I chose not to watch yesterday’s spectacle in the Senate. A buddy of mine owns a moving company I used to work for. Now and then I still pick up a shift. I get to work with old friends, get a good workout, and make a few bucks. When Brad asked if I wanted to work Thursday, I knew it was the day of the hearing on Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and decided I’d rather haul coaches and boxes than sit through hours of essentially meaningless testimony.
Until yesterday, I had followed the allegations against Kavanaugh extremely carefully. I read everything that came out of the committee. I wrote articles about it. I even appeared Wednesday night on NPR to discuss where the nomination stood and what we might expect from the hearing. But all I expected from the hearing was a made-for-TV reality show that would further tear our society apart. I didn’t want to put myself through that. From the hearing clips I’ve seen and feeds I followed, I was not wrong.
A few hours into the job, I took a smoke break and trepidatiously looked at my phone. A triumphant left had declared Ford’s ongoing testimony an unmitigated success. Who could doubt the story of this eloquent and staid woman? Her poise, her grace under pressure seemed to have even some conservatives ready to dig a grave for the Kavanaugh nomination.
It was worse than that. One friend on Facebook, a person I have great respect for, forcefully declared that anyone who didn’t believe Ford should de-friend him immediately. Some conservatives on my feeds were openly mocking a woman claiming to be the victim of sexual abuse. For many, even the pretense of giving a decent hearing to the other side was not only needless, but in and of itself an immoral act.
All of this was wrapped in emotion alone, and facts were beside the point. It was visceral and dirty, and full of snarky comments meant to demean those who should be despised and venerate those who, even without seeing, believe.
When I work a moving job, I usually pack the truck. I’m pretty good at it. It requires knowing the order: boxes first, then base pieces, leaving room for awkwardly shaped objects. Everything goes in its place. As I scanned the objects and the space in the box of the truck, it struck me that none of these rules had been followed in this, our latest national mess.
The hearings were finished before the most explosive allegations against Kavanaugh even came to light. What followed was days of bizarre wrangling and delays. During this time, all of the potential witnesses came forward to either deny the allegations or at least say they could not recall them. Meanwhile more allegations came forward, each less credible and corroborated than the last. It was as if I was asked to pack a truck with no control of which objects came when, just shove it in and see what happens.
Optics Is Everything
By the time we were finishing the job, Kavanaugh had just started testifying. I gathered from my phone he had gotten emotional, angry even, in his defense. Pundits who ran the gamut from Jennifer Rubin to Ezra Klein, a distance science can’t yet measure, proclaimed that his anger showed he was unfit for the Supreme Court. They had perhaps forgotten that when personally involved in a case, judges recuse themselves.
What did his anger mean? Was it evidence that he was innocent, or evidence of guilt? It wasn’t evidence of anything. In fact, it wasn’t evidence. Was his anger organic or a planned tactic? I don’t know. You don’t know. Much like Ford’s claims, nobody knows except those involved. But that doesn’t stop a news media so allergic to facts from hot-taking the cake out of the oven before it has risen and calling it a crepe.
In a reasonable, working, healthy society, Ford’s allegations would have gone through regular order. Statements would have been taken from majority and minority staff to present to the committee that would have chosen how to move forward in a bipartisan way. Democrats rejected this. Instead, they wanted this show, this circus. I don’t like the actual circus, and I like this one even less.
Today I took a break from punditry and, like most Americans do, I worked a hard day and helped someone get something done. The majority of Americans, like the guys I work with, don’t spend all day dissecting Senate hearings while coming up with sarcastic comments that can go viral about them. They work and expect, or at least used to, that they can read the news and get some reasonable facsimile of what actually happened.
More than that, they vote and hope that the people they elect are serious, fact-minded people who do not allow emotion to rule the day. At least they used to. Yesterday’s hearing was a farce. Yes, I say that without having watched it. After I got home, I went to my local Greek food place and the owner, who keeps the news on all day, said, “Dave, did you watch Jerry Springer Congress today?” That about sums it up.
My position on the Kavanaugh nomination has not changed since the day she came forward. I do not have enough evidence or information to know whom to believe. In the absence of such evidence, I believe he should be confirmed. I respect those who disagree, who say there will be a cloud over the court if he is confirmed, or that in this Me Too era even unverifiable allegations must be acted upon as if they were true.
What I cannot respect is anyone who says he believes Ford or believes Kavanaugh no matter what. That position is simply not backed up by any rational approach to facts. Now that I’m back from my little hiatus, I understand more clearly than ever how broken our discourse is, and how badly we need a return to facts, evidence, and the basic standards of reason. Farcical sideshows like yesterday’s drive us farther from that goal. I’m glad I didn’t watch it.