This past weekend a couple of things happened. The first is that The New York Times published an article based on a new book called The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation. The second is that, in a too-rare attempt to clean documents from my computer’s desktop, I came across a post that I began about a year ago having to do with Brett Kavanaugh.
I didn’t publish it at the time. It was in need of a time-consuming edit, and also I think I felt that there were so many opinion and think pieces happening at the time that mine didn’t add much to the conversation. So much happens everyday that until I came across the post, I had almost forgotten the furor. Across the country, women and men who had experienced abusive actions, were speaking out, (#metoo). This prompted a backlash of mothers and others worried about false accusations and how it could affect men’s lives (#himtoo). In the midst of this, what business did I, a mere onlooker, have adding to the noise? A year later though, I’m looking at what I wrote with gentler eyes and figure it can live here on my little piece of the internet:
October 11, 2018.
The other day our roommate told me a story: In between her various work gigs, she’d gone to the movies where she bought candy from the concession stand. As she walked away, she realized she didn’t have her credit card so she returned to the concession stand and told the worker that she hadn’t gotten it back. He told her he didn’t have it.
Their discussion culminated in my friend looking the counter-guy in the eye and saying, “Look, I don’t know your life, you don’t know mine. I can say that I’m going to skip this movie and walk to the bank to de-activate this card, and it’s going to be a big inconvenience for me, and not helpful for anyone else. Or I’m going to walk across the lobby, and then I’m going to come back and find my credit card sitting right here on the counter.
She then walked across the lobby, and when she returned, her credit card was there.
She told me, “He’d taken it. I knew he’d taken it.”
I thought my friend was pretty badass — I am the sort who too often questions my own perception of reality. In her place, I almost certainly would have questioned myself, wondering: Did I drop it? Did someone already pick it up? Did I aim for a pocket and miss? Would I find the card in a hole in the lining of my purse a month from now?”
I asked her, “How did you know?”
“Because if you tell someone—just any normal person–that you’ve lost something, their first reaction is some kind of compassion. Like, ‘Oh, that sucks. I’ve had that happen.’ And then a normal person would say, ‘Let me look around here,’ even if they know they gave it back, because, why not? But there was none of that. This guy immediately jumped to the defensive, he got mad at me for “accusing” him, which, at that point, I hadn’t done. All I said was I didn’t get my card back.”
I thought about this as I listened to coverage of the recent confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh to become a supreme court judge.
The hearings were contentious because a professor named Christine Blasey Ford claimed that Kavanaugh he assaulted her at a house party when they were both teenagers. He denied these claims and his responses to questions regarding this entire part of his life at the hearing were very impassioned.
People have been talking about how Kavanaugh “lost control” of his emotions as he responded. I actually wonder if Kavanaugh was advised to be emotional, i.e. ANGRY. Righteous anger I’ve found, is a good way to hi-jack whatever topic another person wants to discuss. And also, wrath of a man, especially a white man, commands something from us. I get it. I grew up with it. And we tend to look with suspicion at people who are too calm and rational. I know this too, from having been this person — the same calmly questioning person who would be unable to confidently accuse the candy-seller of taking my credit card.
As this person, I can’t jump on board with the impassioned posts on my Facebook wall with the brightly-colored backgrounds that call Kavanaugh “a rapist.” He is, at most, an “alleged attempted rapist,” which, even believing all of Blasey’s testimony, could be downgraded to a “drunk-to-the-point-of-stupid-violence, assault-est.” She said she was “afraid he would accidentally kill” her, which sounds truly terrifying, but also uses the word “accidentally.” In a generous mood, recollecting drunken teenaged pile-ons I witnessed in my own youth, I would have to admit to the possibility that he had no intentions at all to harm or rape. I would have to concede to the possibility that he was just stupid drunk at a stupid age where people do stupid things that they walk away from and forget — if they are lucky enough and usually privileged enough in terms of race and gender and economics to be able to do so.
I am a person who believes in the possibility that some asshole jocks from high school and asshole frat-boys from college grow and evolve as they grow older, that those underdeveloped parts of their brains develop and they become better people. After all, (yes, I’m going to evoke Star Trek: Next Generation) even Captain Picard had a brash and unthinking past, and he became a thoughtful leader of his crew. But Captain Picard also reflected on his past decisions – how they hurt him (and others). He felt regret, even as he came to acknowledge that his mistakes helped him grow into who he became.
Kavanaugh’s testimony, by contrast, was chillingly devoid of self-reflection or compassion for someone other than himself. Like the guy at the movie counter, he bypassed that moment where one might say, “Oh, did you lose your innocence, your confidence, your ability to feel safe in the world. That must suck,” and jumped to the defensive immediately. He looks back on his youth with glasses tinted rose and shouts “betrayal” at anyone who might look through a different lens.
If you are ever brought before a judge, what traits do you hope that judge will possess? For my part, I would want intellectual acuity and legal expertise. But even more, I would for empathy, for the imagination to step out of ones own shoes and into the shoes of others – others who might be different in their race, gender, political beliefs, educational background and a thousand other ways. Does Brett Kavanaugh, as he steps into a lifetime position of power, have this ability? I have not seen it so far.
And that, to me, is chilling.