The Kavanaugh hearings are worth lingering over for another moment, before they are flushed into the memory hole, as a near perfect distillation of the sickness warping our society.
In Christine Blasey Ford we got the victim conservatives demand. She was sympathetic to an extreme. Strong, but not shrill. Vulnerable, but not hysterical. Smart, but not a know-it-all. She exhibited none of the very normal human characteristics that Rape Deniers weaponize against every other victim with the audacity to come forward.
By this point Ford has been through Hell, twice. A victim of a terrible crime, now forced to relive it in graphic detail. Hounded by the press and subject to death threats. Forced into hiding with her family. Prosecuted by Republicans looking for any opening to exploit, crack open, and destroy her entirely.
This is her reward for doing us all a great favour and exposing the probable crimes of a man about to be elevated to the highest court. Any anger, or scorn, or hostility on her part would be understandable. But there was none of it.
Instead Ford appeared more concerned about the well being of the ghoulish (all male) Inquisition assembled for her interrogation. Was she being helpful enough? Was it a convenient time for a break? Did they need any more details? This is, of course, what women are told they must do. No matter the circumstances: give everything, demand nothing. Know your place.
What followed her was the living embodiment of this slogan inverted. Brett Kavanaugh is a man who has been given everything, with nothing demanded of him. His opening remarks alternated between angry shrieking and tearful hysterics. Rambling, incoherent stories from youthful glory days interspersed with professions of his love of beer (you think?). Had Ford delivered Kavanaugh’s performance, she would have been dismissed as unhinged. A total loon.
But the reviews came in positive for Kavanaugh. Passionate, compelling. A guy who believed his own innocence. Any neutral observer devoid of context would have seen a spoiled man-child who had life presented to him on a silver platter, sputtering with rage having been at last confronted with some consequences for his behaviour. You half-expected him to scream at any moment, “Do you know who my father is?” But the media is not a neutral observer and Kavanaugh is not just anyone, he is a representative of the powerful. One of The Elect. And so he cannot be any of these nasty things, instead he must be “compelling.”
There was stark contrast not only in the style of what was said at the hearing, but the substance as well. Ford presented the facts of the situation clearly, and noted honestly which details had faded from her memory. Most everyone agreed she was “credible”, whatever that means. The simpler truth is only a dead-eyed psychopath could have watched her testimony and come to any conclusion other than Brett Kavanaugh, whether he remembers it or not, tried to rape this woman.
Kavanaugh on the other hand was argumentative and evasive, lying about small details (whether he had watched Ford’s testimony) and dodging key questions asked by the Senators. Knowing that each questioner had only 5 minutes, Kavanaugh filibustered constantly, re-telling bizarre stories about “going to Tobin’s house to workout” in an obvious attempt to run out the clock.
Kavanaugh did not seem to have a strong grasp of the facts, and in fact gloated that he barely prepared for the hearing at all. More striking than this was the anger he displayed towards anyone who dared question his spotty version of events. Throughout the testimony Kavanaugh repeatedly declared his affection for beer, saying “I enjoy beer and still do” probably a dozen times. When asked by Senator Klobuchar — whose father was an alcoholic — whether his enjoyment of beer had ever led to him blacking out, Kavanaugh refused to answer and demanded to know whether Klobuchar herself had ever blacked out. “You’re asking about blackout, I don’t know, have you?” It was a bizarre moment.
None of this is likely to count for much. Ultimately it didn’t matter what Ford and Kavanaugh said, or how they said it. That’s the conceit of another disgusting episode in right-wing rule. Reality is not an objective experience accessible to anyone wiling to look. It’s an invention of the powerful.
These hearings were not a search for the truth, they were a reminder of that maxim, a display of raw, naked power in its most brutal shape. They showed us first the weak, and then the strong. Not in the important sense, of course — Blasey Ford was immensely strong, generous, empathetic. Kavanaugh was snivelling and snarky, a rat cornered in a dank basement.
No, this had nothing to do with true weakness and strength. This was weakness and strength as defined by the apparatus of power, as virtues and vices not found within oneself but conferred externally by elite society. Not moral characteristics, but measures of usefulness to the powerful, marks of either compliance or resistance. Their reality, imposed on the viewers at home.
It was this blatant substitution of good with useful to power that made yesterday so horrific. They waved in our faces paragons of good and bad. One human remained empathetic and generous when most would have been anything but. The other — the one who probably victimized her in the first place — displayed no compassion or kindness, only despicable self-pity.
They pushed our face in it — millions watching around the world — and said “Look, do you see? Do you see it? None of this matters. The most heinous crimes don’t matter. Your notions of what is good and what is evil don’t matter. All that matters is power, and we have it. We have the power to make this man, or destroy him. And we choose to make him, to elevate him. Not because he is good, —as you can see he is not. But because he is weak, and small, and mean. Because he is useful to us. Because he is not really a man at all. Now do you see?”