At Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s swearing-in ceremony at the White House on Monday night, Trump delivered prepared remarks praising the man and apologizing for what he went through before being elevated.
“On behalf of our nation, I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure. Those who step forward to serve our country deserve a fair and dignified evaluation, not a campaign of political and personal destruction based on lies and deception. What happened to the Kavanaugh family violates every notion of fairness, decency, and due process,” Trump said.
He went on to correctly note that in “our country, a man or woman must always be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.” He turned to Kavanaugh’s young children and said, “Margaret and Liza, your father is a great man. He is a man of decency, character, kindness, and courage who has devoted his life to serving his fellow citizens. And now, from the bench of our nation’s highest court, your father will defend the eternal rights and freedoms of all Americans. You know that.”
Before former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy swore his former clerk in, Trump said it was “a beautiful moment which reminds us that freedom is a tradition passed down from generation to generation.”
The comments bothered liberals inside and outside of the media. Vox’s Emily Stewart said Trump’s defense of Kavanaugh meant he was “going full conspiracy theorist” and that “Trump — who famously never says he’s sorry — on Monday’s White House event apologized to Kavanaugh ‘on behalf of our nation’ for the ‘terrible pain and suffering’ he was ‘forced to endure’ in the nomination process. As for those who opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination, and Ford, who accused him of sexually assaulting her in the 1980s, the president has no such sympathies.”
New York Magazine’s The Cut site was aghast, mocking the apology with the headline “Trump Let Kavanaugh Know You’re Sorry for All He’s Been Through.” HLN’s Carol Costello also mocked the apology by saying, “What a soothing balm for our divided nation!” NBC and MSNBC Legal Contributor Katie Pham said, “Hey Trump, speak for yourself.”
But Trump was right to apologize on behalf of the nation, and here’s why.
The Legitimacy Of Our Institutions
In the weeks leading up to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, it felt as if the sane portion of the country was being held hostage by the insane portion of the country. Vague allegations that were neither provable nor disprovable were put forth by a credulous activist media out for destruction. The media failed to enforce journalistic standards about unsubstantiated and refuted claims. As mob hysteria built, it seemed that the smear campaign might work and that evidence-free emotions might rule the day.
Even after the failed effort to keep Kavanaugh off the court, the leftist talking point was that the Supreme Court had a legitimacy crisis, and that the new justice would forever be tainted and have an “asterisk” by his name. Every Sunday news program repeated this notion. It also appeared in print media.
USA Today, which last week ran a column suggesting that Kavanaugh be kept away from his children’s sports teams because of the smears against him (see: “Media Sink To New Lows In Their Anti-Kavanaugh Smear Campaign“), ran an article built around the question of legitimacy headlined “Brett Kavanaugh vote: Will ‘asterisk justice’ bring political stain to Supreme Court?” Politico ran a story headlined “Hirono: Kavanaugh’s SCOTUS seat has ‘big asterisk’.”
It is deeply unfair to claim that the complete failure to substantiate any allegations of misconduct against Kavanaugh would result in an “asterisk” by his name or a belief that the Supreme Court was illegitimate. Yet while various senators and journalists promulgated the claim, few pushed back in defense of the court, and fewer did so forcefully.
Media coverage of the anti-Kavanaugh campaign was so bad that many Americans may not even know that there was no substantiation for any of the allegations against him, including the claim he was the ringleader of a serial gang rape cartel while he was in high school.
The air had to be cleared. Kavanaugh, God-willing, will serve on the court for a long time and his name will be on rulings. As leader of the United States, it was important for Trump to apologize to protect the institution’s legitimacy.
Simple Moral Responsibility
Following Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote, many pundits have worried about “civility” being restored. Some turned their concern to conservatives, whom they accuse of gloating. While it’s appropriate for conservatives to celebrate their victory, and for progressives to mourn their defeat, this was not a simple confirmation battle.
This confirmation battle ended up being not about judicial philosophy or temperament, but about unsubstantiated and refuted claims that Kavanaugh was a loathsome human who secretly led a life of sexual abuse and rape. These claims — completely unsubstantiated — were discussed in detail on a national stage and read into the official Senate record. In private and in public, Kavanaugh was asked graphic questions based on claims that accusers didn’t bother to support. Many senators — most notably Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) — denounced the circus in the Senate.
It would have been proper and good for people close to those who led the campaign of destruction to apologize to Kavanaugh for attempting to destroy his life. Thus far, however, no Democratic senator or other prominent official has done so. A writer for late-night activist Stephen Colbert even tweeted, “Whatever happens, I’m just glad we ruined Brett Kavanaugh’s life.”
It is not particularly virtuous to apologize to Kavanaugh for the attempt to destroy his life so much as the bare minimum required of decent people. In a sea of horrific behavior, Trump showed decency by apologizing on behalf of Americans.
Saying True Things In The Face Of Mobs Shows Leadership
Washington D.C. culture has long enforced rules that limit true expression. Journalist Michael Kinsley once said “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.” By this standard, Trump is constantly issuing gaffes.
No one was supposed to point out that Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony and various versions of events were riddled with errors, contradictory, and otherwise problematic. Analysts at every TV station dutifully recited how credible and powerful and wonderful her testimony was, even if many Americans were wondering about her contradictory statements about fear of flying, or her rather dramatic problems with long-term memory and even quite recent short-term memory.
Trump himself followed this path early on, calling her “credible.” But when he pointed out the problems with her testimony, the DC crowd made sure to let him know he was beneath contempt. When he said Kavanaugh “did nothing wrong” and was “caught up in a hoax that was set up by the Democrats using the Democrats’ lawyers” and that the claims were “all made up, it was fabricated and it was a disgrace,” CNN pundits posing as journalists said he was “disgraceful.”
Republican Senators joined in, calling the comments not “useful,” “appalling,” “just plain wrong,” and “wholly inappropriate and unacceptable.” It wasn’t until a week later that the Washington Post reported something very different.
Again and again, President Trump was instructed not to do it. A cadre of advisers, confidants and lawmakers all urged him — implored him, really — not to personally attack the women who had accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
So he did it anyway…
Establishment Republicans initially reacted with horror. But Trump’s 36-second off-script jeremiad proved a key turning point toward victory for the polarizing nominee, White House officials and Kavanaugh allies said, turbocharging momentum behind Kavanaugh just as his fate appeared most in doubt.
Everyone knew that Blasey Ford’s testimony was weak, her allegations unsubstantiated, and that the deference shown to her was inexplicable. But nobody was supposed to say it. Saying true and obvious things isn’t courageous unless they’re said in the face of a threatening mob who doesn’t permit deviation from the rigorously enforced consensus.
Washington’s rules limiting expression to approved leftist talking points aren’t just corrosive to the health of the republic, they also cause real pain and harm to those caught up in false allegations. The last month was an embarrassment to Americans who care about rule of law and the presumption of innocence. Kudos to President Trump for showing leadership by addressing the country’s failure head on.