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Kavanaugh Accusations Test a ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ Culture

Power, privilege, white male prerogative—that’s the backdrop of the Kavanaugh hearings

The old attitude was nicely summed up by Kavanaugh himself, in a video Elizabeth Warren made public, where he joked that “What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep. (Photo: The Progressive)

The old attitude was nicely summed up by Kavanaugh himself, in a video Elizabeth Warren made public, where he joked that “What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep. (Photo: The Progressive)

Even over waves of screaming protesters, it seemed like smooth sailing for Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, until Christine Blasey Ford stepped forward with her accusation of sexual assault.

All the carefully choreographed goodwill Kavanaugh had cultivated in his confirmation hearings—the history of mentoring female clerks, the accomplished daughters, the adorable eighth-grade girls basketball team—crumbled in an instant.

The guy was a drunken sexual predator, according to Ford. Then more stories started coming out. To get a job in Kavanaugh’s office, women needed to have “a certain look,” The Guardian reports. Kavanaugh’s high school buddy, Mark Judge, who has categorically denied Ford’s charge that he was in the room when Kavanaugh tried to rape her, has also written a seamy memoir about his drunken high school days, featuring a puking-drunk friend named “Bart O’Kavanaugh.” In the Georgetown Prep yearbook, Judge’s page included the line, “Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.”

Nice.

Kavanaugh’s nomination was always about a white, male elite defending its power and privilege.

But times have changed.

The #MeToo movement has brought down a series of powerful men.

The #MeToo movement has brought down a series of powerful men. Enough women have come forward with stories of abuse to challenge a culture that has always taken an indulgent attitude toward privileged white boys, and smiled on their dominance displays, including sexual violence, as a rite of passage

The old attitude was nicely summed up by Kavanaugh himself, in a video Elizabeth Warren made public, where he joked that “What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep.”

It was what Senator John Neely Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, was getting at in an awkward series of friendly questions during the Kavanaugh hearings when he tried, unsuccessfully, to get Kavanaugh to confess to underage drinking and other boyish pranks during his high school days.

“I guess that’s all I’m going to get out of you. I understand,” Kennedy said, chuckling, when Kavanaugh insisted on playing it straight.

It’s what Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge was getting at in his book when he extolled the “wonderful beauty of uncontrollable male passion” and took issue with the idea of a black-and-white, no-means-no response to sexual assault.

Power, privilege, white male prerogative—that’s the backdrop of the Kavanaugh hearings.

For Trump, this has meant counting on Kavanaugh to defend the position that a President is too important to be made to answer a subpoena. To the Christian Right, it means Kavanaugh’s restrictive views on birth control and abortion, and the prospect that he will, as Trump promised, vote to roll back Roe v Wade. To his powerful allies in business, Kavanaugh’s positions that money is speech and that the Internet should be a source of profit, not a public resource, is cash in the bank.

But didn’t he seem like an awfully nice guy in those hearings?

That Ford’s allegations threaten to derail Kavanaugh, is a sort of progress.

Kavanaugh, who said he hoped to be remembered as a “good dad,” soothed the nerves of moderate Republican Senators—most importantly pro-choice swing voters Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—with his smooth non-answers, his repeated invocations of the women in his life, and his promise that he lives in the “real world” and understands the consequences of judicial decisions and the heavy responsibility of evaluating “settled law” like Roe v. Wade.

That Ford’s allegations threaten to derail Kavanaugh, is a sort of progress. That’s because of all the women who have come forward over the years, slowly but surely changing the consciousness of a nation that was quick to label Anita Hill “a woman scorned” when she accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Anita Hill, and the #MeToo movement, kickstarted the transformation of a culture that had always viewed sexual harassment as a joke.

Even Republicans who support Kavanaugh are cautious about dismissing Ford’s charges outright.

Trying hard not to look like Neanderthals, while still rushing through Kavanaugh’s confirmation on schedule, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and his Republican colleagues, as well as a chorus of rightwing pundits, are calling for Ford to be heard—but to be heard in a hurry, on Monday, in a he-said/she-said hearing without the backup of a further investigation, so they can get on with stacking the Court and turning back the clock on democracy and women’s rights.

It’s not just the October 1 start date for the new session of the Court the Republicans are worried about. With their slim, one-vote majority in the U.S. Senate, they face a real prospect of losing the chance to confirm a Federalist Society judge, should the Democrats manage to take back the Senate in November.

So far, President Trump, the pussy-grabber-in-chief, has maintained a decorous distance. Even his aides are amazed. Trump insists that Kavanaugh’s accuser deserves to be heard (quickly, on Monday, with no further investigation, of course).

The FBI, a Trump Justice Department statement declared, has concluded its background check on Kavanaugh and will not look into the alleged sexual assault because “the allegation does not involve any potential federal crime.”

The question here is not whether Kavanaugh has committed a federal crime. The question is whether he's fit to sit on the highest court in the land.

But the question here is not whether or not Kavanaugh has committed a federal crime. The question is whether he is fit to sit on the highest court in the land.

Ford, who remained anonymous until news stories about her accusations in The Intercept and The Washington Post made her decide to come forward, is under enormous pressure to appear before the Senate at a scheduled hearing on Monday. So far it’s not clear if her terms will be met.

Since going public on Sunday, Ford has been hounded by the press, received death threats, and had to move out of her home.

As Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin, tweeted, “Before the Judiciary Committee takes any further steps on a lifetime appointment to our highest court, the FBI must reopen its background investigation of the nominee to include this serious sexual assault allegation and ensure the Senate has all the facts.”

Representative Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, and Nancy Pelosi have both called on Kavanaugh to do the same thing Ford did and take a lie-detector test.

Of course he should.

Dollars to doughnuts he won’t, though. He can count on his Republican supporters to keep the law off his body. That’s how privilege works.

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Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is editor of The Progressive magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @rconniff

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