The Kavanaugh Embarassment


First Things, 25 October 2018

A Canadian commenting upon the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process seems like bad manners. Good neighbors are not supposed to notice when things are getting cringeworthy next door.

The final sessions of the Kavanaugh hearings were an embarrassment for the United States. And given the outsize influence of American politics and media on the world, deeply regrettable to those beyond the borders. During the 2016 presidential election campaign, Michelle Obama said of the various vulgarities emanating from Donald Trump: “When they go low, we go high.” Whether that was itself true, nobody was going high as the Senate judiciary committee took up Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's allegations of sexual misconduct against Judge Kavanaugh. And once everybody goes low, it is difficult for anyone to reclaim the moral high ground. The political culture of the United States will not soon recover.

When the Ford allegations were made, I rather hoped they were true, even though from the beginning there was good reason to doubt their veracity. That was my hope, but not because they would likely be disqualifying. It’s possible that a seventeen-year-old's grave, even criminal, misconduct could, if followed by upright behavior for the entirety of his adult life until age 53, not disqualify a candidate from high office. In this environment, though, given our generational coming-to-terms with sexual exploitation and violence, it would be disqualifying.

As different parts of our culture—Hollywood and the news media most prominently—now realize that sexual exploitation was long ignored or covered up, the pendulum has predictably swung in the other direction, where accusations are often treated as equivalent to convictions. Certainly the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church have revealed that for many years now.

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