Of All Possible Worlds

There used to be books that made a difference. In 1759 it was Voltaire’s Candide, ou l’Optimisme – the young man, Candide, is told by his mentor, Pangloss, that we do live in the best of all possible worlds – just look around. Candide looks around – he becomes the ultimate optimist – and then learns a thing or two, rather comically. The world is just the world, for better or worse. It’s not perfect. It never will be. Don’t expect that. This is as good as it gets. Accept that. Nothing’s perfect. Ask Candide – he eventually decided it was best to “cultivate his own garden” and not worry about such things – but Pangloss had been right. We do live in the best of all possible worlds.

That’s the problem. This is the only possible world. This is what we get. There never seems to be a simple solution to anything. There never seems to be that one good alternative, just an array of unpleasant alternatives, with one, perhaps, being a bit less unpleasant than the others. That’s why Donald Trump is president. Just enough voters in just the right places decided he was a bit less unpleasant than Hillary Clinton, but even that isn’t working out. He is far more nasty and vindictive and unpleasant than anyone could have imagined. But he is who he is. He was the alternative. It’s been said before. The optimist believes that we live in the best of all worlds, while the pessimist fears this is so. He would have to do.

There never seems to be that one good alternative, and now that’s playing out in a different way:

Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh and the woman who has accused him of sexually assaulting her decades ago will testify publicly before the Senate on Monday, setting up a potentially dramatic and politically perilous hearing that could determine the fate of his nomination.

Republicans, including President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), remained defiant as they scrambled to protect Kavanaugh’s nomination in the wake of the allegation by Christine Blasey Ford, who told The Washington Post in an interview published Sunday that Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her to a bed on her back, groped her and put his hand over her mouth at a house party in the early 1980s.

But by the end of the day, Senate Republicans had effectively delayed a committee vote planned for Thursday and abandoned tentative plans for the matter to be handled behind closed doors amid growing calls by members of both parties for Kavanaugh and Ford to testify publicly under oath, injecting uncertainty into the nomination.

Senate Republicans settled for the only possible alternative. Trump has called those seventeen women who had accused him of sexual misconduct liars – he said he would sue them. He called the accusers of Bill O’Reilly and Rogers Ailes liars too. He called the accusers of Judge Roy Moore liars too. Stormy Daniels and the McDougal woman are liars too. Women are liars. Trump could have tweeted out that Christine Blasey Ford was a liar too – but the Senate Republicans seem to have told him that he really shouldn’t do that. The midterm elections are coming. They’d rather not defend him on this. They’d rather not defend the notion that all women are liars and sluts – as the official party position. Someone got to Trump, probably Mitch McConnell, and told him that his preferred alternative in these situations would mean a Senate controlled by the Democrats for the next two years. Do not tweet. That is not an alternative here.

The second alternative would have been to plow ahead and just confirm the guy right on schedule, ignoring all this nonsense from the past – but that never was a real alternative. Too many women think this sort of thing, no matter how long ago it happened, isn’t nonsense. And they still vote. No one has repealed the Nineteenth Amendment yet. There was no way to shrug and just move on – and the third alternative – have Senate staffers get on the phone and get statements about what happened from each side, for the record, the sealed record – wasn’t going to fly either. Even conservatives were saying that the public had the right to know what was going on here.

That left the fourth alternative, the only possible alternative, an open public hearing. That’s still a lousy alternative for Republicans. All of their guys on the Senate Judiciary Committee are guys – no women at all – so the questioning of the Ford woman would, first, just look sexist. The “visuals” would look bad, and their questions, in open session can, logically, amount to no more than calling this woman a liar – in a nice way of course. That’s the job here. Be nice. Be respectful. Be sympathetic. Be humble – and make sure everyone knows that this woman is a liar – unless she’s just confused – a lovable sweet young thing in over her head – the poor little thing, the poor dear. That might work too – but not really. She has to be a liar.

The fourth alternative will be nasty:

Ford is “willing to do whatever it takes to get her story forth,” her attorney, Debra Katz, said in an appearance on NBC’s Today show.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a crucial swing vote, indicated that if it emerged that Kavanaugh had been untruthful about the incident, he would not be fit to serve on the court.

“Obviously, if Judge Kavanaugh has lied about what happened, that would be disqualifying,” Collins said, adding that “having the opportunity to observe her being questioned, read a transcript and a deposition and make that kind of assessment is so important.”

