On Watching the Kavanaugh/Ford Hearings

Photo: Associated Press.

Photo: Associated Press.

There were two very distinct and contrasting events on Thursday in the Senate Judicial Committee hearings considering Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court and concerning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s recounting of her sexual assault as a teen ager.

The first event was Dr. Ford’s testimony, which occupied the morning.  She was amazing for her poise and clarity and strength in recalling such a sordid trauma which she was “100%” certain happened to her when Brett Kavanaugh and his sidekick, Mark Judge, locked her in a room, turned up the radio, and assaulted her.  Kavanaugh was 17 and his accomplice 18 and both were “stumbling drunk” and she only managed to escape from a full-on rape because they were so inebriated that they fell off the bed.  She gave all the signs of a victim of such dire treatment and recalled for the listeners how the incident was with her for years, created stress and inability to cope with certain situations, anxiety, a very difficult college experience, some impaired memory and a need to seek out therapy.  I found her totally convincing as did millions of other people.  Many of these other people were victims of sexual abuse themselves or the loved ones of such.

I am among the latter.  My older sister, now deceased, was a single mother and was raped years ago by a Viet Nam veteran athletic and well trained in martial arts, who climbed up on her roof and let himself in to her open bedroom window as she slept and raped her while her two young daughters were sleeping in an adjacent room.  Many other women I have known over the years were sexually assaulted and knew of what Dr. Ford spoke.

There is no question in my mind that this disturbing abuse by a perpetrator who was never held criminally responsible affected my sister, and other victims, in many ways for the rest of her life.

It was because of the vicarious experience I re-experienced while listening to Dr Ford—and how it brought back memories of my sister—that I was crying during some of her testimony.  How many other women are there out there with similar stories to that of Dr Ford or of my sister?  Many indeed. 

As a young priest and theologian I taught for four years at a Catholic women’s college named Barat College in Lake Forest, Il.  I heard many stories from these women and I remember telling a friend of mine that based on what I was hearing the per cent of women in America who are sexually attacked was not the 1 in 7 number that I had heard but more like 1 in 3.  I believe recent studies have confirmed that intuition.

Composed and moving, Dr Ford was convincing to those who heard her with an open mind.  Her testimony and questions filled the morning session and she was released to go her way, her courageous job done to speak truth to power and patriarchy about women’s stories.

Then came Judge Kavanaugh.  At the time he came on after lunch I was in my car and heard him on radio (later I saw some of his testimony on television).  Right off the bat I could hardly believe my ears.  He was shouting—I wondered, “Did I turn the radio up too loud?”, he was crying, he was lashing out at the Democrats on the committee, he was crying again, ranting and raving like a, well, crybaby, displaying a full-out foaming-at-the-mouth level of vitriol.  I had just emerged from visiting a zen monk at the Zen Center in San Francisco and the contrast between a calm and peaceful mind and Mr. Kavanaugh was like the contrast between a human being and a rabid dog.  It was a complete surrender to the reptilian brain.  Could this man possibly be fit to be a judge even on the court he is currently on – saying nothing of the Supreme Court?  Surely he has lost his chance at the highest court in the land.

He refused to answer question after question but it was his tone, his invective, his foaming at the mouth, his accusing all Democrats on the committee and even Hillary Clinton that amazed me.  He made himself the victim—not Dr Ford.  Poor, spoiled, white boy—he thinks he is entitled to the Supreme Court because he has been ambitiously seeking it for decades.  But what is behind that ambition?  And what is behind his tears?

I was reminded of Carl Jung’s teaching that behind sentimentalism there lies violence.  And Mr Kavanaugh, crying on, was surely displaying sentimentalism big time.  His tears demonstrate he is nothing if not sentimental.  Sentimentalism, as sociologist Anne Douglas wrote in a powerful study years ago, derives from “rancid political consciousness.” 

So this is what is going on beneath the crying and violent lashing out of Mr Kavanaugh: a rancid political consciousness.  Rancid because it is not about justice but about the pursuit of injustice, about the pursuit of power (or money or money or….) at the expense of others.  This is also what rape is: Not a sexual act but a power trip. 

