During Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s hearings on Sept. 27, it struck me that the stakes of the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary decision would reach far beyond the spectacle of the day.
Because of the nature of the decision itself — to confirm Kavanaugh as the newest addition to the U.S. Supreme Court — as well as the nature of the allegations against him, the Republican one-vote majority would essentially reveal who actually decides the truth in America: the accused or the accuser? As National Political Correspondent for TIME, Molly Ball wrote, “How Kavanaugh’s drama plays out could be the ultimate test of today’s struggle for political and cultural power.”
The decision last Friday to allow a week for the FBI to investigate Ford’s story was the Senate Republicans’ best option. It both honored Ford’s testimony and offered Kavanaugh a chance to clear his name, something that would not have easily happened if he had been swiftly confirmed the day after Ford’s hearing.
But the issue we witness before and during these hearings embodies more than another #MeToo showdown — more than the possibility of a conservative majority in the Supreme Court. It represents this turbulent moment in American politics. Both Ford and Kavanaugh’s hearings were unquestionably overshadowed by partisan bickering.
“What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said to the Democrats present during the hearings.
“You’ve got nothing to apologize for,” he said, turning to Kavanaugh.
And to his fellow Republican senators in the room, he said, “If you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics.”
This rhetoric was not out of place, either. Throughout the day, headlines read things such as “In an awful process Democrats gain the advantage as Republicans walk on eggshells” (Fox News), and “Graham wants another investigation — into how Democrats handled Ford’s accusations” (NBC News).
Not only would the hearings determine who decides truth, but ultimately who would come out on top. More people were concerned about the effect of Ford’s testimony on midterm elections than her credibility. As for Kavanaugh, he himself called the confirmation process a “national disgrace,” a “circus.”
It is not surprising, then, that the introduction of Kavanaugh’s statement did not address Ford or the accusations against him directly, but rather the Democratic party that had orchestrated them in the first place — something he called a “coordinated and well-funded effort to destroy [his] good name and to destroy [his] family.”
He said later, “You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit.”
In other words, according to Kavanaugh, this chaos is entirely the fault of the Democratic party, “fueled with apparent pent up anger about President Trump”; and whoever would come out the other side on top would, in effect, have “won” the day.
There is no question that these hearings further pitted Democrats against Republicans — the Left against the Right.
Interestingly, though, regarding the Supreme Court itself, the idea that “a federal judge must be independent, not swayed by political pressure,” which Kavanaugh argued himself, got no air-time at all.
The major issues made evident in Kavanaugh’s initial hearings “were about how he might rule on cases related to abortion and Trump’s susceptibility to prosecution –– two issues that relate directly to the same questions of power and autonomy,” according to Ball.
More succinctly, Kavanaugh is and always will be the second Supreme Court nominee offered by Trump, who himself called the hearings “a display of how mean, angry and despicable the other side is.”
Note the language: “other.”
When did we start “othering” our fellow Americans? Why do we suddenly seem like a country divided by tribal war? It is easy to allude to the Civil War as the last time our nation was truly torn apart; but there is no question, especially after hearing the language tossed back and forth across “the aisle,” that we behave today as if nothing has changed.
Partisanship has never been the answer to anything. It not only confuses and emotionally charges an already complex system of government, but it has also only further divided our country.
If we are to learn anything from these past few weeks, it is that American politicians need to worry less about winning and more about doing their jobs.