An intense week of riveting cultural moments amplified by assorted news media. Is he lying under oath to get on the Supreme Court? Is she a pawn of the Democrats? Is Lindsey Graham melting down or showboating? Is Jeff Flake a flake?
I appreciate the weeklong reprieve as the FBI investigates.
Uncounted numbers of women around the world and more than 20 million Americans followed Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Most victimized women haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell of being heard in the US Senate Judiciary (or their country’s equivalent), but women around the world watch and support our American sisters. Lightyears ahead of women in other parts of the world in publicly acknowledging sexual violence and indignity at the hands of men, we know that as American women go so go we—eventually…We hope.
As Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham, Brett Kavanaugh et al, undermine women’s latest efflorescence toward equality, Dr. Ford highlighted essential elements of ubiquitous toxic patriarchy. And she did so from the epicenter that dispenses male power.
Perpetuating entrenched power means following a cultural script. Yet, now and again the extraordinary human heart urges someone off script. Then, serendipity happens. This time, serendipity brought together Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Ana Maria Archila, and Maria Gallagher. Had it been Sens. Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, or Lindsey Graham in that elevator, Brett Kavanaugh would be on his way to fulfilling his Trump-designated role as president’s protector on the Supreme Court.
Throughout Ford’s testimony and Kavanaugh’s dissembling, Flake’s demeanor suggested his discomfort. He admitted he was “unsettled” although not discomforted or unsettled enough to go against his Republican brothers. He’d agreed to vote for Kavanaugh when Ana’s and Maria’s elevator pitch rattled his defenses. Soon after, he conferred with Senator Coons, a colleague and a Democrat… and together they made history.
Pundits judge, even scorn Flake; the few progressives who acknowledge his courage do so dismissively. Yes, the guy is conservative. Many people are. (Believing that conservatism/Republican—or liberalism/Democrat—is intrinsically offensive describes our nation’s current polarization). Flake didn’t transform into Liberal Man (he’s admitted that were he not retiring from the Senate there’s “Not a chance,” he’d buck his party’s line) but cut the guy some slack. Bucking the trend is tough. The payoff is heart-felt rather than monetized.
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Transformation is tough. Lasting transformation, the kind that results in spiritual growth after reevaluating one’s Self and culture, is iterative, discouraging, uncertain. It requires patience, compassion, nerve, and a generous spirit.
Imagine you’re a privileged white male who’s learned, implicitly, and accepted, explicitly, that white male culture will protect you, no matter what, if you stick to the script. If you can’t imagine that, recall Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham, and Brett Kavanaugh during the hearing. After lifetimes, from 53 to 85 years, of things going your way, of never facing discomfort, powerlessness, or indifference, a woman, a lesser being, goes off—and stays off —the script of male-hegemony. Ford, herself white and privileged, stood in their bastion and spoke against their version of truth, nobility, and right-thinking. This, moreover, after Orrin Hatch described her an “attractive witness” and “pleasing.” This is how she repays his gallantry?
Interruptions to the dominant narrative— this “culture”—present enormous disorientations in individual and collective psyches. Interruptions rattle, demand one think creatively and on one’s feet, pose dilemmas, and threaten change. Faced with a Dr. Ford, chinks appear in the system and dominant beneficiaries respond by stalling, dismissing, shoring up, protecting the system by feverishly applying that which has worked in the past. Cover up. Undermine, but not too openly. Humiliate, but not too openly. Rage. (Don’t cry.) Then emulate Donald Trump and “punch back ten times harder,” search and destroy, wage war.
Ironically, if Judge Brett Kavanaugh had admitted abusing alcohol he’d already be on the Supreme Court. (George W. Bush, a fellow Yalie, admitted, “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible,” and he became a two-term president.) But admitting to “youthful hijinks” doesn’t sit well with Kavanaugh. Gripped by self-righteousness, he sees himself the way his culture portrays masculinity: boot strapping, busting his butt, athletic, charitable. Reports among the thousands of pages from earlier investigations suggest Kavanaugh tends to “dissemble,” a culturally appropriate way of saying he lies. If he’d admitted his high school and college years included booze-addled blurs, and if Ford’s claims were true (they’re not! He’s “innocent”) he must have been drunk (implicitly not responsible). If he’d expressed shame, if he’d apologized, he would be on the Supreme Court. That’s the power of male culture. Instead, he foisted a false narrative and “dissembled” under oath about Maryland’s legal drinking age, that he never ralphed, about the meaning of “boof” and “devil’s triangle.” He raged. He cried. Now he and his supporters seek to search and destroy.
Brett Kavanaugh is a culturally damaged creature of toxic male hegemony who lacks a broad understanding of and pleasure in our complex, multicultural world. He’s confused —outraged—about why this is being done to him. He’s played the culture game right: “had no connections” to assist him into Yale, “worked his butt off,” excelled at academics and athletics, attended church, enjoyed the occasional beer, and kept his calendars from high school and college to prove it. His version of American culture (Grassley’s, Hatch’s, and Graham’s, too), the only version that matters, entitles him to his spot on the Supreme Court. He deserves it. The job of lesser beings—regular Americans—is to get out of his way.
Damaged himself, Kavanaugh is also a highly damaging man. He can wreak havoc. He can harm. We, the People, the Supreme Court, our sisters and brothers beyond our borders, are entitled to, deserve, a well-rounded, judicious Justice. That’s not Brett Kavanaugh.