The Senate hearing resembled nothing so much as a 17th-century rape trial. Lets hope the grotesque spectacle enhances justice
Had it been a rehearsal, not the final hearing, notes for Brett Kavanaugh would surely have featured the suggestion, for the sake of verisimilitude, that he try to act a bit more like an actual judge. Part of the job description being, you imagine, the office holders ability to appear emphatic without pulling angry faces; to appear honest, without a reference from a 10-year-old; to subdue, for the sake of public faith in the judiciary, any behaviour that looks cheap, overblown, uncontrolled. And that includes sniffing.
Not the least mesmerising aspect of this allegedly brilliant jurists performance, at the hearing of his lifetime, was Kavanaughs refusal, like some wailing toddler, to submit to the offer of a tissue. In an ideal world, prosecutor Rachel Mitchell would have gone over and, sparing us all, dabbed his nose for him.
As for Trumps verdict, on a person whose nasal quirks alone would have some of us heading for a distant tube carriage: Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. Start sniffing, senators.
Supposing the judges delivery in response to the allegations by Christine Blasey Ford can be explained, as alleged, by his desire to please a presidential sponsor so deeply invested in tantrums, a less tribal operator might nonetheless have alternated aggressive volatility with glimpses of a more conventional judicial temperament of which the owner has boasted.
Thats why, Kavanaugh protests, I have unanimous, well qualified rating from the American Bar Association. But by the end of this performance the American Bar Association was asking for Kavanaughs appointment to be delayed, pending an FBI investigation.
The American Beer Association, if there is one, probably felt the same way. Brewers have been trying, for years, to sell beer to women. And now here is Judge Kavanaugh, the alumnius (sic, in an obscene yearbook entry) of implied sexual conquests, blotchily repeating: I like beer. Any suspicions that extreme dedication to this beverage may have led to blackouts, during which anything might have happened, were hardly dispelled when Kavanaugh, suddenly more uppity than tragic, retorted to the female senator whod asked if hed ever suffered: I dont know, have you?
Kavanaughs performance could only look more unfortunate once Ford, had, in contrast, maintained her dignity throughout a Senate hearing whose resemblance to an early ecclesiastical court is probably inevitable since both ritualise the public sex-shaming of a violated woman by disbelieving but insatiably curious patriarchs.
More specifically, Fords interrogation, though it inescapably recalled the prurient public questioning of Anita Hill, and subsequently, the lawyer Ken Starrs salacious interest in the exact sexual usage of a 22-year-old intern, featured lines that could have come directly transcripts allow for the comparision from a rape trial in 1612.
As performed in a new, acclaimed dramatisation, Its true, Its true, Its true, drawn from contemporary records of the trial, the painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who was, like the young Christine Blasey Ford, aged 15 when attacked, had to testify, subject to torture, before an audience of derisive men, that she was not inventing the event in which her rapist pushed her into a bedroom, threw her on the bed and covered her mouth, while she struggled to escape.
Last week, Ford, now 51, a mother and a senior academic, had, like Hill and Lewinsky before her, to endure the further allegation, along with a television audience estimated at 20 million, that she amounted to nothing more than an accessory, a new tactic (in Kavanaughs words) whod been effectively duped by more powerful figures into wrecking her life. Still, in contrast to Hills and Lewinskys half-forgotten victimisations, it may now be Fords achievement finally to expose the process itself to irreversible public shame.
Where Ken Starrs career, and those of Hills inquisitors, somehow survived their creepy enthusiasm for public sex talk, it is now time for senators, prompted by Ford, who need to explain why, in the US, serious questions about a mans fitness for high office should repeatedly require a woman to elaborate on sexual experiences or molestation, for the entertainment of the masses, in a roomful of hostile men.
Admittedly, the very circumstances in which Ford felt obliged to detail her story left men confessing, on social media, that they had never understood, previously, why assaulted girls and women might not disclose their ordeals in an orderly fashion. As for those whose response to any #MeToo account short of rape has been, but it wasnt rape, this account of what it is to be shoved, groped and pinioned by strong, heavy, drunk men whose intention is to rape, seems also to have achieved some broader understanding of the terror that even non-raped complainants may have lived through and why it stays with them.
Maybe, even if Kavanaugh is, sniffs and all, promoted, Trumps I just grab them by the pussy will sound, henceforth, a bit less locker room. Although nothing can be compensation enough for Dr Ford and her family, the excruciating spectacle also seems to have been vital for the American Bar Association to understand that an assault on that scale is, after all, something worth investigating, even 36 years on.
The reflexive ease with which Kavanaughs supporters rejected Fords account suggests, however, that in one part of Trumps constituency, an Americans sacred right to grope is fast acquiring the status of an amendment. If Kavanaughs name stays uncleared, his promotion marks the moment when Trumps free pass on sexual molestation is extended to all Republican dignitaries, including those legislating on womens physical autonomy.
What other messages, critics of Kavanaugh ask, does his appointment send to impressionable young people? There are so many. But if you thought Trump had voided the word presidential of all meaning, take a look at what hes done to judicial temperament.
Catherine Bennett is an Observer columnist
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