It used to be funny. It seemed harmless. The Telegraph (UK) offered the Donald Trump Sexism Tracker: Every Offensive Comment in One Place – everything from the early eighties through July 2017 – all the comments about women being fat and ugly and disgusting, or hot and sexy as hell, like his daughter, or sluts, or idiots, are just pieces of ass to be used, and to be used to impress other lesser men, up through that item from July 2017 when he told the French First Lady that she had a hot body. And then the Telegraph abandoned the feature. What was the point? Everyone knows all this.
No one cared anymore. Other things were more alarming about President Trump – he seems to want to end NATO and break up the EU and plunge the world into a trade war where everyone imposes massive tariffs on everyone else and everything grinds to a halt, worldwide, to prove that the United Sates won’t be laughed at any longer – or he won’t be – not to mention daring Iran to build those nukes now and telling the world that the United States is now committed to running on coal – that Paris climate accord was for suckers. Donald Trump’s scorn for women, or his fear of them, or whatever that was, seemed relatively unimportant. Yes, he was, and is, a sexist pig. Many men are sexist pigs. This one could blow up the world. How he feels about women is a minor matter.
David Atkins argues that is no longer the case:
It seems like outrageous hyperbole, but we must confront the dystopian reality. A president credibly accused of multiple sexual assaults and who bragged forcibly grabbing women by the genitals without their consent, who was helped into office by a large number of men in powerful media positions who have also been forced out their jobs due to allegations of sexual harassment and assault, as well as by the clandestine government services of a nation famous for its misogynistic exploitation of women, is nominating an accused rapist to the Supreme Court with the express intent of eliminating women’s right to an abortion and other reproductive health services.
And a Republican Party which recently endorsed a Senate candidate credibly accused of statutory rape against teenagers, and whose favored candidate for next Speaker of the House is alleged to have long ignored sexual predation on his charges while he was coach, is preparing to go full steam ahead in confirming him…
Are there even two decent Republican Senators who will look this in the face, see it for what it is, and step forward to do the right thing? Or will the Republican Party cement itself forever as the party of sexually abusive and misogynistic old white men?
That’s the question and that’s not hyperbole:
President Trump’s bid to confirm Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was thrown into uncertainty on Sunday as a woman came forward with explosive allegations that Mr. Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers more than three decades ago.
The woman, Christine Blasey Ford, 51, a research psychologist at Palo Alto University in Northern California, said in an interview with The Washington Post that during a high school party in the early 1980s, a drunken Mr. Kavanaugh pinned her on a bed, groped her and covered her mouth to keep her from screaming.
“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” the newspaper quoted her as saying. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”
That sounds like attempted rape, not the standard Fox News or Clarence Thomas workplace sexually harassment, or Donald Trump being a sexist jerk for decades, so there was only once possible response:
Judge Kavanaugh has denied the accusations, and in a terse statement on Sunday, the White House said it stood by those denials. It signaled that it had no intention of pulling the nomination.
But it’s not that simple:
Ms. Ford’s decision to put her name behind accusations that began to circulate late last week – a choice made after weeks of reluctance – appeared to open a door to a delay in a Senate committee vote on the nomination scheduled for Thursday. The disclosure also injected a volatile #MeToo element into the confirmation debate, one that is playing out in the overwhelmingly male Republican-led Senate during a midterm election that has energized Democratic women.
In short, Republicans are in more trouble than ever with women. That MeToo stuff is hard to navigate when Donald Trump is who Republicans are now. Do they sympathize or not? Do they offer support to the MeToo people? They’re hooked to a sexist pig. They can say that this woman is a liar, even if they don’t believe that, and stay in the good graces of Trump and his base, and then lose the votes of not just Democratic women, and then lose in the midterms. They can say they believe this woman, or at least want to hear her out, and face the wrath of Trump and his base and Fox News too.
That’s not much of a choice, but some made that choice:
One Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jeff Flake of Arizona, told Politico that he was “not comfortable voting yes” on the nomination until he learned more about Ms. Ford’s account. A single Republican objection on the committee, which has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, could force a delay.
Another Republican on the panel, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said on Twitter that “if Ms. Ford wishes to provide information to the committee, I would gladly listen to what she has to say and compare that against all other information we have received about Judge Kavanaugh.”
But he said he hoped to keep the process on schedule.
He wants it both ways. See Jeff Flake, Traitor and Jeff Flake Calls For Delay in Kavanaugh Confirmation. Can the Rest of the Vichy Republicans Be Far Behind?
Everyone got the message:
Senate Republican leaders in the hours after The Post’s article was published indicated that they intended to move forward with voting on him. Republicans planned to argue that, unless corroborating information came to light, they had no way of verifying her story and saw no reason to delay the vote, according to a person involved in the discussions.
And if corroborating information comes to light later, then… well, that would be unfortunate. Perhaps they’d be sad. But it would be too late to do anything about that. These things happen.
These things also need to be managed carefully:
The White House, which has taken great pains to portray Judge Kavanaugh as a champion of women, sought to bolster him by pointing to statements by women who have known him and testified to his character. Those included a letter from 65 women who said that they knew him in high school and that he had “always treated women with decency and respect.”
