As a sociology professor, one of my jobs is to help students notice social problem they didn’t notice before. As students become aware of how widespread social problems are–that, broadly speaking, women earn less than men upon graduation (not years after being in the workforce) with the same degrees and in the same field, despite having higher GPAs, or that most poor people actually have jobs (They just don’t pay enough to live on.)–they tend to get upset at how unjust the world is. Why, they wonder, if the adults have always known about this, hasn’t anyone fixed it? Sure, some problems are “wicked”–but they’re not unsolvable. They’ve been solved other places. Surely than can be solved in the most innovative nation in world history? Some of them just assume that the rest of the world doesn’t know about these problems (“We need to educate people!” is often their first solution to the problems we study.). It’s a lot harder to think that some people benefit from other’s suffering–and that they want to keep those benefits, no matter the cost to others. In fact, for some people, one of the benefits is the harm it causes others.
So, here are the questions I ask in class: “Why do people keep making the choices that allow this problem to happen? And what do those consistent choices tell us about ourselves? What does the problem do for us that we want it to keep doing? What, other than solving the problem, would be the consequences of solving the problem? And who might lose power if we solved it? What is the function of this problem in maintaining the status quo?”
When I look at the Brett Kavanaugh debacle, I ask the same questions:
One consequence of nominating Kavanaugh is that the Supreme Court falls in the estimation of the American people. To a certain extent, we want to believe that our Justices are set apart. The fact that they aren’t elected and are appointed for life makes them more like figures in a monarchy than a democracy, and we’ve generally taken that to be a good thing: we want them unsullied by politics, as much as possible. I want my Justices to be like my elementary school teachers: they should not exist to me outside of the classroom. Their mystery is part of our respect for them. The Trump administration, by forwarding a man with credible accusations of sexual violence against him, turned the ONLY remaining democratic institution (not the presidency, and not Congress, which has failed in its duties so spectacularly that We the People should sue its members for breach of contract) into something we now distrust.
Trump is the King Midas of Shit. Republicans knew that when they elected him. They didn’t elect him in spite of it but because of it: he is here to turn our institutions into shit, because then their fascist tendencies are justified. Every day since his election, he has damaged our democratic institutions. If we ascertain people’s intentions by their actions, then we see that undermining democracy is the goal.
Another consequence of nominating Kavanaugh is that victims of sexual violence, who are disproportionately women, are hurt. The reason you don’t hear Republican leaders saying, “We’re so sorry to have to bring this up” is because they are not sorry for the damage this inflicts on women. We are not collateral damage here. We are the targets. It’s not about (or just about) Roe v. Wade: it is about threatening all women and also humiliating men who have been victims of sexual violence. Anything that could recognize the dignity and worth of women is rejected by the GOP. This is not an accident; it is the Republican platform. It’s why ZERO House Republicans backed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act this week. If we ascertain people’s intentions by their actions, we see that hurting women is the goal.
The Trump administration could have placed any number of well-qualified, not-serial-sexual-offenders on the Supreme Court. He released a list of possible nominees during the campaign, an act that won him favor with the conservative Christians who say that abortion is their greatest concern; surely some of these include people not accusing of preying on women with alcohol problems and gang raping them? We’re not yet halfway to 2020, and this nomination was scheduled before the midterm elections. To get its nominee on the bench, all the administration had to do was put forward someone who wasn’t a likely criminal. If the goal were a smooth transition to a more conservative court, that could have been done easily. Why didn’t Trump do that? I think it is fair and reasonable to conclude it’s because the Trump administration wanted the problems it created–that, in fact, undermining faith in the judicial system (which, before or after he leaves office, will be coming from Trump and his children) and hurting women. At minimum, it felt that these problems were worth placing on the bench a man who wishes to remove accountability over the presidency. Even worse, they understand that their base cheers for cruelty.
Above, protestors call upon Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine to #BelieveSurvivors. What cost would Collins pay for doing so? What does she–and other members of Congress–gain by ignoring them?
As Maya Angelou reminds us, “When people show you who are they are, believe them.” It is respectful to allow people’s words and actions to speak; when they disagree, we have to believe actions. When the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress undermine democracy and injure women, we have to believe that this is what they mean to do; they’re simply too powerful to not do what they mean to do.