He’s a Yale man. He’s a lawyer. He’s a judge. He teaches at Harvard Law – or he did until just now. He knows things. He knows the right sort of people. He knows people who know people. He’s the right sort of person himself. And he’s not a woman. He’s solid – and all of this means that he should be respected. That’s a given.
That’s not a given now:
The White House has given the FBI permission to expand its probe of Brett M. Kavanaugh at least slightly, according to two people familiar with the matter, after facing a barrage of criticism over the weekend about the constricted investigation.
The FBI has completed an initial round of interviews as part of its reopened background check of the Supreme Court nominee, and more are likely in the coming days, people familiar with the matter said.
The White House and the FBI, though, still view the investigation as limited and time-sensitive, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday he intends to hold a vote on the nomination “this week.”
That’s how the one-week hold on this nomination began, with disagreement:
Although the precise parameters of the expanded probe remained unclear Monday, this much was certain: No move by the White House is likely to quell the partisan fires raging in Washington. Republicans charged that Democrats were trying to delay the process to upend Kavanaugh’s nomination, while Democrats countered that the FBI’s investigation seemed to be a sham meant to support his eventual confirmation.
This did sound like sham:
The FBI will not conduct an unfettered review of Kavanaugh’s youthful drinking or examine statements Kavanaugh made about his alcohol consumption during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to see if those answers were accurate or misleading, the people familiar with the matter said. The White House also could resist inquiries into new allegations, the people said.
So there will be no discussion of this man’s drinking, unless there is:
People familiar with the matter said agents will be allowed to question more witnesses with information on the sexual-misconduct allegations. Drinking is inextricably intertwined with the allegations Kavanaugh faces, so it would be impossible to avoid that topic entirely. Two people familiar with the interviews so far say agents have asked routine questions, including about alcohol use.
So there will be questions about his heavy drinking, sort of, but one man wants to have nothing to do with this:
For his part, Trump said Monday he was open to a “very comprehensive investigation” but suggested at different points that the probe would be guided by the wishes of Republican senators and that the FBI could decide whom to interview so long as it was “within reason.”
“I want them to do a very comprehensive investigation, whatever that means according to the senators and the Republicans and the Republican majority,” Trump said at a news conference. “I’m guided by the Senate. I want to make the Senate happy.”
He wants nothing to do with this. It’s that useless Senate. He can’t be part of the process that might bring down this good man. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa explain why:
The sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh have sparked a wave of unbridled anger and anxiety from many Republican men, who say they are in danger of being swept up by false accusers who are biased against them.
From President Trump to his namesake son to Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), the howls of outrage crystallize a strong current of grievance within a party whose leadership is almost entirely white and overwhelmingly male – and which does not make a secret of its fear that demographic shifts and cultural convulsions could jeopardize its grip on power.
Donald Trump cannot be part of this:
“I’ve got boys and I’ve got girls, and when I see what’s going on right now, it’s scary,” Donald Trump Jr., a father of five small children, said in an interview with DailyMailTV aired Monday.
Asked whether he was more worried about his sons or daughters, Trump Jr. said, “Right now, I’d say my sons.”
His father gets it:
President Trump has defended Kavanaugh and said the accusations by Ford and two other women are unfair to the judge and his family. The president – who himself has denied claims of sexual assault by more than a dozen women – has repeatedly stood behind other accused men in positions of power, including former Senate candidate Roy Moore after the Alabama Republican was accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls.
“The trauma for a man that’s never had any accusation – he’s never had a bad statement about him,” Trump told reporters on Monday, sympathizing with Kavanaugh’s experience. “It’s unfair to him at this point. What his wife is going through, what his beautiful children are going through is not describable.”
Trump, for his base, is simply identifying the agreed-upon enemy:
Veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz said that among Republicans, “There is a feeling of being guilty until proven innocent. In this era of #MeToo, there are a lot of men – and some women – who believe that justice no longer exists in America, that the accusation is enough to destroy someone’s career and someone’s life. That wasn’t manifesting itself politically until” late last week.
Kavanaugh’s defenders, reflecting widespread feelings among conservatives nationally, are furious about what they see as a broad-brush approach to sexual misconduct allegations. They say the federal judge is being caught in a #MeToo riptide and unfairly grouped with serial predators – such as entertainer Bill Cosby, who has been accused of sexual assault or harassment by more than 60 women and was sentenced last week to three to 10 years in prison for drugging and assaulting one of them.
