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Notes on Brett Kavanaugh and This Latest Moment of #MeToo Reckoning

Up until this past week, U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings have been little more than political kabuki theater. While Republicans were papering over controversies in their rush to confirm Kavanaugh, Democratic Senators asked questions at the hearings that led to 2020 election speculation rather than actual answers on Kavanaugh’s record.

But when news broke of a letter that Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) was keeping guarded in her office, the dynamics began to change. And now that the author of that letter has been compelled to come forward with her story of sexual harassment by Kavanaugh, it’s time for us to reassess what had been the ultimate Supreme Court sideshow.

Until last week, it all seemed like another cynical reality TV show on Capitol Hill.
Photo by Eric Draper, and made available by the Bush White House

From the very beginning, this Supreme Court nomination has been a reality TV spectacle worthy of the reality TV presidency of Donald Trump. Right on the heels of his acquiescence to Trump’s xenophobic “travel ban” power grab, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement. Two weeks later, Trump announced Brett Kavanaugh as his pick to fill Kennedy’s vacancy amidst the kind of pomp and circumstance one would expect on Celebrity Apprentice (except this time, Gary Busey and a slew of D-List reality stars weren’t invited to compete for the grand prize).

Earlier this month, the Senate began Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings in similar fashion. Seeing the opportunity to solidify a conservative majority at the nation’s highest court, Republicans have by and large defended Kavanaugh and his generally hard-right record at the D.C. Court of Appeals where he now sits. Even as Kavanaugh snubbed the father of a Parkland victim, falsely referred to contraceptives as “abortion inducing drugs”, and tried to conceal the true nature of his work in the Bush administration before then President George W. Bush nominated him to the D.C. Court of Appeals, Republicans have stood by Kavanaugh and accused Democrats of running a “freak show” for demanding more information on Kavanaugh.

Yet because Kavanaugh’s fate seemed sealed, it had been an open question of what exactly Democrats were hoping to get out of these hearings. Up until last week, Democratic questions were mostly met with speculation over who’s running for President in 2020 and how they were aiming to win over the progressive base. But when news first broke of the letter to Feinstein, speculation turned to what was in the letter, why Feinstein would keep it under wraps for two months, and whether the White House’s selling of Kavanaugh as a “good, honest family man” was just a slick attempt to hide a very dirty secret.

Now that a survivor has come forward, the game is over.
Photo by Andrew Davey

In the hours following the revelation of the Feinstein letter, Republicans continued to double down on their nominee. Even after The New Yorker revealed more details of the incident, when the accuser says Kavanaugh pinned her down, covered her mouth, and attempted to force himself upon her, Republicans continued to cover for Kavanaugh. Closer to home, Republican commentator Orrin Johnson mocked the Feinstein letter as “a particularly disgusting Mean Girls – nay, Heathers level of dishonest character assassination” while imploring upon Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) to vote to confirm Kavanaugh (and that was posted at The Nevada Independent after The New Yorker story dropped).

Yesterday Christine Blasey Ford came forward and told The Washington Post that she was the one Kavanaugh attempted to rape, and that she was the one who wrote the letter to Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-California) that was then sent to Feinstein’s office. The Palo Alto, California, psychologist not only shared her story of the incident that occurred when they were teenagers living in the D.C. suburbs in the early 1980s, but she also shared notes from a 2012 couples’ therapy session when the incident was discussed, as well as the results of a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent last month (she passed). Ford even clarified that she requested to remain anonymous, and that Feinstein simply respected her wishes.

“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” Ford told The Post. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.” And yet, many Republicans continue to defend Kavanaugh. Even worse, some have proceeded to attack Christine Blasey Ford, just what Ford feared when she first decided not to go public with her story.

Have we learned anything from #MeToo? Or will we allow this, too?
Photo by Andrew Davey

It’s not like we haven’t seen this before. In 1991, many Republican and Democratic Senators treated Anita Hill with scorn for daring to speak her truth about the sexual harassment that soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas subjected her to. At the time famed TV producer Linda Bloodworth Thomason addressed the Thomas scandal on her hit sitcom Designing Women, only for (the now exposed serial harasser) Les Moonves to rail against her feminist point of view and blackball her out of CBS when he took over the network. Fellow serial harasser and entertainment industry powerhouse Harvey Weinstein used his Hollywood clout to keep his victims silent until a few brave souls finally decided to blow the whistle and launch what’s now the #MeToo movement.

Shortly after the Weinstein story broke, women began to come forward and share their stories of being harassed by entertainer-turned-politician Al Franken (D-Minnesota). Though their stories eventually led to Franken’s resignation from the U.S. Senate, billionaire power player George Soros and other Democratic insiders have since turned their ire at possible 2020 contender Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) for demanding Franken’s resignation. And now, serial harasser and fellow entertainer-turned-politician Donald Trump wants a man who’s also being accused of sexual assault on the U.S. Supreme Court.

This is a list of just a few of the many incidents that have been discussed in the public sphere over the past year (a list that now includes Nevadans like Rep. Ruben Kihuen [D-Las Vegas] and GOP mega-donor Steve Wynn). And what have we learned? That might be a good question for someone to ask Senator Dean Heller (R) right about now. If Orrin Johnson and other conservative pundits are that concerned about “political toxicity”, perhaps they should read Ford’s story, take it seriously, and urge Heller and other Senators to do the same. After all, toxic masculinity only becomes more toxic when it’s allowed to devolve into harassment and violence.

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