To me it seems that after his out-of-control testimony which included fights with all four women on the judicial committee, one thing was abundantly clear: This man is fully capable of assaulting a woman and covering it up (and laughing about it afterwards which is what Dr Ford testified Kavanaugh and his buddy Judge did).  He may also have forgotten about it—she said they were “stumbling drunk” and Judge has admitted to being a serious alcoholic beginning in his high school years when he was such a bosom buddy with Kavanaugh.  Even Kavanaugh has abandoned his “choir boy” visage and admitted to excessive drinking in high school and college and refused to answer a question the committee posed about being so drunk he might have forgotten what went on.

Mr Kavanaugh, in his exaggerated response to the allegations, abandoned all pretense to being an “umpire of balls and strikes” which is how he had previously defined the judge’s role but instead came across as a completely radical and tribal Republican.  He was not alone.  Though quiet all morning during Dr. Ford’s testimony thanks to a hired woman prosecutor who posed questions to her on behalf of the Republican senators, the Senate Republicans jumped into the fray.  Most stunning was a fiery rant from Lindsay Graham who, also foaming at the mouth, shouted and denounced all the Democrats and threatened all future potential Democratic nominees with noise about examining their sex lives. 

No mention of Dr Ford from that side of the room as Republican after Republican took their time to quiz Kavanaugh to give speeches about how maligned and victimized he had been.  More sentimentalism.  (Not unlike the sentimentalism invoked around the “flag” and the “national anthem” when NFL players take a knee to protest violence of police against black citizens and the victims are forgotten entirely as the “rancid political consciousness” takes over the discussion.)

It was a breathtaking spectacle.  The reptilian brain was once again on full display.  Empathy for the accused victim, who had the courage to come and speak of her experience to the committee and to the nation, was sorely lacking by half the senators.  Sentimentalism and its cousin Violence won the day and seemed to leave the courage and integrity of Dr Ford’s story in its wake. 

But maybe not.  Maybe measured truth will one day overcome the violence of attempted rape and those who want to cover it up for the sake of political gain and those who, whether they remember it or not, are busy demonstrating the kind of soul that does indeed rape others.  Hopefully a light has been ignited for women and men alike to vote passionately very soon for a new kind of politics and a new kind of supreme court and a new kind of senate judicial committee.

One of Kavanaugh’s rants was about the word “evil”—as if he (unlike the rest of us) are not capable of doing evil.  Well, attacking a 15-year-old girl when you are a 17-year-old athlete behind a locked door with the radio turned up is evil, Mr. Kavanaugh—even if you were too drunk to remember it (I am not saying you did do it but all the evidence including your primal scream defense points to it).  But there is plenty of other evil going on that you are an accomplice to while, presumably, sober.  The evil of “Citizens United” for example that effectively ended democracy and turned government over to corporations and billionaires; dismantling voter protection for minorities; separating children from their parents because they are seeking asylum; denying climate change and turning the keys of the environmental protection over to corporate polluters.  Politics is full of evil decisions and evil decision-makers.  Evil is for real.  And humans are and can be perpetrators.  That is why we have come up with a legal system, to try to blunt the effects of evil. 

Mr. Kavanaugh, you and your Republican enablers, so closed to the searing truth of Dr. Ford’s testimony (supported by millions of other abused women), ought to grow a soul.  One way on the path is to learn to calm your pampered and patriarchal reptilian brain.  How to do that?  Meditation helps a lot.  You—and your angry white bros on the judiciary committee—ought to have calmed down and meditated before striding into the committee meeting to set fire to the place with your little boy antics and your ignoring of the truth of women’s experience.  Afraid to talk to Dr. Ford directly, they hired a surrogate to do so because to do so would be admitting the humanity of the woman before them.  You all make one ashamed to be a man.  Fortunately, I have other models of manhood and humanhood to sustain me.  I pray you get undergo some spiritual “manning up” and soon.  Real soon.