take a moment to consider this: despite his intemperance, despite the testimony of sexual assault, despite his remarkable show of political partisanship—seemingly grounded in the belief he has a right to a seat on the Supreme Court—in a proceeding that demands at least the appearance of neutrality, nearly one out of two white women want to see his nomination approved.

Some of this is being explained as skepticism. I get skepticism. This nation’s history is pockmarked with false accusation: the Salem witch trials, the Red Scare of the Fifties with its different witchhunts, and so on. (And it’s not just this nation. To pick a single example among many, check out the 1930s show trials staged under Stalin to legitimate persecution of his political opponents.) In many times and places, people have made false denunciations as a way to acquire power or profit, dismissing the accused as so much collateral damage in the race for advantage and ambition.

But what advantage do Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick gain by subjecting themselves to reviling, extreme scrutiny, to the barrage of insult and counter-accusation they knew full well would follow from their decisions to go public? Tales are being proffered, of course: they’re committed political operatives, stealthily awaiting the opportunity to bring a right-wing hero down; they’ll make fortunes from their tell-all best-sellers; they are hired performers, and so on. Remarkable charges to believe without a shred of evidence being offered, are they not?

Some of this is being explained along Stepford Wives lines. These women who support Kavanaugh are fundamentalists, we are told, following the edicts of the men in their lives—husbands, fathers, pastors—whose power, and therefore Kavanaugh’s power, the egregious Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina’s power, and by extension, the power of the white male-dominated Republican Party as a whole, cannot be questioned. If this is true, it is terrifying. I cannot prove it untrue, though I believe that every human being possesses the capacity to awaken from the trance of domination, putting choice in the place of compulsion. And I see glimpses of this truth in the headlines, such as this account of the women who confronted Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator, demanding he not turn away.

Some of this is being framed as white supremacy. If Republicans are the party of white power, and through the distorted lens of racism white power must be retained at all costs, then gender is simply a side-issue. Women’s suffering must be understood as an enduring fact of life; trading one’s independence for the security of a white male protector must be understood as a necessary bargain.

On the other side, the people who are pulling out all the stops, reaching for anything to discredit the nominee, what are they thinking and feeling? The last few days, on progressive sites and discussion lists, I’ve been reading detailed discussions of notations on Kavanaugh’s calendar from student days, centering on whether certain words were code for marijuana, cocaine, or group sex acts. There is tremendous interest in seeing him condemned for underage drinking—drinking to spectacular excess, to be sure, but for some, drinking at all before the legal age. To me, this tactic pulls energy from the real issues, sexual violence and bellicose entitlement. But the people using it say it is necessary to sway those who otherwise find a way to excuse unseemly displays of anger, to excuse sexual assault as a manifestation of boys being boys.

Are there people who find attempted rape more excusable than underage drinking? Let me put it this way: in the Watergate era, I visited with a friend of a friend who was heartbroken that Nixon had been forced out. She could see several ways to justify his illegal behavior, she told me—several types of political necessity defense—but, she said, “I could never excuse his terrible language on the Watergate tapes.”

So perhaps charging Kavanaugh with drug use and alcohol abuse in his youth will succeed in swaying a few. I have an inkling of the desperation behind this, because I feel it. I dread to imagine a Supreme Court with Kavanaugh pulling every decision as far to the right as it will stretch. But I also dread to imagine a progressive future president nominating someone—a person whose closet hides no other skeletons, who fits the highest standards of decorum and nonpartisanship despite ample provocation in confirmation hearings—who drank with buddies in high school, who experimented with drugs (as the standard phrase goes)—and who therefore is deemed unfit, tit for tat. Charge Kavanaugh with lying about sexual assault, about the way he got into Yale, about his role in the Clinton impeachment, and other clearly relevant deceptions. Charging him with drinking way too much in high school, and I fear chickens coming home to roost.

Is this spectacle the last gasp of a dying social order, or a display of enduring state power in the hands of ruthless and amoral profiteers? (I’ve been staring at that last sentence for a while, wondering if it’s over-the-top or a flat description of reality; I am forced to conclude that I’m not exaggerating.) I don’t want to portray the ailments besetting the body politic as some epic battle, evil germs versus good antibodies. But for accuracy’s sake, I must portray it as me versus we, the powerful asserting their will just because they can, and the rest of us be damned.

Evidence is piling up, but I don’t always know how to read it. I keep seeing a photo featuring a panorama of appalled female faces behind Kavanaugh’s furious face as he testifies. My friends posted it, saying it portrays a core truth: that the numbers may say nearly half of all white women believe Kavanaugh, facing his lies, they can’t help but be appalled. Appalled the pictured women clearly are, but since most of them turn out to be Kavanaugh allies, evidently not by his performance.

Yet the cries of #MeToo are greatly outnumbering #MeFirst. The Kavanaugh nomination has triggered yet another vast outpouring of personal testimony from women who’ve been raped or otherwise assaulted, many of whom waited decades to come forward. There’s a meme making the rounds. Here’s how one Facebook user put it: “If you believe men who waited decades to accuse priests but not women who waited decades to accuse men, you’re fucking misogynist.” Tons of explanation have been offered for women’s delay, which in the default world must be justified.

Are we stuck in the default world? This is a tipping-point. The 2018 and 2020 elections could tip the delicate balance enabling the Republicans trying to force Kavanaugh on the nation to maintain power. The enormous protests we are now seeing aim to awaken slumbering conscience, to force accountability for abusers. By all measures, there are more potential voters who put we before me, who value women’s safety, a decent judiciary, the public good over the fortunes and power of the wealthy white men who hold the Senate hostage and the donors who own them. Voting isn’t everything. Even with a major shift in Congress, we will still have to contend with a divided country, one in which people have great difficulty comprehending their counterparts on the other side of the values divide. But voting now matters more than ever in my lifetime.

Are we seeing the last gasp of white supremacy or a display of enduring state power in the hands of ruthless and amoral profiteers? Which side of the tipping point are we on?

“The Times They Are A-Changin'” performed by Bettye LaVette.
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