Why the Kavanaugh Controversy Is Bigger Than Politics

Some people don’t understand why – should the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh be true – people like me think it’s dangerous to put someone on the Supreme Court who attempted to rape a woman, albeit as a teenager over 30 years ago. I’d like to explain it a bit, especially because I’m not only on record having said that kids shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions for the rest of their lives, but I’ve helped pass school-to-prison pipeline legislation on that very narrative.

It would be one thing if President Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee had acknowledged this incident either long before today or the moment it became public and had expressed not just convenient remorse, but a sense that this had weighed on him all these years and he’s committed himself to atoning for it ever since. It would be one thing if he said he’d tried to reach out to her and make things right. It would be one thing if – even if only during this process – he had made it a point to say “I was wrong. I had too much to drink, I don’t recall that night, but I have no reason to dispute her account and if that’s what I did to her, I am so incredibly sorry. I would never want this to happen to my daughters, my wife, or any other woman. This is not who I am and I am committed to demonstrating that every single day. Women should be respected, period.”

But that’s not what he did, did he? No, instead, he took Trump’s advice; he denied, denied, denied. He accused Dr. Christine Blasey Ford of lying, of making up a traumatic experience for political purposes. He has enabled a smear campaign against an accomplished, educated woman who was worried about that very thing happening if she ever came forward. He reinforced the dynamic many of us were hoping we were long past in the wake of the #MeToo movement by, in effect, demonstrating that if your trauma gets in the way of a powerful man’s ambitions, you will become collateral damage. He has helped set back the progress many women (and their allies) have fought for to make them feel as though it is OK to come forward about sexual abuse and harassment, that our society is a safe place where women and men can and will be heard on these issues. In his continued nomination – and God forbid, his confirmation – to the Supreme Court, he represents a depressing half-dozen steps back for a movement that was close to universally ensuring that we as an American society never tolerate the sexual mistreatment of women again.

Imagine someone who needed to tear down a victim of sexual abuse sitting on the Supreme Court, hearing Title IX cases, or the constitutionality of #MeToo-inspired state and federal legislation. Imagine how fair a hearing those plaintiffs will get in front of a court where two male members (Kavanaugh and current Justice Clarence Thomas) grabbed a handful of pussy – per the boss’ recommendation – on their way to the bench. Imagine that those same Justices, seeing women as in some way sexually subservient and inferior to men, are deciding whether a woman has equal rights before the law. Or even standing to bring the cases at all. If it sounds like a five-alarm warning, that’s because for women, it is.

Look, I’m not going to claim to be a feminist – not because I don’t share their values or stand in solidarity with the cause of equal rights for women, but because I think a lot of people try to take on labels that they haven’t earned. People call themselves feminists, or civil rights activists, all the time, when in reality, they aren’t committed to those causes as the primary driving force of their activism and I think that’s a bit of an insult to the true feminists and activists who dedicate their lives and careers to those vital, singular pursuits. But I’m an ally. I’m committed to seeing the Equal Rights Amendment ratified and I’d love to see Louisiana be the state that finally puts it over the top. I’m encouraged by the power of the #MeToo movement to finally fundamentally shift the way we as a society view and treat women. And I recognize – perhaps uniquely, as a Black man in America – that we as a society for some reason view sexism and misogyny differently than we view things like racism, antisemitism, and even xenophobia. We accept the idea – and even in some ways glorify – that there was a Mad Men era when “men were men” and slapped ass with impunity. In some of our communities, we still adhere to an almost prehistoric patriarchy that would seem like it was ripped straight from the American Puritan era. So when a powerful man – especially a powerful man who shares our values, as Kavanaugh does the conservative movement – we prioritize our deal breakers with sexism and misogyny at the bottom of the list and in a category that allows for squinting, head tilting, and absurd benefits of the doubt to the accused that make us far more willing to accept someone who angrily calls a woman a “cunt” and puts his hands on her than we might for a person accused of calling a person a “nigger.”

So let’s not do that this time, America. In the same way that it would be wholly unacceptable to allow even a suspected racist on the Supreme Court, we cannot allow someone on the nation’s highest court (or even our circuit court of appeals, which is another issue altogether) who uses those old tried-and-unfortunately-true methods of victim shaming to silence an alleged victim of sexual assault to advance his career. His place on the Court would immediately represent yet another depressing obstacle that women in this country will have to overcome just to get fair, equal treatment before the law. And perhaps more importantly, his place on the Court would be an explicit reminder that as much as we have progressed as a society, women are still treated as second-class citizens in relation to men in this country.

I don’t oppose Kavanaugh because he’s conservative – I think a president has the right to appoint qualified jurists of integrity that the president see’s fit. Elections have consequences. I oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court because if these allegations are true, he’s just another sleazy man who tosses a towel on the women he feels are beneath him and walks out with a resentful “Clean yourself up.”


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