Was Brett Kavanaugh defending himself, his family, his honor, and his life’s work, all while fighting for his entire future, or was he an abuser working himself into the lather he needs to justify his violence?
How you saw the spectacle of his interview before Congress seems to me to be at least a potential reveal of your experiences and sensitivities: Are you familiar with abuse? Have you normalized it–and perhaps passed it on? Have you ever had reason to be afraid of a man’s screaming? Have you heard it in public before shots were fired? In private before he hit you? Have you ever seen a child shrink up, her body promising never to trust you again, at your anger?
Any regular reader here knows that I’m not about respectability politics–that effort to ignore the message by denying a person can have a compelling point if they use a shrill tone, non-standard grammar, or curse words.
That’s not what we’re talking about with Brett Kavanaugh, though. Kavanaugh read directly from the abuser’s handbook: don’t answer questions, claim to be the real victim, float some conspiracy theories, cry, blame others for your anger. I suspect it was so easy for him because he’s familiar with the handbook.
And many people bought it. I’m seeing conservative folks, like at the over at National Review, complain that the only option Kavanaugh had was anger. Writes Charles C. Cooke:
Put simply, if Kavanaugh he believes he is innocent — and he does — there is no other proper way for him to act. What he did today is what I would have done if someone accused me of being a gang rapist and a lecher and a teenage sexual deviant. After ten days of listening to this stuff — and watching in horror as the spaghetti was thrown at the wall — I, too, would have been done. Having slowly realized that I would never regain my reputation in full, I would have been livid, devastated, furious — and so, frankly, would anyone else in that position.
These arguments consistently make a few points:
- It makes sense defend yourself from attack.
- You would have gotten angry too.
- He wasn’t on the bench, so he had no obligation to act with sobriety.
That is nonsense.
First, conflating “defense” with “screaming, crying, and whining” suggests that the only defense against an attack is anger, entitlement, belligerency, and deriding people who are seeking honest answers. That behavior isn’t shrewd, wise, or effective in mounting attack. If you can only imagine “defense” as yelling and sharing Reddit-quality conspiracy theories, I have no idea how you became a lawyer. Simply put: as strategy, this was no defense.
And, no, I wouldn’t have gotten angry–or at least, I wouldn’t have acted that way, and the majority of Americans know they they couldn’t have acted that way, either. Dr. Blasey Ford has been attacked, and she didn’t get angry. Hell, Clarence Thomas faced similar charges, and even though he felt anger, he didn’t act like a drunk who’s been cut off at the bar. The people saying, “Well, you would have gotten angry too” are people who feel safe to indulge their anger because their anger is seen as strength, not emotional instability (women) and/or danger (black people).
And, yes, he had an obligation to act with sobriety. First, because he was in Congress, and just as there’s no crying in baseball, there’s no crying in Congress. At least not because the last few weeks have been hard on you. When you have a real “life ruining” experience, tears are acceptable; being called a liar is something everyone in politics is going to have to deal with. If you can’t handle it, this is not the job for you.
Second, he has to act with sobriety because this is still a job interview. Any job interviewee knows to be conservative in every one of their choices. If you have a nose ring, take it out, and if your hair is purple, dye it back to its original shade. (I know a man who, in the 1970s, had that lovely 70s hippie hair. He stuffed under a more sedate wig every day for work. For years.) If you drive a foreign car, rent a domestic one to drive there, just in case the boss doesn’t like Toyotas in the parking lot. If you are a woman, take off your wedding ring if that might make you look like you would ask for maternity leave at some point; if you are a man, add one so you look stable. (I know a woman, a professor who looked young, who put on fake glasses to look more like a “typical professor” during her campus visit.) In every job interview, you take a risk when you don’t act conservatively. And if you have a body that doesn’t require you to hide its gender or race or ethnicity or disability for a job interview and thus these things have never occurred to you, congratulations on your privilege.
Third, if he can’t handle his emotions (which is how it looked–and the alternative is that he could handle his emotions and this is what he chose, believing that those looking for Rambo would be pleased and that those who find public displays of rage frightening are not worth his consideration), then he is not prepared for the work of the Supreme Court.
Above, Brett Kavanugh, whose anger and entitlement suggest he couldn’t hold a job as a Applebee’s waitress.
Imagine being a Jewish judge hearing a case in which Nazis plan a march through a town filled with Shoah survivors. Even if you had to review arguments from someone who said that you should be killed in a gas chamber–like, perhaps, your grandparents were–, you have to listen to them fairly.
Imagine being a gay judge hearing a case in which one of the parties said that your sexuality is endangering American society.
Imagine being an African American judge and being told that the Voting Rights Act that you marched for is no longer relevant–even as you see racist voter suppression happening in former Confederate states.
Imagine being a Justice who immigrated to the US and having to hear a case about whether families seeking asylum should be split apart, with babies imprisoned far from their parents.
Imagine being a veteran and hearing a case in which one side says that people should be able to preach that you’re in hell at your own funeral.
You would have to do your job without your personal feelings clouding your ability to discern what the law says. After all, as conservatives like to remind us about the Constitution, it’s not about feelings but about applying it as written. That’s hard to do through rage-tears.
But it’s not just judges who cannot allow personal attacks on them to interfere with their work. That’s unacceptable in all kinds of jobs.
- The Jewish EMT who has to care for the young man his ambulance picked up after a street brawl–even if the man has a swastika tattooed on his chest.
- The school teacher who has to work to make the classroom accessible even for students who call her names.
- The prison guard who has to keep prisoners safe even if they would murder him if they could.
- The nurse who has to care for sick patients even if they are screaming in her face for drugs.
- The public defender who has to make the best case possible for her client, even if the client cusses her up and down.
- The social worker who has to treat his client with dignity, even if she doesn’t treat him that way.
- The Hispanic firefighter who has to rush into the house of someone whose front yard is decorated with anti-immigrant yard signs.
If we ask it from some of our lowest-paid public servants, we can ask for that kind of performance from our leaders.