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Kavanaugh hearing puts misogyny on trial

Last Thursday, September 27, Americans saw the enraged face of white male privilege, at the Senate hearings to confirm Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). By turns scowling and sneering, Kavanaugh told the Senate judiciary committee it was a "national disgrace" that, at 53, he should have to answer questions about his behaviour in high school and university in order to serve on the Court. "My life is ruined!" he cried.

Perhaps taking the offensive was easier than answering the testimony that Senators heard right before he spoke. Dr Christine Blasey Ford's presentation was harrowing, her manner terrified but still warm and eager to please. Her remembered fear that these staggering teenaged drunks would kill her accidentally while trying to rape her was both believable and palpable.

Speaking aggressively in his own defence, Kavanaugh’s presentation undermined everything he claimed to be. As Senator Barbara Boxer said, "All of a sudden we see a man transformed from a choir boy who, up to now, has said....  in front of the committee, [that] he lived this very perfect life, all of a sudden his anger is triggered, and what we saw today is someone who you could now see attacking a woman."

Even before Kavanaugh finished yelling, er, speaking, people were sharing a poster with six shots of his snivelling, shrieking, disdainful face. "...It became instantly possible to imagine a young Brett Kavanaugh as a belligerent drunk," wrote John Doyle in The Globe & Mail, "a toxic male figure of the college fraternity type.... When he announced he was an only child, many women watching probably rolled their eyes and thought sarcastically, 'You don’t say.'"

Or as Bill Maher put it, "If that was a divorce hearing, she would have gotten the children. Because nothing says 'I'm not capable of a violent assault' like flying into an unhinged rage." Maher blamed Kavanaugh's performance on Trump's influence, which urged Kavanaugh to come on strong.

On the other hand, as the Democrats kept reminding Kavanaugh, the Senate hearings are more in the nature of a job interview than a rubber stamp. The President proposes Supreme Court nominees, and Congress decides whether to confirm them or dispose of them. So Senators poked around in the areas you’d expect, when facing somebody with a reputation for (and a yearbook full of jokes about) being a party animal who regularly overindulged in alcohol.  

Kavanaugh was quite evasive in answering questions about whether he’s ever drunk so much that the next day, he couldn't remember what he’d done. He pushed back hard when Senators asked if he likes to drink or if he likes beer. "Do you?" he demanded. "How much do you drink?" Not how the usual job candidate answers the hiring committee.  No doubt, he lost key support right there.

After the hearing, as CNN reported, "Late Thursday night, the American Bar Association took the extraordinary step of recommending the Senate Judiciary Committee pause on Kavanaugh's nomination until a FBI probe into the allegations is completed. The association had previously given Kavanaugh a unanimous 'well-qualified' rating, its highest rating."

That’s how shocking Kavanaugh's performance was. As the CBC's Keith Boag said, between Kavanaugh's lack of decorum and his outrageous claim that Dr Ford's testimony was part of a vast Democratic conspiracy, he has put his own credibility and impartiality in doubt.

Of course, the final confirmation vote in the Senate is usually along partisan lines. The Republicans have only a one-vote majority (11 -10)  on the committee, including two women Republican Senators, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, who have been known to break party ranks on women's issues, such as birth control.

Make no mistake. What happened in the Senate on Thursday --two days after Bill Cosby was sentenced to 3-10 years for sexual assault -- was all about women's issues. In an era of the #MeToo movement, even in Trump's administration, a candidate who faces allegations of sexual abuse might as well be radioactive. Misogyny was on trial here. And misogyny lost where it really matters -- with the American public.

The news on Thursday night showed images of Americans glued to their TVs all across the country, in diners and bowling alleys, even a couple sharing a cell phone to listen to the hearings on the New York subway. The National Sexual Assault Hotline reported a 200 percent increase in calls.

As Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick stepped forward to add their own accounts to Dr Basley Ford’s, Trump's popularity began to plummet. He had already lost 19 percentage points with Republican women; he may just have lost most of the rest. Pundits computed a national 52 percent disapproval rating, dropping as Trump continued to praise Kavanaugh.  

All those calculations went out the window Friday afternoon, when two young women protesters blocked Arizona Senator Jeff Flake’s elevator on Friday afternoon, and told him (live on CNN) that, by voting to confirm Kavanaugh, "you're telling me that my assault doesn't matter.”

Flake went into the Republican caucus and brokered a deal -- his support for the confirmation in exchange for a one-week delay while the FBI investigates the sexual abuse allegations against Kavanaugh. In response, Trump surprised everyone by stepping in and ordering the FBI investigation himself, limiting it to the cases already in the public conversation. "For one week," said Bill Maher, "we can look our kids in the eye and say that America is not a country that puts a predator on the Supreme Court. In the White House, sure, but not the Supreme Court."

Tuesday’s hearings may have already determined the outcome of the mid-term elections as voters -- especially women -- reacted to the sight of Brett Kavanaugh onscreen, braying about his entitlement to the post. As for Kavanaugh, even if the FBI doesn't get official approval, the smart money is betting that he's under serious investigation right now, from all kinds of organizations, starting with the New York Times and the Washington Post.

As special prosecutor Rachel Mitchell reminded Kavanaugh, there is no statute of limitations on the kind of violent crime that Dr. Blasey Ford described. There may be an indictment hanging over the nominee’s head. In addition, Kavanaugh's repeated denials that he had anything to do with an attack on Dr. Ford when she was younger, may prove to constitute perjury and obstruction of justice. In that case, he could be liable for decades in jail as well as disbarment.   

In the old days, we used to say, "The Revolution will not be televised." Cell phones disproved that, livestreaming injustices like the death of Philando Castile. Perhaps Brett Kavanaugh just didn’t understand the power of the visual media that beamed giant images of his scowling face onto huge flatscreen TVs, projecting his tone deaf white man's lament to a transfixed, horrified world. Did he really just say that?

Image: Flickr/gipuzkoa​

Award-winning author and journalist Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local (Calgary) column for four years. She was Editor of Straightgoods.com from 2004-2013.

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