Being old has its advantages. The cataract surgery went fine, and from check-in to discharge, that ate up most of the day. That was fine. The day was one of the most depressing and absurd days in the nation’s history. It was dramatic. It was stupid. And then it was over. And it was a day best seen in retrospect. Listening to it all – watching it all – must have been maddening. Eye surgery wasn’t. Eye surgery would fix a problem. Eye surgery was the better option.
This fixed no problem. Christine Blasey Ford testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that Brett Kavanaugh had, back in high school, in a drunken stupor, pretty much tried to rape her, which she thought they ought to know, before they confirmed his nomination to the Supreme Court. She was calm. She was convincing. She’s a highly-respected research psychologist now – and a professor – and even Donald Trump said she was convincing and a “fine woman” too.
The folks at Fox News declared this was a disaster for the Republicans – and then it was Brett Kavanaugh’s turn. He got angry. He cried. He whined. But mostly he was angry. Doctor Ford may be a fine woman, and someone may have attacked her long ago, but it wasn’t him. This was all a conspiracy, set up to take him down, set up by the Clintons, who wanted revenge for the Starr Report he helped write, the report that got Bill Clinton impeached, and revenge against Donald Trump for Trump beating Hillary Clinton so decisively in the 2016 election. He mentioned big money donors on the left, who must have been in on this. The Clintons and the Democrats and the left were out to destroy him, and out to destroy everything that was good in America.
Donald Trump loved that. And if Donald Trump loved that, Lindsey Graham loved that – and then so did all the Republicans in the room. Brett Kavanaugh was wonderful. Brett Kavanaugh told it like it is. The Clintons and the Democrats and the left were out to destroy him, and to destroy everything that was good in America, and that’s why he should be on the Supreme Court, to stop these enemies of America. He’d get angry. He’d stick it to them. The Supreme Court would report to the Republican Party – finally.
They had nothing to say about Christine Blasey Ford. They’d moved on, and the rest was minor detail. Kavanaugh, when asked an embarrassing question by a Democrat, would demand that they answer the question about themselves – he reminded them that HE was the one asking questions here. What? None of it made much sense. But it was dramatic.
And then it was over. Christine Blasey Ford was convincing and a “fine woman” too. Brett Kavanaugh really had jumped her bones long ago – attempted rape – he nearly killed her – but Brett Kavanaugh was a hero. He stood up to vast Clinton-Soros-Obama-Pelosi-Maddow-Bezos left wing conspiracy to destroy everything that is good in America. Those two contradictory notions – she was right about him and he was total hero – just sat there, unresolved. No one’s mind was changed. Nothing changed, and the Republicans already had the votes to get this guy on the Supreme Court in a day or two. Everything was moot.
It was a good day for elective surgery. All the drama had added up to nothing, but then things changed:
President Trump on Friday ordered the FBI to reopen the investigation of Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh’s background, a stunning turnaround in an emotional battle over sexual assault allegations that has shaken the Senate and reverberated across the country.
The dramatic developments capped an extraordinary day on Capitol Hill, which began with a sense of momentum for Kavanaugh but then sharply changed when one of Trump’s fiercest Republican critics, Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), who at first endorsed the nominee, emerged from a private meeting with Democrats to call for a renewed inquiry into misconduct allegations.
Flake’s move puts in doubt the fate of Kavanaugh, who has in recent days drawn strong support from Trump and other top Republicans, but now faces another week of scrutiny and must watch as senators in both parties endure mounting pressure from their respective bases to either rally to his side or block his confirmation.
Jeff Flake said he was a “no” vote on Kavanaugh unless there was an investigation of something like the actual facts about all this stuff, and he wasn’t alone:
Flake, who at one point Friday was confronted by two women who tearfully and angrily urged him to consider the pain of sexual assault survivors, was soon joined by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), and hailed by Democrats for forcing a one-week delay in the nomination process to allow for the federal inquiry.
“There’s lingering doubt out there among a lot of people that we haven’t taken every measure that we should to make sure that these allegations are dealt with,” Flake told reporters Friday after the Senate Judiciary Committee said it requested the White House call for an FBI probe. “That’s what this effort is about.”
Republicans were in a fix. They have a one-vote margin in the Senate. These three oddball Republicans are “no” votes unless someone checks the facts here. The rest of the Republicans have no choice now, and that’s trouble:
Trump told advisers in meetings Thursday and Friday that prolonging the vote doesn’t help Kavanaugh but that if an FBI check came up clean, he could use that as a cudgel to get more votes. But the biggest concern in the White House is that with more time, more women, more accusations and more stories could emerge.
“It’s not the FBI investigation that sparks the fear like it is just another week of this,” one White House official said. “How much longer is this sustainable?”
This may be over:
Trump is telling advisers that he wants to stick by Kavanaugh. But he also says that “Republicans have been played like a fool,” according to a senior White House official.
He sees what’s happening. He wants to stick by Kavanaugh but he’s not going to be tied to this loser – he’s not stupid.