Advisers to Mr. Trump were trying to avoid publicly assailing the accuser while hoping that the lack of contemporaneous corroboration for Ms. Ford’s account would mean that Senate Republicans could move ahead without addressing it in detail.
More delicately, advisers were privately urging Mr. Trump, who has been accused of sexual harassment by more than a dozen women, not to speak out about the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh on Twitter for fear that he would only inflame the situation.
In short, shut up, Mister President, for once, just this once, but others won’t shut up now:
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, called the accusations “extremely serious” and said they “bear heavily on Judge Kavanaugh’s character.” She urged critics of his accuser to stop “the attacks and stop shaming her.”
Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, went one step further, invoking Anita Hill, who came forward during Justice Clarence Thomas’s 1991 confirmation hearings to accuse him of sexual harassment.
“I was motivated to run for the Senate after watching the truly awful way Anita Hill was treated by an all-male Judiciary Committee interrogating her about the sexual harassment she endured at the hands of now-Justice Clarence Thomas,” Ms. Murray said in a statement, adding that the hearings must be delayed.
The Republicans walked right into this again, although this “incident” happened a long time ago:
Ms. Ford’s account opens a window into the exclusive prep school culture in which Mr. Kavanaugh grew up. The alleged assault occurred while he was a student at Georgetown Preparatory School, and Ms. Ford was a student at another private school, Holton-Arms, where she was a cheerleader in her senior year. She graduated in 1984.
That is an odd rarified world, but Garrett Epps, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Baltimore, argues that the actual subtext of Kavanaugh’s nomination just burst into the open:
The last scene of the horror story that is President Trump’s Supreme Court nomination is what any screenwriter would have predicted: a cast of panicky strangers trapped in a haunted house, trying desperately not to say the words that will loose a monster hiding in the walls.
That monster is sex – gender, women’s rights – as lived in America in 2018. From the beginning, gender, and nothing else, is what this confirmation struggle has been about. The nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981, the first female justice, was a milestone for many women; in 1993, that of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a feminist trailblazer, electrified equal-rights advocates. But neither of those, to me at least, conveyed the ominous gendered subtext of the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.
And here it is:
The gendered subtext of this moment is, not to put too fine a point on it, war – war to the knife – over the future of women’s autonomy in American society. Shall women control their own reproduction, their health care, their contraception, their legal protection at work against discrimination and harassment, or shall we move backward to the chimera of past American greatness, when the role of women was – supposedly for biological reasons – subordinate to that of men?
And no one should be surprised by that:
That theme became apparent even before the 2016 election, when candidate Donald Trump promised to pick judges who would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade. The candidate was by his own admission a serial sexual harasser. On live national television, he then stalked, insulted, and physically menaced his female opponent – and he said, in an unguarded moment, that in his post-Roe future, women who choose abortion will face “some form of punishment.”
In context, Trump promised to restore the old system of dominion – by lawmakers, husbands, pastors, institutions, and judges – over women’s reproduction. Arguably that platform propelled Trump into the White House: Many evangelical Christian voters chose to overlook Trump’s flagrant sexual immorality, his overt contempt for the basics of faith, because they believed he would end abortion forever.
And this was their big chance:
The appointment of Neil Gorsuch to replace Antonin Scalia in 2017 did not change the landscape of choice; Gorsuch was replacing a resolute foe of reproductive rights, leaving the balance intact. But Trump’s promise came to the fore this year, with the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy’s single vote kept abortion rights alive for a quarter century. Trump’s chosen replacement, Brett Kavanaugh, had referred in a published opinion to “abortion on demand” and, referring only to “existing Supreme Court precedent,” refused even to cite the precedential cases by name.
Anyone with eyes could pick up his disdain for the constitutional guarantee of choice.
In lobbying Trump to nominate Kavanaugh, his defenders had initially insisted that he was reliably anti-choice. “On the vital issues of protecting religious liberty and enforcing restrictions on abortion,” one former clerk reassured fellow conservatives in National Review, “no court-of-appeals judge in the nation has a stronger, more consistent record than Judge Brett Kavanaugh.”
Epps covers what Kavanaugh said in the committee hearings – he would be impartial about everything – he’d make no promises either way – but there was his record:
These hearings have not at any time been an exercise in “advice and consent.” Instead, they have been – as the women screaming in the background have tried to warn us – banana-republic-level pantomime, aimed at installing a hand-picked functionary in lifetime office.
But even so, the way in which chair Chuck Grassley and the 10 other male Republicans on the committee handle Ford’s accusation will tell us a good deal about them and about the state of the gender battlefield. Will these men dismiss the allegation because it was too long ago? Will they attack the accuser and seek to shame her over hidden details of her life? Will they argue there is “only” one claim, and one is not enough? Will they say that 65 women’s signatures on one letter cancel one woman’s accusation in another? Will they turn the occasion into a chance to attack the Democrats and try to motivate their base for the midterms?