Katz on Monday characterized Kavanaugh’s actions as “attempted rape,” adding that Ford feels “that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped.”

And on the others side:

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said that Kavanaugh had told him that he was not present at the party in question — which prompted some to wonder how Kavanaugh could make such a claim given that Ford had never specified the exact date or location of the gathering.

Trump broke his silence on the allegations Monday, praising Kavanaugh as “one of the finest people that anybody has known” and signaling that he supports a hearing on the allegations.

“If it takes a little delay, it’ll take a little delay,” Trump told reporters at an event on workforce development. “It will, I’m sure, work out very well.”

And elsewhere:

As news of the allegations rippled across Washington, supporters of Kavanaugh and Ford rallied to their defense.

Former high school classmates of Ford drafted an open letter applauding her for coming forward with her story and affirming that her experience “is all too consistent with stories we heard and lived.”

Two former girlfriends of Kavanaugh, meanwhile, issued statements defending him as “respectful” and a “perfect gentleman.”

And elsewhere:

On Capitol Hill, the debate over the allegations spilled over onto the Senate floor as leaders of both parties made uncharacteristically impassioned remarks.

“Republicans and their staff cannot impartially investigate these allegations. They’ve already said that they are not true,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

“The double standard – the twisting of this body into a cruel, nasty partisanship, unprecedented in a feverish desire to fill the bench with people that the other side agrees with – it’s one of the lowest points I have seen in my years here,” he added.

His remarks came shortly after McConnell took to the floor to blast Democrats for not raising Ford’s accusation earlier in the process.

“But now – now, at the 11th hour, with committee votes on schedule after Democrats have spent weeks and weeks searching for any possible reason that the nomination should be delayed – now, now, they choose to introduce this allegation,” McConnell said.

And so on and so forth. It shouldn’t have come to this, but these two facing off in a nationally televised public Senate hearing was the only possible thing that could have happened. All the other alternatives were even more unpleasant. And things will get even more unpleasant, as Michael Scherer reports here:

Republicans are bracing for political aftershocks from the sexual assault accusation against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, with some expressing fear that the coming investigation will refocus the nation’s attention on an issue that could drive up the Democratic vote in the midterm elections.

The initial hope that the conservative Kavanaugh’s appointment would encourage turnout by grateful GOP voters this fall has been tempered by new fears that more voters, especially independent women, might head to the polls with fresh anger about Republican handling of sexual impropriety after a new round of public hearings.

Even before the accusation against Kavanaugh surfaced, polls showed women preferred Democrats more than men did and were more likely to disapprove of President Trump, who faced accusations of sexual misconduct by 19 women before his 2016 election. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in late August found 58 percent of female registered voters intended to cast a ballot for a Democrat for Congress, compared with 45 percent of men.

In an illustration of the changing dynamics, Democratic candidates for the House and the Senate enthusiastically expressed support for Kavanaugh’s accuser Monday, while calling for delays in the confirmation process to investigate the claims. Republican leaders pledged to properly look into the matter “by the book,” despite vocally expressing frustration over the timing of the claim.

“I believe she is credible,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said of Kavanaugh’s accuser during an appearance Monday on ABC’s “The View,” a show that targets a female audience. “We have to get to the bottom of this.”

Everything seems to be going wrong for Republicans with all this, but that may have been inevitable. Donald Trump made that inevitable. Republicans are in more trouble than ever with women. That MeToo stuff is hard to navigate when Donald Trump is who Republicans are now – and that is where things diverge. Trump narrowed the possibilities for Republicans. They seem to have no good alternative much of the time. Democrats have gone the other way. They’ve made things more possible on their side.

Peter Beinart sees that this way:

In the year since the #MeToo movement began, Americans have relearned one old truth and learned one new one. The old truth is that, when it comes to perpetrators of sexual harassment, politics doesn’t matter. Liberal men and conservative men, socialist men and fascist men, anti-feminist men and avowedly feminist men – some percentage of all these subspecies prey on women. For every Clarence Thomas, there’s a Bill Clinton.

The newer truth, which was less clear a year ago, is that while politics may not determine your propensity to abuse women sexually, it does determine your ability to get away with it.

Beinart explains that this way:

The divergence between how liberals and conservatives respond to sexual harassment only really became significant last December, when Al Franken resigned from the Senate.

