The bitter Battle of Kavanaugh will burn through our culture for decades
11 min read
“To be a good judge and a good umpire, it’s important to have the proper demeanor. … To keep our emotions in check. To be calm amidst the storm.” — Supreme Court Justice BRETT KAVANAUGH, in a 2015 speech
Leave it to Donald Trump to totally pervert the profound significance of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s exposé of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s moral character. Calling the #MeToo movement “dangerous,” our narcissist-in-chief proclaimed, “It’s a very scary time for young men in America.” Yes, in Trump’s Alice-in-Wonderland mindset, the abusers are the abused.
I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that a lifelong son of privilege, who bragged of his own vainglorious record of sexual predation, would debase the presidency by rushing to declare that our foremost national concern must be the reputations of his own ilk of pampered, powerful white males. The great danger, he said on the day before Blasey’s compelling testimony, is not that America is adrift in a toxic culture in which some men feel free–even entitled–to assert their power by grabbing, groping, fondling, kissing, stripping, climbing atop, raping, and otherwise sexually intimidating, terrifying, and abusing women. No, no … those men are the victims here. Their lives are being ruined by the angry women of #MeToo who misconstrue a little boys-will-be-boys, hard-partying horseplay as abuse.
Kavanaugh himself melodramatically played the self-pitying victim to the Senate. In practiced, red-faced fury, he wept that “my family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed” by a woman with the temerity to call out a man of his stature. (That “destruction” turned out to feature a lifetime seat on the nation’s highest court and the title “Your Honor.” And there he’ll sit in supreme judgment of cases involving women who are abused–economically, politically, culturally, bodily, and psychologically–by entitled brutes like Brett.)
When reporters asked Trump whether the women of America warranted some presidential expression of comfort after having their righteous grievance against Kavanaugh stampeded and trampled by the infuriated bulls of the Republican Party, he curtly lectured the ladies that they have no reason to complain: “Women are doing great.” Then, he jetted off on Air Force One to Mississippi for a victory rally to gloat with a crowd of Trump idolaters about shoving Kavanaugh down the throat of those #MeToo women. There, the president brought the house down with a snickering schtick mocking Blasey’s deeply personal and courageous attempt to speak truth to power. MAGA!
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What’s going on?
The Kavanaugh power play is not about sex, she-said/he-said, Senate protocol, or Trump v. Democrats. It’s about POWER–in particular, the raw power of privileged white men to assert a God-given right not just to run things, but to dominate in the workplace, relationships, government, churches, academia, Hollywood, etc., ad nauseum.
The bitter Battle of Kavanaugh will burn through our culture and politics for decades, for his confirmation by 50 senators was as abusive to all women today as he almost certainly was to one woman 36 years ago. The senatorial power play will linger as a hot spot of political fury not merely because they jammed another right-wing justice onto the Court, but because the way they did it was itself a fundamental affront to justice. Women v. Kavanaugh will stand as a momentous confrontation in the long struggle by America’s democratic populists to tear down all of the structural barriers of privilege that have been erected since the beginning of our people’s experiment with democracy. Democratic Populism is not only a “Workers of the World, Unite!” war against economic oligarchy (as crucial as that core focus is), but it’s also a bigger democratic movement against all oppression by elites.
Anti-feminist politicos and talk-show yakkers try to ridicule the reality that women in our rich and advanced society endure oppression. America isn’t Afghanistan, they snort–women here get to vote. Girls play sports and become astronauts, or CEOs, or anything! Why, we nominated one for president! Certainly women have made strides from the colonial chauvinism of 1789, and they’ve escaped some of the suffocating paternalism of the “Father Knows Best” years. But–O progress!–is that our highest standard? It’s ridiculous, dishonest, and socially destructive to pretend that the 51 percent majority is getting anywhere near its fair share of power and respect.
A look at who runs things in the US everything from paychecks to sexual harassment and discrimination disadvantage women:
Only 23% of US Senators and 19% of House members are women (only 4 of the 50 Senators to confirm Kavanaugh were women).
Just 6 women are governors.
Of our 7,383 state legislators, a mere 25% are women.
Of 2,400 elected prosecutors, 79% are men, 95% are white, and 1% are women of color.
Even though white men are 31% of the population, they comprise 79% of some 42,000 elected officials.
In Fortune 500 corporations, women hold 5% of CEO positions (one-fourth fewer than a year ago, after men replaced the female heads of Avon, Campbell Soup, Hewlett-Packard, Mattel, and PepsiCo.)
