Has it been just ten days? Strange how time flies in the Trump era as we careen from debacle to debacle at warp speed. But, yes, it’s been less than two weeks since Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Brett Kavanaugh did the same, Flake flaked, the FBI completed its wham-bam-gotta-scram investigation, and Kavanaugh was sworn in lightning-fast on Saturday and then with pomp and the now-predictable revisionist circumstances last Monday on prime time.
It’s a lot to digest in a short period of time, and the Trump presidency throws us so much chum that you develop a sort of cognitive bulimia. Yet in the aftermath of this travesty, I find myself searching for some true thing to cling to.
I don’t need to be schooled by Susan Collins on the presumption of innocence. Even though I’m well aware that false accusations of sexual assault are quite rare – between 2% and 8% of all reported accusations, a number deceptively inflated by the fact that most assaults go unreported – I’ve witnessed the heavy price a man I know paid with the mere publication of an accusation. It’s horrible to watch.
But no one who watched the entirety of Dr. Ford’s testimony could doubt her truthfulness. No woman who has experienced sexual assault – one out of every 3 of us – has any trouble understanding why she remembered seemingly minor things vividly (the sound of the two boys bouncing off the walls on their drunken way down the stairs) and seemingly important things, like how she got home, not at all. And this just in: No woman assaulted by someone she knows gets “mixed up” about who did it.
Conversely, it would take a rock-solid, foregone determination of innocence for anyone who watched the entirety of Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony to conclude he was being truthful. His constant attempts to throw the question back to the questioner, to distract with allegations made by others that were not the subject of the hearing, to sidestep and dissemble, to huff and puff and blow the brick house of Ford’s credibility down were – well, as our President said, unwittingly, “incredible.”
Kavanaugh could have just said, “As my yearbook and my ole buddy Mark’s semi-autobiographical novel document, like a lot of American kids, I dove into alcohol head-first in my youth. I drank too much and did stupid things, and if this was one of them, boy, am I ever sorry.”
Or he could have said, “As my yearbook documents, like a lot of prep school boys, I was always trying to impress the guys by scoring – baskets made, kegs consumed, girls used. Like Renate, this girl must have been one of them. Since then I’ve learned that women are also worth impressing, and boy, I sure am sorry.”
But he couldn’t say something like that with his mom and dad and wife right there, the #metoo women screaming out in the hall, his choirboy performance on Fox News still fresh, and the thing he’d been lusting for his whole career just a couple of votes away.
So he took the tack that worked for Clarence Thomas — righteous indignation – and passed the baton to Lindsey Graham. It’s hard to cast as a high-tech lynching victim an entitled preppie whose best alibi is his frequent summering on the shore, but Lindsey was up to the task.
Pushing The Female Prosecutor to the side like the prop from Act I that she was, off on a tear went he. Dr. Ford’s painful struggles and Judge Kavanaugh’s implausible explanations went up in smoke as Lindsey spit fire about the Democrats’ ruthlessness and chicanery and lust for power. Unable to impeach Dr. Ford’s testimony, he tore into Feinstein for holding on to this information like a hole card and plunking it down in the 11th hour, putting this man through the hell of the most despicable, most unethical sham he’s ever seen in politics (which you’ve got to believe covers a lot of territory). “High school yearbooks!” he huffed. “Nonsense!”
Thus was the hearing hijacked. A hearing Republicans had carefully confined to the allegations of one woman now allowed every tale out there, the more implausible the better, the broader the brush to erase Ford with. Despite all the calls for shreds of evidence to corroborate her story, not a single question was asked to elicit evidence for Kavanaugh’s allegations that the Clintons were behind all this or to shed light on how the vast left-wing conspiracy managed to contact Dr. Ford in 2012 so she could start building the corroborating framework for the inevitable hearing six years later.
If only the Senate Democrats could coordinate a message as well as their Republican counterparts! Diane Feinstein insists that she did not leak Dr. Ford’s letter, nor did she share it with the committee chair, because that was Dr. Ford’s wish. But you get no points for honoring a victim’s wish in Senate Ju. Given the fact that Dr. Ford had told family, friends, and the Washington Post about her story and her dilemma, it’s entirely possible that neither Feinstein nor any other Democrat privy to the information leaked it.
Given the timing, it’s equally likely that some Democrat did leak it … held onto the information hoping not to have to use it, but concluding, finally, that it had to come out, even if it meant what has now happened to Dr. Ford happened to Dr. Ford.
But Democrats didn’t say any of those things either consistently or insistently. Nor did they say, “Lindsey, pull your fool tongue back into that gaping maw. After icing a truly middle-of-the-road, distinguished jurist like Merrick Garland for over a year, don’t even utter the words ‘misuse of power.’”
Or “Lindsey, lay off the pious eye-rolling about how this could have been handled properly, privately, behind the scenes. You’ve properly, privately buried tens of thousands of pages of Kavanaugh’s communications on controversial issues and people with impunity. Only an open hearing would prevent you from burying this too.”
Or, “Hey, we’re sorry this woman’s decades of trauma didn’t fit into your timeframe. It wasn’t ideal for us, either. But here it is and here she is and here we are with a job to do. Can you really allow a guy accused of this to sit on the highest court of the land without demanding a better explanation than we’ve heard so far? And now we’ve got another problem: Can you really allow a man with so clear and sharp an ax to grind, so obvious a desire to sidestep his past, to ascend to the highest office in the only branch of government dedicated to the impartial search for justice?
Turns out you can. Brett Kavanaugh has been a Supreme Court Justice for a week now. Republican Congressmen and candidates now stifle Dr. Ford’s voice by turning up the volume on their poll-tested rant about the injustice that “poor Dr. Ford” and “that fine man” endured at the Democrats’ hands.
As for the President, the muzzle is off. The woman he called “credible” and “compelling” 10 days ago he is now gleefully mocking at rallies across the country, beginning with a rally in Mississippi while the “investigation” was in progress. “Had I not done that,” he told Leslie Stahl on Sixty Minutes, “we would not have won.” And he’s probably right. He had to make it OK to mock her, to discredit her in the age-old way, to get his guy across the finish line.
Once across, he can revise the history. “I didn’t make fun of her,” he told Stahl. “I treated her with great respect … and I’m not going to get into it because we won.”
We won. “What profiteth a country to gain the whole world ….”
So the woman whose indelible memory of her life-altering assault at age 15 is the laughter of her assailants now gets to hear crowd after crowd of her fellow Americans, the people she felt an obligation to protect, laughing at her expense.
Yet as I sit here in the middle of the night staring at her likeness on the cover of Time, her unforgettable words forming her features, I know that history will treat her better than we have. With nothing to gain, with so much already lost, knowing the likely outcome, she told her story. Without garnishment. Without every gap filled in. Wishing she could be more helpful.
There is a kind of purity that can’t be sullied, that doesn’t require the good luck of wearing a swimsuit for protection. Christine Blasey Ford has it. I cling to that.
Mary Sheehy Moe lives in Great Falls.