What a mess.
While a pending FBI investigation keeps everything up in the air, Thursday’s hearing on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was a voyeur’s dream. Detailed descriptions of sexual assault, met with stone cold denials. Tears from both the accuser and the accused, and a tsunami of heated recriminations from each party’s standard bearers, as the rhetoric soared to ever more dizzying heights of hyperbolic bombast in defense of each side’s indefensible positions.
In one corner you have the Democrats, in possession of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations six weeks before releasing them, thus detonating the charges so close to the scheduled confirmation hearings as to accomplish what they could not achieve by congressional rules—delaying the hearing until God knows when. Perhaps after the November elections? I blush to suggest anyone would be so cynically calculating.
In the other corner you have the Republicans, who are doing their best to dump effluent on the Democrats for trying to block Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation. How quickly partisan memories fade. Was it not just a couple of years ago when the Republicans declined to even consider President Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland as a Supreme Court nominee, despite being nominated eight months before the November election? At the time there was much Democrat hollering in the Senate’s hallowed halls about the unfairness of it all. Did the Republicans care? Not much more than the Democrats seem to care this week.
Meanwhile, in the crosshairs you have an accusing woman who gave a credible account for herself in the hearing, and an accused man who gave a credible account for himself as well. As to what happened on that night over 30 years ago, who knows? You don’t, I don’t, and none of the Senators know either.
But oh boy, it was great theater. The fact is we love this stuff, watching people under unimaginable pressure on live TV fight a Hunger Games-style death battle not just for a job, but for their human dignity. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say within 18 months we’ll all be watching the made for TV docudrama, ripped, as they say, straight from the headlines.
Even our president, no stranger to spotlight-seeking, weighed in. While I trust Mr. Trump’s expertise in building wealth and staring down third world dictators, I’m less confident in his ability to analyze the short- and long-term effects of sexual assault on women. His tweet that rhetorically asked why Dr. Ford didn’t just report the assault when it happened was so startlingly tone deaf that even Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins had to break ranks and tepidly suggest his comment was, um, inappropriate. Gentlemen, if you’re not sure why please ask a few female friends.
And as the drama drags on, neither side has lost sight of what’s at stake in all this she-said/he-said, moral hand-wringing and faux outrage. The goal of a solidly conservative Supreme Court that could endure for the next few decades is the Republican Holy Grail, and both sides have waged a fairly unholy war to achieve or block it.
Not that either party’s partisans particularly care. All that matters is winning.
Like you, I have watched civil discourse in America erode over the last two years. From “grab ‘em by the (blank)” to the “basket of deplorables,” we have all become willing and cheering spectators of the Washington gladiator wars, where every battle is a no-holds barred fight to the death. This week’s Roman circus merely continues the tradition.
And each of us seems convinced that none of this is our fault, which makes our howling calls for revenge for the other side’s crimes justifiable.
Meanwhile, just when you think the bar can’t drop any lower, it drops another rung or two.
Will it drop even lower in the coming months and years? Do you need to ask? For me the only question is when will we hit the final, absolute bottom?
I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure we edged closer to it this week, and that if or when we get there we’ll be able to stick a final fork in America. Because we’ll be done.