The Senate has voted. Brett Kavanaugh has been narrowly confirmed. In a normal time, that would be the end of the story, or at least this chapter of the story.
These, as you probably know, are not normal times.
This is the time — the first time, I promise — a Supreme Court nominee has uttered the phrase “what goes around comes around” in a confirmation hearing. Was it a threat, as some inferred, or was it an assessment of this moment in history?
In either case, if the midterm elections next month go as expected and Democrats retake the House, we know what will come around. Investigations into Kavanaugh’s confirmation would become the new Benghazi, and we would expect hearing after hearing after hearing. At one point, Lindsey Graham said Kavanaugh had gone through hell during his Senate confirmation. Here’s a guess: It may well get a lot hotter.
The ramifications of putting the hard-right Kavanaugh on the bench to replace moderately conservative Anthony Kennedy are clear. The court will move in only one direction, which is to say, backwards, meaning the long arc of the moral universal has hit a major detour. Vulnerable and under-represented communities, whose rights have often been protected by the recent courts, now wonder which of them will be hit first and which will be hit hardest by the latest version of the Roberts court.
And yet, in the short term, in the now, the story is not about the court’s future, but about the present state of the nation in which Kavanaugh was nominated and confirmed and in which Merrick Garland’s nomination was not even considered.
In the short term, it’s how the Senate Republicans, uninterested in learning the truth, condescendingly said Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony was “credible” while then blithely ignoring it. Many — let’s start with you, Susan Collins — said that they believed Ford was assaulted but that she must have fingered the wrong guy. Maybe Collins should have asked a scientist. Read this piece in The Washington Post: The experts say in cases of a known attacker, you just don’t ever get the wrong guy. And if that’s the case, either Ford lied or Kavanaugh did.
Many Republicans sought to grab the middle ground, saying that there were very fine people on both sides, even as they watched in silence as Trump mocked and taunted Ford at a public rally, in which Ford’s name brought the not-meant-to-be-ironic chant, “Lock her up.” Orrin Hatch, who then went on to slut-shame an accuser, might as well have been in that crowd.
In what may do the most harm to the credibility of the court, Kavanaugh’s partisan attack in his final hearing confirmed the lie of the ideal that the Supreme Court was the last place in Washington rejecting partisanship. Kavanaugh said his problems stemmed from “left wing” attack groups, Democrats out to destroy him because they resented Trump’s election and, of course, vengeful Clinton defenders for Kavanaugh’s role in the Ken Starr investigation. Meanwhile, Kavanaugh insulted senators for their questions and insulted everyone with heedless lies about teenage drinking and boofing. Personally, I can’t wait for the boofing hearings next year.
Kavanaugh would later semi-apologize for his behavior — in the right-wing editorial pages ofthe Wall Street Journal. Just as he had gone on the air to make his case for nomination — but only to the slice of America that watches right-wing Fox News. He didn’t bother with the rest of America, just as Trump doesn’t bother with the rest of America. Why would anyone be convinced that Kavanaugh can be trusted to give those not in the base a fair hearing?
Look, the fight for this seat was always going to be ideological and it was always going to be partisan and it was always going to be nasty. Mitch McConnell had successfully blocked Merrick Garland’s nomination from getting a hearing, ensuring the ugliness. Of course, the ugliness goes back years and has been seen from both sides. But now, like everything else in Washington politics, it’s worse. Just google any McConnell speech.
During the campaign, Trump had promised his Supreme Court picks would someday vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. So, of course there would be a bloody battle. But no one had any idea where the lines would be drawn until Ford entered the scene. She gave a face to the fight, a face you can now find on the cover of Time magazine. It’s the #MeToo modern face telling us of her sexual assault accusation against Kavanaugh back when they were both in high school 36 years ago.
You know the details of the story. You know the gaps in the story. You know the other women who came forward, including Colorado’s Debbie Ramirez. You know how Ramirez’s lawyer gave the FBI 20 people to contact who might be helpful in investigating her story and how the FBI, working on directions from the White House, reached out to none of them. I think we can safely call that a cover-up.
But I doubt that a real investigation would have changed any votes. Did anything we heard in Susan Collins’ 40-minute speech defending her vote for Kavanaugh suggest that the FBI investigation could have made a difference? I mean, Collins had the nerve to say she hoped Kavanaugh would be a unifying force on the court.
A year after the #MeToo movement began, we know, too, that the the success of #BelieveWomen still rests with the not exactly good will of those who are ready to believe women only when it’s convenient.
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said the Senate’s vote conveyed this message to boys today: “They can grab women without their consent and brag about it. They can sexually assault women, laugh about it, and they’re probably going to be fine. They can even grow up to be president of the United States or a justice on the Supreme Court.”
This will all play out, of course, in the midterms, and we’ll see who is more fired up — those in the #MeToo movement or those in the Trumpian #ScaryTimeForYoungMen movement. The conventional wisdom is that the whole ugly process will help Democrats in suburban House districts and help Republicans in red-state Senate votes. I’m guessing it will be a disaster for Republicans in socially moderate to liberal Colorado. Predictably, Jared Polis opposed Kavanaugh and Walker Stapleton said he would have voted for him.
But it’s all guesswork. We’re at another crisis point in the continuing crisis of Trumpworld. In a month, we’ll have a better idea if the country cares.