"Tragic” is how Nina Totenberg, the legendary NPR legal affairs correspondent, summed up Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate hearing spectacle during one of the live radio coverage shows.
The confirmation process of Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court, and then the subsequent allegations of sexual assault against him, has not only raised the interest levels of Americans in this very important process, but has also further divided an already deeply divided polity and public discourse of the nation.
Kavanaugh, 53, has been nominated by President Donald Trump to the US Supreme Court, to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. The US Supreme Court justices hold the office for life unless they are impeached and convicted by Congress, resign or retire.
The last word: Judge Kavanaugh was nominated by President Donald Trump to the US Supreme Court, to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. (Credit: AP Photo)
Kavanaugh's nomination became a politically charged issue right from the beginning precisely for this reason. With mid-term elections looming, and the Democrats sensing a changed numerical equation in the Congress, delaying the confirmation process of Judge Kavanaugh was in their interest.
On the other hand, the Republicans, not sure of their political fortunes post-elections, wanted to expedite the process.
The battle lines were drawn. Both Left and Right pressure groups swung right into action — things started to get ugly in a hurry.
First, there were protests, both in and outside the Senate. Both activists and opposition senators vowed not to let Kavanaugh be the next Supreme Court judge. There were several angry exchanges and a few short interruptions due to protests during the hearing. But just as the proceeding were about to wind down, came the allegations about sex abuse. What resulted in this process is a whole lot of questions and uncertainties.
Standing tall: Christine Blasey Ford testifying in front of the Senate Committee. (Credit: Reuters photo)
Considering the gravity of the charges against a Supreme Court nominee, it was quite confounding to know that a senior senator, herself a woman, sat on the information for so long. The information could have easily been passed onto the FBI for investigation without jeopardising the privacy request from the accuser. But the information was not shared until the very last moment, which makes the privacy request look suspect.
The charges against Judge Kavanaugh are indeed grave.
When Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University, testified in front of the Senate Committee, she looked very credible. After all, why would someone put herself through this circus three decades or so after the alleged sexual assault took place?
Yes, sexual assault.
It was apparently Kavanaugh, then a 17-year-old high school student. Ford was 15. She talked about her psychological pain and provided the notes from her visits to her therapist. She was 100 per cent certain and unequivocal about the assault as well as the perpetrator in her testimony.
Just when everybody thought this hearing was over, Brett Kavanaugh came back with an equally, if not more, compelling testimony — he denied all allegations.
He said he was “innocent” and he will not be intimidated into withdrawing from the process. He was angry, belligerent, emotional — and to many, honest and convincing. By the time Judge Kavanaugh finished his testimony, the pendulum started swinging the other way.
Angry, belligerent, emotional: Brett Kavanaugh's own testimony was no less compelling. (Credit: Reuters Photo)
This entire process has left Americans of all hues with lots of questions. These questions have exposed, to some extent, the notion of American exceptionalism.
There is nothing exceptional about this political posturing and bickering — it’s politics at its lowest level. Politicians and ideologues from both sides of the political spectrum have made this process so degenerate that many may think twice before putting oneself through this ordeal in the future. The level of discourse has gone down so low that many average Americans feel disgusted about it.
The entire process of nominating justices to the Supreme Court is being talked about — so is the ‘life term’. Combine this with the last few presidential elections and the legislative impasse in the Congress and the picture we get may look like that of a broken democracy.
At another level, the menace of sexual abuse/assault has laid bare many social institutions. From churches to schools, colleges, sports, politics and corporate boardrooms, nothing has been left untouched.
Many of the champions of the women’s right movement, and ‘liberal’ institutions and Hollywood, the National Public Radio (NPR), have been mired in sex abuse scandals.
According to the Office on Women’s Health, one in five women in college experience sexual assault. Indeed, the data on sex assault in US is astounding.
Don't really care: Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Credit: Twitter)
Nearly one in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime.
How do we, as a society, handle this grave but complex situation?
Even 'modern feminism' and the sexual liberation movement have not helped reduce the number of sexual assaults on women. The core of the women's liberation movement rests on the assumption that the “differences between men and women have nothing to do with biology, but are socially constructed in their entirety” (Steven Pinker’s ‘The Blank Slate’ doctrine). It sees everything in terms of power and politics, ignoring every other possible aspect.
Whether Judge Kavanaugh makes it to the highest court of the land remains to be seen. But the questions raised in this process will remain a point of discussion for some time.
Can America, as a society and polity, rise again? Only time will tell.