The Franken resignation, in retrospect, was a historical crossroads. It was a crossroads because Democrats had plenty of excuses for standing by him. His apparent penchant for groping unsuspecting women, while hideous, was milder than the accusations against many other alleged sexual harassers, including the president. He was a champion of women’s rights. The ethics committee had not begun an investigation. Even some prominent feminists said he should keep his job. And yet he was forced to resign.

And that was smart:

The push came primarily from Kirsten Gillibrand and other women senators. Part of their logic was that unless Democrats kept their own house spotless, they’d lack the moral authority to challenge Trump and other Republican harassers. “For the last decade, Democrats have been pointing the finger at the Republican Party for devaluing women,” explained Guy Cecil, former executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “This is a requirement to be able to look at them with a straight face and say we’re the party that cares about them.”

Missions accomplished:

This weekend’s accusation that Brett Kavanaugh assaulted a woman in high school shows just how wise that logic was. Republicans desperately want the public to believe the assault charge is a smokescreen: that Democrats are looking for any opportunity to defeat a nominee whose politics they oppose. That’s true: Democrats are looking for any opportunity to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation. But Democrats can also credibly demand an investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh because, when it comes to sexual harassment, they have earned the moral high ground. They earned it with Franken. Yes, Kavanaugh’s alleged incident occurred while he was in high school. But, if true, it’s worse than anything Franken is alleged to have done – and Democrats ditched him without even the benefit of a hearing. When it comes to Kavanaugh, Democrats may be opportunists, but they’re not hypocrites.

And that leaves the Republicans with no good alternatives at all:

I suspect that at this point Republicans would suffer more from ditching Kavanaugh than sticking by him. After all, the party has already stuck by Trump, Roy Moore and Jim Jordan. At this point, Republicans have already lost the anti-sexual-assault voter. Their best hope in the midterms is to motivate their base, which includes a lot of anti-anti-sexual assault voters. According to a 2015 Public Religion Research Institute poll, more Republicans think, “there is a lot of discrimination” against white men than think “there is a lot of discrimination” against women. Some of those rank-and-file Republicans will feel betrayed if GOP senators turn their backs on Kavanaugh. It will show that they won’t stand up against the victimization of men.

And that’s absurd, and a win for the Democrats:

Even if Democrats can’t use the sexual-assault charges to defeat Kavanaugh, Gillibrand has achieved her goal. In this year in which women are mobilizing politically as never before, she and her fellow female Democrats in the Senate have made accountability for sexual harassment and assault a partisan issue.

So, Republicans, unlike Democrats, are now the party that proudly stands against any accountability for sexual harassment and assault. Cool.

These things add up:

Ohio’s wealthiest Republican donor, Leslie H. Wexner, has left the party, saying he is fed up with its antics, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

“I’m an independent,” Wexner said at an event for Ohio business leaders Thursday night, noting that he had been a Republican since his college days. “I won’t support this nonsense in the Republican Party.”

Here again the inevitable happened:

Wexner is the founder and CEO of L Brands, a company whose holdings include Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. He’s been a long time and major donor to Republican politicians and committees. Wexner gave $250,000 in 2012 to a super-PAC backing Mitt Romney’s campaign; in 2016, he and his wife Abigail donated more than $2 million to candidates, with Leslie contributing $500,000 in support of Jeb Bush’s presidential bid.

Since the election, the billionaire has been critical of President Trump, noting in a speech to his employees last year that he felt “dirty” and “ashamed” by the president’s response to a white nationalist and far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that turned violent. At the time, Wexner, who is Jewish, said he was unable to sleep because of the incident, telling himself that “I have to do something because the leader of our country is behaving poorly.”

He has seen the opposite:

The announcement, made at a panel discussion, came the same day Obama visited Columbus before heading to a rally in Cleveland to support Democrat Richard Cordray’s run for governor.

“I was struck by the genuineness of the man; his candor, humility and empathy for others,” Wexner said of Obama.

Wexner seems to have been that pessimist who feared that we do live in the best of all possible worlds – and the real possibilities are narrow and depressing. Republicans and then Trump were the best that this world could come up with – the only real possibility – disheartening and depressing.

What can one do about that? Voltaire’s Candide gave up a decided to drop out and cultivate his own garden. That’s odd. There are other alternatives.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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