John Zaring | The Rational Center: A Victory for DecencyJohn Zaring October 1, 2018 5 Comments
In the Trump era, when a week can feel like a lifetime, last week felt like an eternity.
It began with world leaders laughing at President Donald Trump in the U.N. General Assembly; was followed with reports his Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, considered implementing the 25th Amendment to remove him (later denied); then saw Trump freestyle an unwieldy eighty minute press conference that included musings about whether George Washington could survive today’s #MeToo era.
On Thursday, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford – the California professor who accused Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, federal judge Brett Kavanaugh, of sexual assault – appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her testimony was riveting, and she ably handled questioning by a female sex crimes prosecutor – fronting for the all-male panel of old white Republicans – as well as from a diverse mix of Democrats. She was forthcoming, sympathetic and credible regardless of who asked the questions.
After a brief break, judge Kavanaugh entered the hearing room and sat down in the same chair. He took a sip of water and then put Democrats on full blast, predicting that “What goes around comes around!”
Then the week devolved into a giant biker bar fight.
In America, judges are expected to be fair-minded and dispassionate neutral arbiters of justice. Kavanaugh dropped that pretense and instead took a deep dive into the Trump-fueled culture war that permeates today’s politics. His wild speech veered from combative to arrogant and lashed out in a primal scream that was unbecoming of the lifetime appointment he seeks.
In one particularly alarming stretch, Kavanaugh raged, “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election! Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record! Revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in outside money by outside opposition groups. This is a circus!”
No sir, this is a reaping of what you sowed…
Kavanaugh’s attack was so unhinged that I find it mindboggling that anyone, but especially any woman, wouldn’t prefer Trump select someone else. After all, those on his short list hold similar views and with Democrats in the minority – elections do have consequences – conservatives will end up with a five to four advantage, quite possibly for decades to come.
Still, Thursday ended with President Trump saying the judge deserved confirmation and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for a floor vote. They planned to “plow through” despite a cloud of suspicion more dark and ominous than before Dr. Ford’s gripping testimony.
Just when I was ready to count out Congress, something surprising happened the next morning that indicates there might still be a few people of character left in politics. Two very brave survivors of sexual assault – Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher – found and confronted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) on his way to the hearing room. They forced Flake to listen to their heartbreaking pleas, and in so doing, the seemingly powerless captured the attention of the powerful.
As the father of two daughters, I’m not embarrassed to admit their stories made me tear-up. When Flake returned to the hearing room he was clearly shaken, and after listening to Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) make a final appeal for a one-week delay to allow the FBI to investigate, Flake sought out his across-the-aisle friend for a private chat in the anteroom.
Through his brave act of bipartisanship and decency, an FBI investigation was born.
Most of us knew guys like Brett Kavanaugh in high school. One pal of mine – a doctor’s son who grew up with everything anyone could ever desire – was our Brett. He routinely got stupid drunk and yes, behaved inappropriately with our female friends. He hit rock bottom in college, joined Alcoholics Anonymous and remarkably got his act together. He eventually graduated with honors and now, some three-plus decades later, he’s married, he’s a father and he has become a renowned cancer doctor.
The first time I’d seen this friend since high school was at his father’s funeral a few years ago, and after thanking me for coming, he apologized for his behavior, something he’s constantly been doing as he comes across people from his past. He was sincere and remorseful because he needed to be.
Somewhere along the way, perhaps Judge Kavanaugh also made a conscious decision to change his destiny. I suspect the enviable support he’s shown the girls and women in his adult life is actually atonement for the havoc he wreaked in his youth. Still, given all of the people – friends, roommates and classmates – that have come forward to dispute the choir boy alibi he presented to the Judiciary Committee, he is clearly incapable of fully owning up to his past.
There’s now an FBI investigation underway and if he’s innocent, the FBI will clear him. Still, getting hit with this karma boomerang must be incredibly frustrating, yet whatever frustration he feels cannot justify the dissembling explanations, righteous indignation and overt partisan petulance he unleashed on Thursday. Regardless of his many “I busted my butt” and “I went to Yale” pronouncements, he’s not entitled to anything.
A justice must comport oneself with dispassion, and by slamming the confirmation process as a “political hit job” rooted in revenge by “the Clintons” and sparring with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Michigan) over whether she ever drank to the point of blacking out, Americans and our senators are correct to question whether Kavanaugh’s temperament fits the Supreme Court.
To me, he sounded like a liar on topics big and small, and while a pattern of deception certainly does not make anyone guilty of sexual assault, he is clearly incapable of confessing human error. In contrast, after seeing the pain in Dr. Ford’s face, listening to the emotional burden she’s carried through her life, I believe her when she says she’s “one hundred percent certain” that Kavanaugh was her attacker.
For the good of the country and the integrity of the Supreme Court, Trump needs to pick someone else. If the FBI can’t clear Judge Kavanaugh of these accusations, he should be removed from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Those are two more victories for decency that America deserves.
John Zaring has lived with his family in the Santa Clarita Valley since 2000. He describes his politics as center-left, as in “the rational center,” and while initially a college Republican, has been a Democrat since 1992. The LA County Democratic Party named him the 37th Assembly District Democrat of the Year in 2010.