Even in the surreal political environment of Donald Trump’s America, the battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination and the sexual assault accusations against him has brought the madness to new heights, or new lows. While I generally believe Trumpified Republicanism has been uniquely destructive to American political life, this particular madhouse has been very much a two-way street — though, of course, each side believes the equation is shockingly unfair.
On the right, some people have dismissed alleged attempted rape as boys-will-be boys hijinks. A female columnist for the leading conservative website, Megan Fox, declared that Kavanaugh’s main accuser, psychologist Christine Blasey Ford, is “detestable” and that women in general are “a disgrace.” Other sites on the right have trafficked in outlandish conspiracy theories to discredit Ford, who says Kavanaugh and a friend assaulted her at a party when he was 17 and she was 15.
Some of Ford’s detractors have seized on her contribution to a 2008 study on use of hypnosis to retrieve memories and “create artificial situations.” (Ford was one of 11 co-authors, and the study had to do with treatment of depression, not “recovered memory.”) People who have decried uncorroborated accusations as evidence have bandied about the uncorroborated story of an ex-boyfriend who says Ford instructed a friend on how to prepare for a polygraph test. (That friend has disputed the claim.)
The call to delay the vote on Kavanaugh for an FBI investigation has been decried as treason. Meanwhile, the President has publicly mocked an alleged victim of sexual assault in front of a laughing crowd at a rally.
On the left, respectable commentators such as Kaili Joy Gray, managing editor of the progressive website Shareblue, are calling Kavanaugh an “attempted rapist” on the basis of an accusation that, while credible and compelling, is still based on a 36-year-old memory of a traumatic experience — a memory very possibly altered by time and repeated recollection.
Likely references to sex in Kavanaugh’s yearbook have been interpreted as evidence that he is a likely sexual predator. Creators Syndicate cartoonist Chris Britt has mocked Kavanaugh’s comment about his young daughter praying for his accuser by showing the child as asking God to “forgive my angry, lying, alcoholic father for sexually assaulting Dr. Ford.”
Even major publications have run reports based on shockingly flimsy evidence. Most recently, The New Yorker has faulted the FBI for ignoring a corroborating witness in the case of Deborah Ramirez, another accuser who says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a drunken party at Yale. (Ramirez was initially unsure of the offender’s identity.) But the supposed witness says only that he heard the story for another Yale student — who has told the New Yorker he recalls no such incident.
To most Republicans — including many in the “Never Trump” camp — the Kavanaugh fiasco means that Democrats are willing to use unproven allegations to destroy a conservative judge who can tip the Supreme Court to the right. To most Democrats, it means that Republicans have officially become the party of misogyny, openly willing to declare that sexual assault is a prerogative of privileged males and that women’s lives don’t matter.
Perhaps one reason this story has stirred such passions is that it’s a collision of partisan politics with the #MeToo movement and the fraught question of believing accusers.
No matter what the outcome out of the fight, it will make it much harder to find out way back to sanity.