When Christine Blasey Ford came forth with very credible allegations that when they were both in high school in 1982 a drunken Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party, the Supreme Court nominee had two possible ways to respond and keep his confirmation on track. One option was to deny the allegations outright setting up a process where Republicans would rally around Kavanaugh while Democrats would support Professor Ford. The other option was to admit that these events occur and for Kavanaugh to present an apology for actions that he undertook years ago, citing youth, alcohol, poor judgment and decades of regret.
Kavanaugh, as well all know now, chose the former option. It is possible that he did this because he is innocent of these charges, but with each passing day this seems less likely, particularly given that during his confirmation Kavanaugh demonstrated a tenuous relationship with the truth. Ford’s story, on the other hand, is very believable; she has handled this in a very reasonable way; and it is consistent with much of what we know about Kavanaugh as a high school student. This does not mean that Kavanaugh assaulted Ford, but it certainly suggests her allegations should be taken very seriously.
The latter option was only a possibility if Kavanaugh had indeed assaulted Ford, but if he had crafting an apology that would satisfy 51 Republican Senators would not have been difficult. We can easily imagine that statement “Deeply regret…many years ago…no excuse…have learned from this experience…my own daughters…etc.” It would not have been sincere, but it would have more or less assured his confirmation.
Thus if Kavanaugh is genuinely being falsely accused, he is right to defend himself. However, for those of us who believe his accuser, Kavanaugh is caught between two lies. He can either claim he didn’t do it or that he is genuinely remorseful. Understanding why Kavanaugh is choosing to deny this, even though it may lead to most Americans believing he is lying is an insight into how those born into privilege process that privilege.
Kavanaugh is a smart and very well educated man who has for several decades chosen to use his intellect and education to ensure that his class retains its wealth and privilege and that those born into less fortunate circumstances do not threaten that wealth or privilege. A smart man can only do that if he believes in his own righteousness and pushes out all ideas that threaten the assumptions of righteousness, and rightness, around which he has built his life and his ideology.
Accordingly, for Kavanaugh wrestling with the impact of something he did 35 years ago means wrestling with core assumptions about who he is. It means understanding that he is capable of doing hurtful things, not thinking of others and doing whatever is necessary to get what he wants. If Kavanaugh allows himself to go down that path as he rethinks that evening at a party 35 years ago, he might just find himself thinking about the impact of how he has spent his life and career. Since graduating from one of our country’s top law schools, Kavanaugh has been a loyal Republican operative and conservative jurist. His professional life has been dedicated to protecting the privilege of his class and background, but it has been done while veiled in notions of strict adherence to the constitution, an interest in the greater good and a belief that he is serving the public. This is all essentially nonsense, but it is nonsense that people like Kavanaugh tell themselves so much that the begin to believe it.
This may be an oversimplification, but it is not an inaccurate one. The modern Republican Party, which Kavanaugh has served so faithfully and would continue to serve on the Supreme Court, has waged class warfare on the side of the rich and stood in the way of every proposal to make America more equal for all of Kavanaugh’s adult life. For Kavanaugh to concede that he probably hurt Ford, as any thinking man in his shoes should be able to do, it is a very short step to thinking about the impact of his life’s work on the many who are less fortunate than him. That is something Kavanaugh cannot allow himself to do.
For Kavanaugh strong denial was ultimately the only option because the alternative would have been too threatening to his understanding of himself and the larger world. The Kavanaugh confirmation hearing will now come down to a question of who a handful of Republican Senators believe, Ford or Kavanaugh. If even two or three of those Republican Senators believe the woman who by telling her story has brought a tremendous amount of stress and danger into her adult life, Kavanaugh will not be nominated. However, if the desire to protect privilege wins out, Kavanaugh will be on the Supreme Court for decades.
Lincoln Mitchell is a scholar, consultant and writer based in New York and San Francisco.
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