Like millions of Americans, I sat riveted before the television on Thursday watching the quiet, calm, and dignified testimony of a woman, Professor Christine Blasey Ford, who was scarred for life by sexual assault. She sat in a room full of powerful men and described her ordeal at the hands of another powerful man.
Then I watched that accused man, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, yell and scream about how it was all just unfair and a political hit job and a conspiracy by Democrats to get revenge for the 2016 election. His unbridled rage was shared by several other powerful men in the room, especially Senator Lindsay Graham, whose rant seemed to be an audition for a senior appointment in the Trump administration.
Let’s put aside, for the moment, the allegations, Kavanaugh’s revelation that he’s a nakedly partisan operative in a judge’s robe, and the fact that he clearly and utterly failed the test of temperament we should expect of all our judges. This is about powerful men defending powerful men, no matter what. It is the antithesis of justice, and a disgraceful display of elitist misogyny on the national stage.
Calling all men: We need to own this debacle, and we need to stop it.
There was a moment during Thursday’s session, when Kavanaugh entered the hearing room, in which he could have salvaged his reputation. He could have acknowledged that Ford had suffered. He could have made a mealymouthed explanation, issued a nondenial, said, “I don’t remember everything, but I’m sorry if I ever hurt anyone,” and blamed his faulty memory on his well-documented binge-drinking.
It wouldn’t have passed the smell test or changed any votes in the Senate, but it would have demonstrated that he had some empathy, a little bit of humanity that would allow most of us to say, “He’s only human; he’s not infallible.” (Even from a political angle, it would have given his fellow Republicans some cover and allowed the so-called moderates in the party to continue to pretend they still were, at least while the cameras are rolling.)
Instead we got full-on Trumpist rage and White male entitlement. He pretty much shouted to the world that because he went to Georgetown Prep and Yale, played football and basketball, he was supposed to get a pass.
We men need to stop this. We are supposed to be held to account for our actions – that is what “justice” means. We all do things in high school that range from being stupid and embarrassing to hurtful or contemptible, but we’re supposed to learn from those mistakes and not repeat them. And if we get called out on it, we’re supposed to acknowledge we did something wrong – or even consider that we might have done something wrong—and we know better now. If necessary and appropriate, we should make amends for that behavior, but without the expectation that this, too, exonerates us.
This is not a call for banishment. This is a call for holding one another to account, not closing ranks the minute our privilege is threatened. Al Franken was drummed out of the Senate by his own party after several allegations of groping. Franken has acknowledged most of the events and apologized. He may still have a long way to go before he achieves redemption, especially in the eyes of women, but it’s a start.
Meanwhile, comedian Louis C.K. thought nine months out of the spotlight was enough punishment and that it was time for his comeback. That he failed in this is encouraging that our society is changing for the better.
But don’t tell this to those Senators who are giving a belligerent partisan a rubber-stamp appointment to the Supreme Court despite credible evidence that Kavanaugh has been dishonest about many events from his past – and is completely unapologetic about his actions having harmed someone else.
The elitists among us, those who see their upbringing, their private schools and Ivy League pedigrees, their social clubs and sports trophies, internships and mentors and career paths benevolently guided by their seniors, have long seen these as their natural rights and entitlements, instead of what they are: accidents of birth. And while we can’t be blamed for winning the birth lottery, either by race, class or gender – or in the case of Kavanaugh, all three – we need to acknowledge the vast inequities and advantages that come with that.
Most important: We should not abuse the power we have, and we must work to rectify that imbalance.
At very least, we should have empathy for those who have been victimized by the powerful and not make things worse for them. We just watched what happens when we fail to do that. It’s on all of us men to do better.