CEOs are hired by a corporation’s board of directors, and those boards nearly always choose chief executives who look and think like them. Thus, more than 75% of US corporate board members are white men. Moreover, these men are the ones who set the corporation’s workplace codes of conduct, as well as policies on pay equality, diversity, and non-discrimination.
From corporate suites to McDonald’s’ kitchens, an oppressive male culture and a repressive power structure routinely short change women on promotions and pay (generally a third less than men doing comparable work, with black and Latina women making even less). That’s bad enough, but adding insult to injury, conventional wisdom blames women for this disparity! They’re not “career oriented” or are too thin-skinned, aren’t aggressive enough or are too moody, they’re too likely to leave to raise a family or they just need to “lean in” more.
Delve a smidgeon deeper, however, and–voila!–the source of this deep and pervasive discrimination is the glaring inequality of power that men hold over women. This imbalance results in institutional climates of:
👇 DO SOMETHING 👇
If we’re going to make humans who grow up to respect each other, we need to teach them about respect. Check out scarleteen.com, an organization that creates inclusive, supportive sexuality and relationship info for teens and emerging adults.
Time’s Up legal defense fund, a partnership with the National Women’s Law Center, helps workers in all industries experiencing harassment with free legal help. See nwlc.org/legal-assistance and donate here: timesupnow.com.
End Rape on Campus does many kinds of advocacy and offers support for students and campus organizations trying to change laws, hold administrations and abusers accountable, and support survivors. See endrapeoncampus.org.
The federal government plays a vital role in the work of state-level anti-sexual violence organizations and the work of local police and prosecutors—but this assistance is under constant danger of disappearing. The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence provides “a missing voice in Washington for state coalitions and local programs” that organize against sexual violence and advocate for survivors. Find out more at endsexualviolence.org.
It’s amazing that the impact on working women of blunt-force sexual crudity by superiors has only recently risen to the surface as a major cause of workplace problems. Spurred by the explosion of hundreds of thousands of #MeToo revelations, harassment has finally climbed to the top-of-the-charts ranking of things holding back women in practically every line of employment:
(1) In recent surveys, 81% of women say they’ve experienced sexual harassment.
(2) About half of girls say they have been harassed in school.
(3) Employers and officials usually discount the veracity of women/girls who complain and then accept the denials of men who are accused.
(4) Male hierarchies tend to ostracize and retaliate against victims who report abuse.
(5) Some 80% of young women who’ve been harassed on the job tell surveyors that, rather than file complaints that their higher-ups won’t take seriously, they just leave. As one told a Huffington Post reporter last month, “It’s not worth my energy to change the culture.”
Some places just don’t think it’s a big deal that their organizational hierarchy tolerates a grab-ass mentality and allows abuse. Their attitude is, Hey, no one’s making you work here. More commonly, though, harassment and discrimination persist because leadership only addresses the problem bureaucratically, incrementally, and ever so cautiously. While those in charge of these companies and groups loudly condemn all such actions as “unacceptable,” they quietly accept them by doing nothing more than implementing a diversity committee or sensitivity training.
A couple of abuser factors are in play here: One is that honcho offenders lawyer-up, so the institutional response focuses primarily on limiting liability, rather than on cleansing the toxic culture. Second is a move I call “The Willie,” borrowed from Willie Nelson’s humorous idea that he wants his tombstone to read: “He meant well.” In a nefarious twist of Nelson’s droll humor, honchos of many high-profile, brand-name outfits these days proclaim their commitment to leading the charge for justice and respect for women in the workplace, but, whoa!, don’t push too hard, too fast.
Jamie Dimon is a prime example of those who cry for rapid progress, but then throttle back to a putt-putt pace. As CEO of JPMorgan Chase, he has cultivated the image of an enlightened Wall Streeter who touts the merits of having women decision-makers throughout the bank’s corporate structure. “It is the right thing to do, plain and simple,” he told New York Times interviewer Rebecca Blumenstein. Yet when Blumenstein gently noted that JPMorgan’s 11-member governing board includes only two women, Dimon’s enlightenment dimmed: “I’m looking for a great female board member,” he quickly assured her. Really? Out of 165 million women in America, he can’t find one worthy of a board seat? “It’s hard,” he lamented, “for me to do a board search and say I’m only going to look at women.”