Something else is going on here, and Will Bunch says it’s something big:
Make no mistake: This was a kind of cultural Pearl Harbor, a date – September 27, 2018 – which will live in infamy in the culture wars between a deeply entrenched patriarchy and a rising #MeToo movement of women telling their survivor stories of sexual abuse and harassment. That rising ride encouraged Dr. Ford to come forward with her long-repressed reckoning, and her courage in testifying on Thursday seemed to pay the #MeToo movement back with interest.
So, this was the surprise attack that started the real war. Keven Drum says that’s something that Republicans simply don’t get:
The surprise victory of an open misogynist like Donald Trump has blinded them to the way an awful lot of women have viewed the past couple of years. For their entire lives they’ve quietly put up with routine sexual abuse – and who knows? Maybe that would have continued, Harvey Weinstein or not. But the Weinstein revelations came just a few months after Republicans nominated a man who not only proudly assaults women but was caught admitting it on a videotape that was played to the whole country on national TV. And they voted for him anyway. Republicans just didn’t care.
Depending on how many people were watching the Kavanaugh hearing and how it plays in the press, it might well be the tipping point for #MeToo that Bunch suggests. I hope so. It’s going to be an ugly tipping point, but there was never any way it would be anything else.
And this was ugly:
I think it’s obvious that Christine Blasey Ford was telling the truth and that Kavanaugh told a lot of lies. This almost certainly means he’s lying about the assault on Ford too. The funny thing is that I’m still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt about what really happened. Like a lot of people, I refer to his actions as “attempted rape,” but there’s a pretty good chance that this wasn’t his intent at all. At the time, he may well have thought of it as nothing more than horseplay, just a bit of fun and games with no intention of ever taking it past that. And intent matters. Being an infantile 17-year-old lout is way different than being a 17-year-old rapist.
But when he was first asked about all this, he panicked and denied everything. He didn’t have to: he could have admitted what happened, apologized, confessed that he never had any idea how badly it had scarred Ford, and then explained that he’d tried to make up for it by being especially sensitive in his hiring and treatment of women ever since. I’m pretty sure that this would have cooled things down pretty quickly. But once he denied the incident entirely, he had no choice but to stick to his story. Everything that’s happened since has hinged on that one rash mistake.
And one thing leads to another:
This is what explains his almost comically angry testimony. He knew he was guilty and he also knew he couldn’t admit that he’d lied about it. But the Republican playbook has a page for this. Even before his appearance, there were news reports about the advice Kavanaugh was getting: he needed to be passionate, angry, and vengeful against the Democrats who plainly orchestrated this entire witch hunt. And that’s what he did. Unlike Ford, his performance was highly rehearsed: his emotional tone was rehearsed; his lines were rehearsed (and then repeated ad nauseam); and more than anything, his angry insistence that he was the victim of a vicious liberal frame-up was rehearsed.
Drum, however, is not surprised by this:
This has been the signature of the conservative movement ever since the start of the Gingrich era: a deep-rooted belief that conservatives are regular victims of liberal cabals who are out to destroy them and everything that America stands for. Sex and gender are at the core of much of this, but it goes beyond that, something that Kavanaugh knows very well. After all, he’s been a movement conservative spear-carrier for years: author of the Starr Report; pro bono counsel in the Elián González affair; part of the Bush v. Gore legal team; and then staff secretary in the Bush White House. He knows what animates the base and he’s perfectly willing to play the role of aggrieved victim if that’s what’s called for.
And that’s what was called for, as it always is:
This sense of endless victimization by liberals didn’t start with Donald Trump, but it’s no surprise that it’s reached his peak during his presidency. He literally rode conservative victimization to the White House and taught Republicans that it was even more powerful than they thought. Now they’re using it as their best chance of persuading a few lone Republican holdouts to vote for Kavanaugh not on the merits, but so that Democrats don’t have the satisfaction of seeing their contemptible plot work.
That’s standard politics, but Drum sees real danger here:
The problem here is not that Republicans were grandstanding over imagined liberal schemes to destroy anyone and anything in pursuit of their poisonous schemes to crush everything good about America. The problem is that most of it wasn’t grandstanding. They believe this deeply and angrily. And it explains the lengths Republicans are willing to go to these days – even to the appalling extent of accepting a cretin like Donald Trump as a party leader. If you believe that your political opposites aren’t just opponents, but literally enemies of the country, then of course you’ll do almost anything to stop them. I would too if that’s what I thought.
There are some liberals who do think that – and more and more of them since Donald Trump was elected. But it’s still a relatively small part of the progressive movement. In the conservative movement it’s an animating principle.
This is why it so desperately needs to be stopped – not by destroying Republicans, but by voting them out of office. We simply can’t afford to have a major party run for the benefit of fearful whites who are dedicated to a scorched-earth belief that liberals are betraying the nation.
Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick specifies how that was done this time:
Anita Hill once told me that, in 1991, Clarence Thomas had race and she had only gender. But now, in 2018, Brett Kavanaugh had rage and Christine Blasey Ford had only gender. With the Senate Judiciary Committee moving on Friday to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate without any further inquiry around Blasey Ford’s damning and plainly credible testimony that Kavanaugh had gleefully and drunkenly sexually assaulted her at a 1982 house party as his buddy Mark Judge watched, it appears as though his rage alone will have been enough to earn him life tenure on the highest court in the land.