Yes, they will – all of it – because they’re trapped now:
For months, the male leaders of the administration and the GOP insisted on silence on the real issue at stake. But despite their best efforts, the monster has finally come out of the walls.
David Frum puts that a different way:
I worked for a president who was arrested for driving under the influence at age 30. One of the most admired and most successful governors of our times was arrested as a college student for industrial-scale drug possession. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke is inspiring liberal voters across the country despite fleeing the scene, at age 26, of a drunk-driving accident that could have many people dead.
Democracy can be a forgiving system, especially when politicians honestly acknowledge their misconduct. But with a Senate-confirmed position, the job of deciding whether misconduct is forgivable falls not to the voters, but to the voters’ representatives – and in this instance to a particularly unrepresentative set of representatives at that.
The Republican majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee is all-male. However keen their intuitive sympathy, however intimately connected they may be to the women in their lives, isn’t one side of the alleged situation involving Supreme Court-nominee Brett Kavanaugh likely to be more legible to them than the other?
They are who they are, and Frum cites a lawyer “close to the White House” about whether the nomination would now be withdrawn:
No way, not even a hint of it. If anything, it’s the opposite. If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. We can all be accused of something.
Frum translates that:
If it happened at all, it happened 36 years ago. He was only 17 – and probably too drunk to know what he was doing. He grabbed a girl; OK, he should not have done that, but his buddy pulled him away. Everybody went home safe and sound. Really, you’re going to wreck a good man’s career after all this time because of a nothing-story like that?
I imagine more than a few male senators think that way. I’m a relative hard-liner on these kinds of questions, and I find myself leaning that way too. But then… we would, wouldn’t we?
Frum recognizes his built-in bias but he doesn’t address what else was said here – “every man certainly should be worried” about women. Any one of them at any time can ruin any man’s life with just a few words and they might do just that, just because they can. Women are dangerous. Women are the enemy. Ridicule them. Intimate them. Humiliate them. Protect yourself. Stay safe.
That’s what Donald Trump has done, and Frum sees that:
These surprise allegations against Kavanaugh are now to be assessed by people pre-committed to dismissing such allegations as irrelevant to public office. Kavanaugh is a Supreme Court nominee because Donald Trump is president. And what is alleged against Kavanaugh that President Trump has not already confessed?
The Kavanaugh nomination will now be assessed by people all of whom voted for the presidential candidate who confessed to grabbing women. On present indications, the allegations against Kavanaugh will not to be assessed in any meaningful sense at all. But “assessed” is the wrong word. They are not going to be assessed in any meaningful sense of that word. The Senate Judiciary Committee has already released a statement dismissing the allegations as unworthy of further attention, and in fact, as an abuse of the hearing process. The candidate has been vetted, there is nothing more to learn or say.
It will be not be easy to ascertain what happened all those years ago. It will not be much easier to judge the relevance of those events, whatever they were, to a confirmation vote 36 years later. But we can judge the judges – and they are the wrong men in the wrong job at the wrong time.
And there they are anyway. The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus looks at that problem:
What happens if, as the nation witnessed 27 years ago with Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, the two accounts continue to diametrically diverge? Ford says a “stumbling drunk” Kavanaugh and a friend grabbed her at a high school party, when she was 15 and Kavanaugh 17; that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and groped her; that he put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream.
These are allegations that, if true, constitute some form of criminal sexual assault, which makes them inherently more serious than the sexual-harassment allegations, which were of course horrifying in their own way, involving Thomas. Yes, it was high school, but if you do something bad enough in high school, it can lose you your seat on the Supreme Court. And this, to me, constitutes bad enough, even if she managed to get away before worse happened.
But there are other considerations:
One is that Kavanaugh, like Thomas, has vigorously denied the allegations. Not that there was a misunderstanding among inebriated high school students, not that it is a dumb episode he regrets – as with Thomas and Hill, Kavanaugh’s position, or at least his position before Ford went public with her account, is that nothing happened. “I did not do this back in high school or at any time,” Kavanaugh said.
That complicates things:
I don’t doubt that Ford is telling the truth as best she recalls it, but her recollection is fuzzy. She told The Post’s Emma Brown that she did not remember where the incident took place or how she got home. How well did she know Kavanaugh? Is it possible that she misidentified him? She told no one about it at the time – understandable but less than ideal. Hill confided in friends at the time about Thomas’s behavior. Ford did not describe the incident to others until 2012, some three decades afterward.
So what to do if Ford tells her story and Kavanaugh sticks to his, with the same ferocity as Thomas?
There’s no good answer to that question. Call her a liar. Donald Trump’s scorn for women, or his fear of them, or whatever that was, is just a fact of life now – he’s president – he was, and is, a sexist pig. Many men are sexist pigs. Fine – they’ll say she’s a liar. Republicans are in more trouble than ever with women, and that MeToo stuff is hard to navigate when Donald Trump is who Republicans are now, so more and more Americans will say this woman needs to be heard, and say that she’s not lying. And the guy will be confirmed anyway. Republicans have the votes.
Garrett Epps was right. There was a monster hiding in the walls all along.