The Ford and Kavanaugh hearing was one of the most significant political events in an era rife with chaos. What Trump brought to US politics is much of what he brought to television, namely, shocking twists, moral turpitude, and an insatiable hunger for attention. So it should come as no surprise that the hearing to weigh the sexual assault claims made against Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh by Christine Ford Blasey, and his subsequent confirmation, reflected this environment. Just to get this out of the way, I believe Ford, I think Kavanaugh is lying, and he absolutely shouldn’t serve on the Supreme Court based on his performance in that hearing alone (specifically his partisan meltdown and conspiracy mongering). What got me interested in writing this though was the pathology of how many Americans responded to this, particularly the mainstream “respectable” conservatives in America. Some analysis has claimed that it was the anti-Kavanaugh side that was informed by misguided emotions, but it seemed clear to me that the American conservative movement was deeply terrified about what was happening in ways they may not have fully understood. There was palpable fear from huge swaths of of them, a fear that’s been written about before but never put on display like it was those last few weeks.
The Kavanaugh confirmation wasn’t fueled by a desire to return to normalcy, logic, and due process, but more a desperate recognition that we may be approaching the death of a certain type of expectation his supporters may not have consciously knew, but felt in their bones. What has so many conservatives so terrified in America is for the first time ever, it seems as though society’s elite may soon have to face consequences for things they do. Lindsay Graham’s red-faced declaration that “this is hell” is what comes to mind for me the most. Victims of sexual assault, minorities who comprise the majority of the actual victims of the criminal justice system, and those who die in the wars he cheer leads could never penetrate this man’s consciousness, and even though he has a sense of connection to people like Kavanaugh, I don’t think a person like that could ever truly feel for another person beyond considering what that person could do for him. What seems clear to me is that “hell” to a politician like Graham is anything that suggests that his iron grip on power in society, the power people like him have enjoyed for so long, is slipping. Nothing scares him more than imagining himself in Kavanaugh’s place, paying for something he did in the past and failing to ascend to a higher plane of power as he so desperately and obviously wants. There are countless others like Graham too, and they stoked a national fury in Kavanaugh’s defense.
I’ve studied their reaction to this closely and the most striking thing is how genuine it all feels. People who normally scoff at emotional displays (and would disqualify any woman or person of colour for showing even a tenth of the hysteria Kavanaugh displayed), were losing complete control for the first time. Conservatives tend to be angry by default, but that feels trained at this point, a manufactured rage. This time their emotions seemed to be deeply felt. Real, horrific injustices like the sitting president being a credibly accused sexual predator barely grazes their consciousness, but the idea that a person that looks like them might actually face some repercussions for their actions terrifies them to the core.
Possibly the most chilling thing about this was uncharacteristic way they responded to Ford’s testimony. After her recounting of Kavanaugh’s assault, most of them seemed to believe Christine Ford, they saw a woman who spoke with clarity and grace about a horrific moment in her life. Among the most shocking things in this controversy is that on some level, the woman actually was believed. They absolutely believe she was sexually assaulted, but the main party line seems to be that she was assaulted and that she mistook her assaulter for another guy for some reason. This ludicrous theory is their main argument, and I seriously doubt even they feel it is sincere. They cling to it though, because it’s more palatable than the rancid truth. They’re pretty sure he did it, but they genuinely don’t care. They talk about due process but Kavanaugh isn’t on trial here, he was up for a lifetime job as one of the most powerful people in the country. To them, it’s not just that several sexual misconduct allegations shouldn’t deprive him of getting this job, it’s that the very idea of any past actions bearing consequences for people of their class is anathema to them. It makes them sick and scared to their stomach. Kavanaugh’s eventual confirmation must have been a huge relief for them if their jubilant celebrations were any indication, but somewhere in the back of their minds, they have to know that this can’t be the way of the world forever. One of these days, people like Kavanaugh won’t have the protections they’ve enjoyed for so long, one day the next Kavanaugh won’t get away with it. They all know this, they all fear that day is coming, and it is that day that Kavanaugh’s fiercest supporters were fighting so hard to prevent.
In a weird way it reminds me a bit of the story of Sisyphus, a man cursed by the Gods to continually roll a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down as it reaches its peak and being forced to start all over again. A Sisyphean task then, is to continually strive for something knowing that it would be ultimately futile. The conservative version of that is to push that boulder up the hill in order to crush all those in their way in the journey to the top, knowing that one day, it’ll all roll down, but still fighting like hell to prevent it. There is a beauty to Sisyphus’ story because a lot of people can relate to struggling like hell for something knowing it will end in failure, but in the case of conservatives, they’re fine crushing everyone on their way to the top, because they know that when that boulder finally rolls down, they won’t be the ones carrying the burden.
To conclude, I was going to write about the repugnant hypocrisy of conservatives of all people talking about justice and innocence until proven guilty, but no one has been able to articulate my disgust and visceral rage at them leaning on these notions only now better than Chris Hayes.
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