Well, not quite. Lithwick posted this before Jeff Flake ruined everything for the Republicans, but the issues, for her, is what happened the day before with Kavanaugh and Ford:
The dynamic of Thursday’s hearing was consistent: He had fury, and contempt, and seething threats that the republic would pay if he were thwarted. She had to functionally lie back and try not to infuriate anyone, as Republicans cowered behind the female prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, they had brought on to interrogate her. That was until it was Kavanaugh’s turn to speak, when they quickly jettisoned that paper-thin pretense of investigative “independence” and joined Kavanaugh to form a chorus of angry shouting men. They towered silently over Mitchell for the first half of the hearing, and then summarily ignored her when she wasn’t offering questions fast or furious enough to protect their nominee.
At least Anita Hill was insulted, demeaned, and discredited to her face. Ford was patronized, thanked, and told that she was very, very credible. Over and over she was told she’d been given a “safe space” to tell her story; as if a safe space substitutes for reasoned process and investigation. She was given a safe space and then dismissed as though she were some character in a very sad French movie that had been very affecting indeed but had nothing to do with the great man and his destiny. After presenting an undeniable narrative – and one that nobody ever really attempted to specifically refute – she was told that her credibility didn’t count for anything because a man was bellowing and injured, that whatever had happened to her was not as important as his pain.
Ultimately, he had rage and she had gender, and a “job interview” was recast as though it would result in a lifelong criminal conviction with a death sentence on the line for the man in the dock. Calling no witnesses and accepting no supporting testimony were a perfect way to ensure that he would be innocent of all charges. She had gender. They were sorry for her loss.
And that was that:
Put aside whether any sane litigant can have any confidence in the justice system after the man who will be the decisive vote on the court made it manifestly clear that he believes half the country, and the media, and liberal dark money were all in on a conspiracy to take him out. Because of the Clintons. This wasn’t ultimately a hearing about whether Kavanaugh deserved to be elevated to the high court. It was a blind partisan tantrum in which he dragged the judicial branch down to a place of ugliness and rancor from which it will not soon recover.
So think of it this way:
There were two distinct moods in the Kavanaugh hearing: Ford evoked undistilled sadness and vulnerability; Kavanaugh evoked raw fear that if he were ever crossed, he would lose control.
Do. Not. Make. Him. Angry. is the new judicial temperament.
It is the perfect metaphorical springboard to the highest court in the land, where he will say he’s calling balls and strikes while he froths with contempt at those he believes coordinated against him:
Be very afraid. This is what we will call “justice” now.
That is, if he survives the week. Lili Loofbourow sees this:
People with a level of entitlement (as well as abusers) do see themselves as the victims – they’re not lying about that. They’re often mild-mannered and nice so long as no one tries to exert any authority over them. When confronted, they lash out…
I don’t doubt the sincerity of Kavanaugh’s anger. No one doubts (least of all me) that Brett Kavanaugh feels passionately sorry for himself. He wanted this confirmation badly, and my impression – while watching that damp, extraordinary tantrum – was that he hasn’t had much experience coping with not getting what he wants. One can lightly sympathize: For a judge accustomed to holding other people accountable for their behavior, having the public combing through one’s yearbooks and asking about his drinking and sex life would not be pleasant.
That is unfortunate. It is unpleasant, too, to be accused of assault. But his inability to cope is not, perhaps, what one looks for in a Supreme Court justice.
This isn’t a trial; it’s a high-profile job interview for a big promotion. But it’s worth noting anyway that conduct like his wouldn’t be acceptable from a run-of-the-mill defendant – even one who was falsely accused – for whom the stress and stakes would be infinitely higher. We expect ordinary people in those circumstances to comport themselves with a modicum of dignity and restraint.
For a lifetime appointment, one would think the standards for conduct and temperament would be rather higher, but Kavanaugh ground those expectations into the dust with his heel and stomped on them.
And that may be why he doesn’t survive the week. The FBI may find nothing at all, one way or the other. No other women may come forward to accuse him of anything. He may be technically innocent of all sorts of things – but that doesn’t change the one thing that now seems to matter. Brett Kavanaugh is a jerk who flies into fits of rage that make no sense, and then whines, and then says that everyone is out to get him, and then wants to be admired for all of that – but that only works for Donald Trump – or once worked for Donald Trump. Fewer and fewer find that admirable. Fewer and fewer want that in the presidency. No one wants that on the Supreme Court.
The world is changing. A deeply entrenched patriarchy is ending. Brett Kavanaugh can rage against that, and so can Donald Trump, and so can Lindsey Graham and all sorts of Republicans – but their rage is now moot. Christine Blasey Ford was a disaster for the Republicans – and then it was Brett Kavanaugh’s turn. He got angry. He cried. He whined. So what? This was over before it began.