“I think you’re trying to portray him as a stumbling, bumbling drunk, gang rapist, who during high school and college was Bill Cosby,” Graham said Sunday to host George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week.
If the shoe fits… but something has changed for them:
The right has come alive with impassioned defenses of Kavanaugh in recent days. Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh, whose program for years has largely defined the GOP’s white male id, has unleashed a torrent of criticism on the air – such as his riff last week on “militant feminism.”
“These women are angry,” Limbaugh said. “Something has happened to them in their lives, and their rage and anger, they take it out now on the country or on all men or men in ‘the powerful majority,’ which is white Christian men and so forth.”
And that’s just not fair:
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter bemoaned the “snickering at white men” in her syndicated column last week and insisted that “there has never been a more pacific, less rapey creature than the white male of Western European descent.”
“Can we please, for the love of God, drop the painfully trite, mind-numbing cliché about ‘white men,’ as if somehow their whiteness makes evil even eviler?” Coulter wrote.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) tweeted after the Kavanaugh hearing that “‘Old white men’ are relentlessly being racially and generationally profiled by the ‘tolerant’ Left” and that media outlets have “almost universally profiled and stigmatized Republican Senators.”
Or those media outlets were just reporting the news:
Jennifer Palmieri, a Democratic strategist and author of “Dear Madam President,” a book about reimagining women in leadership roles, said the nation’s fast-changing culture can be unsettling and indeed frightening to men in power.
“A lot of white men don’t know what it’s like to feel threatened, powerless and frustrated,” said Palmieri, former communications director for Clinton’s campaign. “As we go through the reckoning of this lopsided power balance, there’s going to be a lot more of this.”
That would be a lot more of this:
Inside the conservative movement and on its fringes, an intense discussion has long been underway about gender and the perceived assault on men. Fox News commentator Ben Shapiro, who hosts a popular podcast and TV program, has been one of the higher profile voices, sharply criticizing a culture where he sees “men out in the cold” and “searching for meaning.”
“The age of emasculation cannot last,” Shapiro has written. “It will eventually boil over into violence, sink away into irrelevance,” or return to traditional mores.
Beyond Shapiro, University of Toronto clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson has drawn thousands of young conservative men to his lectures across the United States, railing against the effects of feminism and urging men to speak up for themselves. “Boys are suffering in the modern world,” he has told his followers.
There seems to be a lot of outrage and rage out there, about gender and about racial privilege, which Paul Krugman explains this way:
There have been many studies of the forces driving Trump support, and in particular the rage that is so pervasive a feature of the MAGA movement. What Thursday’s hearing drove home, however, was that white male rage isn’t restricted to blue-collar guys in diners. It’s also present among people who’ve done very well in life’s lottery, whom you would normally consider very much part of the elite.
In other words, hatred can go along with high income, and all too often does.
At this point there’s overwhelming evidence against the “economic anxiety” hypothesis – the notion that people voted for Donald Trump because they had been hurt by globalization. In fact, people who were doing well financially were just as likely to support Trump as people who were doing badly.
So there must be sometime else behind this, and there is:
What distinguished Trump voters was, instead, racial resentment. Furthermore, this resentment was and is driven not by actual economic losses at the hands of minority groups, but by fear of losing status in a changing country, one in which the privilege of being a white man isn’t what it used to be.
And here’s the thing: It’s perfectly possible for a man to lead a comfortable, indeed enviable life by any objective standard, yet be consumed with bitterness driven by status anxiety.
You might think that this is impossible, that having a good job and a comfortable life would inoculate someone against envy and hatred. That is, you might think that if you knew nothing of human nature and the world.
He has seen that:
I’ve spent my whole adult life in rarefied academic circles, where everyone has a good income and excellent working conditions. Yet I know many people in that world who are seething with resentment because they aren’t at Harvard or Yale, or who actually are at Harvard or Yale but are seething all the same because they haven’t received a Nobel Prize.
And this sort of high-end resentment, the anger of highly privileged people who nonetheless feel that they aren’t privileged enough or that their privileges might be eroded by social change, suffuses the modern conservative movement.
Of course it does:
It starts, of course, at the top, with that walking, talking, golfing bundle of resentment that is Donald Trump. You might imagine that a man who lives in the White House would no longer feel the need to, for example, make false claims about his college record. But Trump still doesn’t get the respect he obviously craves.
Indeed, it seems apparent that his jihad against Barack Obama was fueled by envy: Obama was a black man who was also a class act, with all the grace and poise Trump lacks. And Trump couldn’t stand it.
