Over the past three months, America has discovered a monstrous amount about itself. It learned that, at its best, it could honor the memory of a man of extreme integrity and courage in the most venerable way a single human could be honored, and at its worst, it could make a time-tested constitutional process into an archaic, partisan, rough-and-tumble he-said-she-said; a kind of passive-aggressive gun battle, where the bullets are plenty, but the targets are few.
On Thursday, September 27th, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from both Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh regarding an alleged sexual assault that took place in the summer of 1982, at a small house party in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Ford, a tenured Graduate professor in California with a PhD in Psychology, recounted and detailed her traumatic experience, when, as she claims, Judge Kavanaugh and his high school confidante, Mark Judge, attempted to rape her in the upstairs bedroom of the Bethesda house where the party was occurring.
Following Dr. Ford’s heartfelt testimony, Kavanaugh, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and known belligerent drunk, in a spectacle best described as the temper tantrum of a white, middle-aged man who just found out that rape is bad, gave testimony and was made to swear before God himself by John Kennedy that the sexual assault in question had nothing to do with him. He also almost too conveniently whipped out a calendar he kept as a high school student at Georgetown Preparatory School that he used to emphasize the unintentionally ironic point that the house party in question, which was widely understood as one of many spontaneous get-togethers that summer, was not written down in advance as a planned event. Who would’ve guessed?
What was more interesting to watch, though, were the senators on the committee itself. Whether it was Lindsey Graham developing a pulmonary embolism while attempting to excoriate those who are rightly inclined to suspect that maybe sexual assault is an issue that should be taken seriously, or Dianne Feinstein struggling through an Alzheimer’s episode during the answering of a simple question about whether or not she or her staff stabbed Ford in the back by leaking her identity, the display put on by the committee was nothing short of shameless grandstanding at every conceivable opportunity.
And as entertaining as it would be to watch through the entirety of the hearing’s nearly eight hours of testimony solely to pick through and catalog all of its most ridiculous moments – and I assure you it would be – we would glean very little substance. Watching in embarrassment as a judge from the second-most powerful court in the country argued with a United States Senator from Rhode Island about how much they each like beer (and yes, that actually happened) is not at all as salient to the confirmation process itself as analyzing just what this confirmation in particular has meant for this country.
The uncomfortable lead up to the conflagration of Thursday’s hearing was like the blaring horn of an oncoming train; we all sensed it coming. But as it all began to unwind, it became abundantly clear that what was once supposed to be a streamlined senatorial process would turn into what could be best described as an incredulous dumpster fire.
In addition to Dr. Ford, two more women came forward alleging sexually aggressive behavior perpetrated by Kavanaugh. A recent Gallup poll put Kavanaugh’s national approval rating at a measly 39 percent; that’s twelve points lower than the average approval rating of the last eight Supreme Court nominees and a whole twenty points lower than the approval rating of then-nominee John Roberts during his confirmation to become Chief Justice. And the entire committee process has bred very little beyond providing a well-lit stage on which our elected officials have practiced their 2020 presidential campaign speeches (I’m looking at you, Cory Booker.)
Beyond our elected officials, the people are implicated in this dumpster fire, too. Americans of all sensibilities have become the virulent mobs most thought were only imaginable in some twisted dystopian novella. While a fair number have taken to trolling one another with pseudo-intellectual arguments (and that’s being generous) on internet message boards, some have even threatened the life of Dr. Ford and other accusers for being brave – or as these glorified terrorists seem to believe, stupid – enough to completely obliterate the entirety of their private lives in the vein hope that these people who are angrily drafting death threats from the comfort of their private residences would instead have a change of heart to the idea that powerful men sexually asserting themselves over women is enough to raise a skeptical eyebrow.
From Kavanaugh and the dumpster fire his nomination ignited sprung a conclusion, bathed in profundity and brutal honesty. A bout of enlightening vitriol, it garnered a realization that at one point in our muddied past may have seemed too outlandish and toxic for America to even imagine itself being complicit, much less active, in nursing, but now seems like the only possible conclusion to draw: that America is, at its core, morally bankrupt.
This is a rude awakening for many who still believe whole- or even half-heartedly in the inherent goodness of this country. It is not that the capacity for goodness is not present. No, the epiphany that Kavanaugh’s nomination process has forced upon us all, whether or not we comprehended it before, is that we will happily submit to the snowball effect-style of negative pathos governing, thus forsaking the high road, if it means that we will feel a level of self-interested, temporary satisfaction – that warm, tingling sensation one experiences in their diaphragm after pressing send on a spicy, political burn-laden subtweet aimed at a total stranger – if even for one infinitesimal moment in time. Americans will abandon big-picture discussions about the long-term repercussions associated with political issue “X” if it means feeling politically superior to a faceless internet icon, and in many cases their own friends and family.
This type of moral ambivalence has always been there, and it has been picaresquely revealed to us before, but is now elucidated and solidified beyond a reasonable doubt. But accepting this is not purely a lamentable moment, though to mourn such a sobering realization is not an inappropriate visceral reaction. Knowing for certain that this is the new status quo of our baseline political practice gives us an opportunity only to grow as a people.
We’ll never be able to take back the effects of the malevolent tweets or tactless death threats, but we can stem the tide of their frequency in, and perversion of, our politics. America is angry, and when anger is one’s pure motivator, any semblance of moral fortitude is, at its best, nothing more than the illusionary tactics of our politicians used to loosely frame and endlessly spin whatever they choose, whenever they choose.
We can, though, choose when and how we act on our rage in the future. And instead of giving into our worse demons, who apparently are hell-bent on barbarically raising our voices and fists toward one another and forcing our digits to tap violently upon our phone screens and laptop keyboards, we may use our capacity for goodness to channel our better angels in the pursuit of a morally upright level of political discussion.