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Kavanaugh vote a positive, but may hurt unity in U.S.: James Miller

Posted 10/11/18

The Kavanaugh contretemps is over. And what did our nation get for all the trouble?

No unalloyed good, that’s for sure. The fruits of the protracted publicity war are all rotten: …

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Kavanaugh vote a positive, but may hurt unity in U.S.: James Miller

The U.S. Supreme Court building
The U.S. Supreme Court building
staff photo by jason maddux

The Kavanaugh contretemps is over. And what did our nation get for all the trouble?

No unalloyed good, that’s for sure. The fruits of the protracted publicity war are all rotten: Conservatives received a burst of vindictive enthusiasm just before the fall midterms; liberals, the same, albeit of greater intensity. The Supreme Court is home to a warworn justice.

As is the feeling in the wake of any recent political event, we feel more frayed, more aged, less innocent, and less unified with Brett Kavanaugh taking his seat on the high court. A poll from Harvard University showed 69 percent of Americans regard the spectacle as a “national disgrace.”

There are many reasons why. The Supreme Court has an outsized presence in our national life, exercising ultimate authority over lawmaking. A lifetime appointment to the body awards each justice phenomenal power — power, that had the Founders known it was to be wielded through “judicial review,” would have forbidden it.

Then there’s the top motivating factor for Democrats when it comes to the court: legally sanctioned abortion. Kavanaugh, it’s suspected, could provide the necessary vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade. In nearly all left-of-center commentary, the focal point is reducible to abortion on demand.

With liberals already fearing an overturning of Roe, the discovery of multiple sexual abuse allegations against Kavanaugh was, frankly speaking, a little too convenient to be believed. Coincidences don’t exist in politics. That Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sat on the allegations from Palo Alto professor Christine Blasey Ford for months until just before Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote is redolent of the worst — and most effective — form of ruthless politicking.

I don’t want to dwell too long on the Senate Democrats’ treatment of Ford, which amounted to the antithesis of Kant’s categorical imperative: Being treated as a means for an end. Any fair-minded observer could see she was done a disservice by Feinstein and her colleagues who used her word as a cudgel with which to beat Kavanaugh.

What I want to highlight out of the Kavanaugh affair was the largest motivating factor behind support for Ford, which had little to do with public policy. It was driven more by the so-called “cultural moment” the country is experiencing, otherwise called the #MeToo movement. What made Kavanaugh distasteful to a multitude of Americans was a personal qualia shared by many middle-aged women.

Ford won the affection of so many by displaying a child-like insistence about her image as a victim, like an ingénue in a Tennessee Williams play. During testimony before Congress, she came off as flaky and, in the proper sense of the word, pathetic. Her attorneys neglected to provide her key information about her case, including the offer of Republican staffers to interview her at home.

Ford’s self-portrayal was bolstered by Kavanaugh’s blue-blooded, masculine persona: prep school, football jock, unapologetic tippler, Ivy League alumnus, Clinton administration investigator. Conservatives were loath to admit that Kavanaugh matched the stereotypical profile of a frat boy who enjoys hoisting his brothers upside down for a keg stand. Just to emphasize the point, he was even labeled the treasurer of the “Keg City Club” in his high school yearbook.

So many Baby Boomer-aged women were ready and willing to believe Ford because they have either been treated poorly by men in Kavanaugh’s vein, or know of women who suffered emotionally and physically from unimpeachable males in power. I didn’t understand this dynamic until a church friend — a single woman in her mid-50s — expressed unwavering contempt for people of Kavanaugh’s genteel kind. The way she spoke to me about Kavanaugh revealed a deep bitterness held over from her own nasty experiences with men. She described Kavanaugh as “one of those guys” who treated girls as throwaway treats in schools because so much of the world was presented to him as deserved patrimony.

My friend’s animus towards privileged men her age reminded me of my late mother’s contempt for the archetypal silver-spooned male who takes and takes without apology. Their feelings, I have little doubt, are shared by more women than is realized. As columnist Kim Hart wrote, Ford’s allegations and subsequent denial by Kavanaugh and his congressional allies was, for women, “a reminder that much of the country still doesn’t take their darkest, most personal experiences seriously.”

Against that emotional history, the presumption of innocence became an anachronism of a more benighted era. That Ford and other accusers had no corroborating evidence against Kavanaugh mattered little. He matched the profile of an abuser. Thus, he abused.

The lingering feelings of betrayal after Kavanaugh’s assumption to the court shouldn’t be disregarded. As Francis Fukuyama explains in his new book, “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment,” much of our modern politics revolves around the seeking of recognition by groups traditionally undermined. The shorthand for this is identity politics.

“Individuals throughout human history have found themselves at odds with their societies,” he writes. “But only in modern times has the view taken hold that the authentic inner self is intrinsically valuable, and the outer society systematically wrong and unfair in its valuation of the former. It is not the inner self that has to be made to conform to society’s rules, but society itself that needs to change.”

Conservatives normally scoff at identity politics, rightly regarding it as a power-mongering tool by Democrats. But to dismiss it entirely misses an opportunity for reconciliation. Grievance is a powerful force. The demand for dignity shouldn’t be waved off easily.

In the long run, it’s probably good that Kavanaugh was confirmed, if only for the basic principle that an unsubstantiated allegation shouldn’t be vocationally fatal. It will be a Pyrrhic victory, though. The cost will be to our national cohesion. The resentment many women have toward patriarchal impunity hasn’t dissipated. I’m afraid it’s only increasing.

James E. Miller, a native of Middletown, lives in northern Virginia with his wife and daughter. He is the author of the novel “To Win And To Lose.”