A right-wing rubber stamp
Fronting the marble steps that lead to the entrance of the Supreme Court building are two lampposts, each featuring a bas-relief of Lady Justice. Blindfolded, holding the scales of justice, she is meant to assure America’s public that partisanship and prejudice end at the chamber’s doorway, and the balanced rule of law reigns supreme inside. In reality, the Court has only occasionally reached such a majestic peak of legal purity, but it has handed down enough rulings approximating justice that the public has had a modicum of faith in the legitimacy of this tiny body of unelected lawmakers. Until now. Washington’s Republican leaders are stampeding not only over women, but also over America’s basic sense of democratic fairness. They are rushing to install plutocratic, minority rule through (1) corporate “personhood,” (2) the effective elimination of campaign spending limits for millionaires, billionaires, and corporations, (3) gerrymandering, (4) voter suppression, and (5) a GOP takeover of the judicial branch of government. With little public notice of its overall scheme, it made huge advances on all five fronts in the past decade, including stacking the nine-member Court with four hard-core corporatists and simply refusing for a year to consider President Obama’s nominee, a qualified moderate, to fill a vacant ninth seat. Instead, the Republican Senate’s confirmation of the ideologue Kavanaugh locks in a five-man majority judicial rubber stamp for corporate interests and the entrenchment of white male power and privilege.
Where are the founding mothers?
The prevailing narrative of American history amounts to a Hollywood tale of Great Men doing Great Things. From grade school onward, every child is taught in absolute terms that the heroic Founding Fathers, who fought and won the War for Independence, were also statesmen who gave us Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—the majestic foundation of our democratic republic.
But what about the heroinism, intellectualism, and persistence of the Founding Mothers? Abigail Adams is mentioned in the history books as the brassy and pushy wife of the patriot and future president, John Adams—but pushy for what? For a more democratic republic, that’s what. As John and the other “Fathers” debated the Declaration of Independence in 1776, she implored them to “remember the ladies” by using that revolutionary moment to make women’s legal status nearer to men’s. The male species of the time failed to see beyond their privilege, but Abigail’s writings succeeded in planting fertile seeds of democratic rights for later generations of female rebels to nurture and harvest!
And what about Mary Otis Warren, the “Conscience of the American Revolution”? Or Catherine Moore Barry, “Heroine of the Battle of Cowpens”? Or Sybil Ludington, the 16-year-old “female Paul Revere,” who rode twice as far as Revere and did so in a driving rainstorm, rallying a local militia to repel British invaders? Or Deborah Samson, the “Massachusetts State Heroine,” who, disguised as a man, be-came a soldier in the Continental Army? Injured in battle several times, Sampson treated her own painful wounds to keep her gender secret and continue fighting.
America’s history will be truer, and our democratic culture stronger, when we bring more stories of women into our national narrative.
What a slap at Lady Justice, for Brett exposed himself to America as an intemperate, radically partisan hack, alternately lying, whining, sneering, raging, and demonstrating that he is inherently incapable of dispensing justice. Having bared his inner uglies, he forced his Senate sponsors to bare theirs, too, by resorting to jackbooted authoritarianism to shove America’s majority aside and enthrone a man who stands credibly accused of attempted rape. What are girls and women to think of being wholly disrespected by the president and a mad-dog pack of GOP leaders?
“We will not be intimidated by these people [i.e., women],” snapped the sour and sleazy majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
“Don’t get rattled by all of this. We’re going to plow right through,” screeched Sen. Lindsey Graham, Kavanaugh’s most shameful apologist and the most dismissive of outraged women, even declaring that their objection “Doesn’t matter.”
“We will not be bullied by the screams of paid protestors,” declared Sen. John Cornyn, a Trump sycophant, parroting one of The Donald’s insulting lies: that women opposing Kavanaugh are political whores.
Their verbal assaults on women and their slap-down partisan tactics succeeded in forcing Kavanaugh on us (by the slimmest vote since 1880), but he’s damaged goods, a judge whose naked political bias has been seen by the people: He’s a Republican political activist whose very name sparks rage, a living symbol of injustice.
These power-mad men deeply damaged the Court’s authority, which doesn’t derive from a vote of the people. The judicial license in our democratic system is fundamentally dependent on the people’s faith that judges are not scoundrels, ganging up to rig the law in favor of political and moneyed elites. Between 2000’s Bush v. Gore, through ` and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and on through the railroading of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, the people’s faith in judicial integrity has been draining dry.
In its flagrant overreach to pervert the Supreme Court–and the entire federal court system–from independent, balanced guardians of the Constitution’s democratic values into a branch of Republican Party rule, the GOP has destroyed the moral authority of the prize it has stolen from us.