Kavanaugh is clearly cut from the same cloth, and not just because he rivals Trump in his propensity for lying about matters great and small.
As a lot of reporting shows, the angry face Kavanaugh presented to the world last week wasn’t something new, brought on by the charges of past abuse. Classmates from his Yale days describe him as a belligerent heavy drinker even then. His memo to Ken Starr as he helped harass Bill Clinton – in which he declared that “it is our job to make his pattern of revolting behavior clear” — shows rage as well as cynicism.
And Kavanaugh, like Trump, is still in the habit of embellishing his academic record after all these years, declaring that he got into Yale despite having “no connections.” In fact, he was a legacy student whose grandfather went there.
Indeed, my guess is that his privileged roots are precisely why he’s so angry.
Krugman has seen that too:
I very much ran with the nerds during my own time at Yale, but I did encounter people like Kavanaugh – hard-partying sons of privilege who counted on their connections to insulate them from any consequences from their actions, up to and including abusive behavior toward women. And that kind of elite privilege still exists.
But it’s privilege under siege. An increasingly diverse society no longer accepts the God-given right of white males from the right families to run things, and a society with many empowered, educated women is finally rejecting the droit de seigneur once granted to powerful men.
That is his hope:
Nothing makes a man accustomed to privilege angrier than the prospect of losing some of that privilege, especially if it comes with the suggestion that people like him are subject to the same rules as the rest of us.
So what we got last week was a view into the soul of Trumpism. It’s not about “populism” – it would be hard to find a judge as anti-worker as Brett Kavanaugh. Instead, it’s about the rage of white men, upper class as well as working class, who perceive a threat to their privileged position. And that rage may destroy America as we know it.
Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent see the same thing:
If you’re a Republican, why do you want Kavanaugh on the court? It isn’t because among all the Republican lawyers in America only he is uniquely brilliant enough to produce the outcomes conservatives want. There are dozens of potential nominees who could overturn Roe v. Wade, complete the obliteration of collective bargaining, eviscerate the government’s ability to protect the environment, and whatever else is on the right’s legal agenda. Pick someone else from the White House’s list of other potential nominees, and the legal outcomes would almost surely be exactly the same.
So why are Republicans holding on to him, when not only has he proven himself to have nothing approaching the temperament you’d want in a justice, but each day also brings new accounts from people who knew what a nasty drunk he was as a young man?
Waldman and Sargent suggest this:
One answer is that Republicans have convinced themselves not only that Kavanaugh is the real victim here, but also that the accusations against him constitute one of the greatest injustices in the history of mankind. A line must be drawn, a stand must be made, for the sake of all that is right and good in the world – and especially so the damn liberals won’t win. When you hate your opponents as much as Republicans hate Democrats, giving those opponents what they want today – even if it’s so you can win a more significant victory tomorrow – is utterly intolerable.
And there’s this too:
Republicans don’t actually believe that pushing Kavanaugh gently to the side is the best thing for them politically… and the White House has no backup plan because they all assume that there would be a mass revolt of the GOP base if that happened. Those voters would stay home, increasing the changes of a wave election that enables Democrats to take the House and perhaps the Senate.
But then there’s this:
The key variable in the 2018 election isn’t how motivated Republican voters are. It’s how motivated Democratic-leaning voters are, especially women. It’s hard to imagine that the Kavanaugh affair – with its dramatic standoff between a shouting, red-faced man visibly enraged at seeing his ascension and privilege hit a rough patch, and a woman quietly but insistently sticking up for herself in the face of a national outpouring of rage and abuse – isn’t going to help in this regard.
And then there’s no way out:
If Kavanaugh survives and gets confirmed, Democratic candidates will be using this controversy as a way of motivating voters, especially women voters, in this election, but also for years to come. It will be a festering wound – especially when all those rulings on issues such as abortion start coming down – and all they’ll have to do to get their base riled up will be to poke at it.
It may already be too late to avoid that outcome. Democrats may have reached a level of anger that won’t dissipate between now and the first week in November no matter whether Kavanaugh withdraws, is voted down or gets confirmed.
But if Republicans think that standing by him is the best way to minimize their losses, they may be in for a surprise.
But he’s a Yale man. He’s a lawyer. He’s a judge. He knows things. He knows the right sort of people. He knows people who know people. He’s the right sort of person himself. And he’s not a woman. And all of this means that he should be respected. That’s a given.
That which is given can be taken back.