American Horror Story: Confirmation Hearings

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Senator Lindsey Graham described today’s proceedings in the US Senate as “the most despicable thing I have ever seen in politics.” From across the pond, Piers Morgan called it “a complete and utter disgrace.” But as my favourite satirical news site, The Babylon Bee,  summed it up, “Success: After A Full Day Of Hearings, Everyone Believes Exactly What They Already Believed About Kavanaugh”.

Whichever way you are outraged about the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, The Bee is probably the most insightful summation of the day that was. The Kavanaugh-Ford controversy is an instructive example of how different people can look at the same set of facts (or lack thereof) and come to fervently held but complete opposite conclusions. It’s not unusual to see this phenomenon in politics; for example, the left looks at the world and thinks that big government is a solution to world’s problems; the right looks at the same world and thinks free market is. But the issue of Kavanaugh’s guilt or innocence is not a political one; it should be one of facts and evidence, yet looking at it through political prisms means that the American nation (or at least the part of it that cares about these things) is bitterly and irreconcilably divided in their conclusions.

There is no happy ending either. Virtually all of the Democrats think that Kavanaugh is a rapist, virtually all of the Republicans think that he is a victim of a politically-motivated witch hunt. If he is confirmed, the left will go berserk because a sexual predator now seats on the Supreme Court conceivably for the next three or four decades – though the main outrage is that he is a conservative sexual predator who will play havoc  with the left’s use of judicial activism to get around legislative democracy. If he is not confirmed, the right will go berserk because the left has succeeded, through a series of unsubstantiated allegations, in destroying a man’s reputation and career so as to leave the vacancy till the Democrats likely regain the control of the Senate and thus the power to confirm or reject the President’s nominees without having to resort to dirty tricks.

And after the day of emotionally-charged testimonies, we are still none the wiser of what did or did not happen. On the right, Jim Treacher writes:

In her opening statement, Ford was surprisingly poised, articulate, focused, and — if I’m allowed to say this — adorable. And she seems sincere. I believe she believes what she’s saying. Either that, or she should be nominated for an Academy Award.

Does that mean her account of events is actually what happened? I have absolutely no idea, and neither do you, and neither does anybody else.

Kavanaugh of course is just as vehement in his denials. But he can’t win. When he got emotional and angry, he was accused of having anger issues and thus showing his true colours  – “With him screaming and interrupting senators I could imagine him putting his hand over someone’s mouth,” tweeted The Washington Post’s “conservative” columnist Jennifer Rubin; Kavanaugh “revealed himself to be a rambling, angry, self-pitying bully who really just isn’t that good a thinker,” commented Dr Elizabeth Sacha Baroness Cohen of the Syracuse University – as if getting angry would not be a natural reaction of an innocent man to getting accused of rape, having your entire reputation and life’s work ruined and your family subjected to death threats. Of course if Kavanaugh was calm, collected and methodical, people would say that he is emotionless and therefore psychopathic and so obviously guilty, because an innocent man would be more animated and emotional in the circumstances. In turn, when Kavanaugh got teary, Ana Marie Cox tweeted “Men’s tears in response to an accusation are manipulative and cheap but usually effective” and “The boyfriend that abused me cried a lot”. Heads I win, tails you lose.

All that today’s proceedings prove to me is that these matters should be the exclusive provenance of law enforcement authorities and the judicial system and not of a political and politicised circus, where there is no presumption of innocence and no standards of proof and the very existence of an allegation is taken as proof of its truthfulness and the accused’s guilt. And so we are down to “he said, she said” situation where it’s virtually impossible to prove one’s innocence. Ford doesn’t remember the time and the place of the alleged assault, she has changed her story on how many people were present at least four times, all those she has identified and named denied it under oath, including one of her own friends. There is no corroborating evidence of any sort, and she has kept silent about the incident for three decades until a conversation with her therapist, when she did not name Kavanaugh as the attacker either. Her polygraph test consisted of two questions, and her fear of flying she was putting forward for a time as an excuse not to travel to Washington for the hearing has been shown to be a furphy through her numerous airplane trips in the recent past – including to get the polygraph test.

All this is precisely why a person’s guilt or innocence should be decided according to standards of justice developed over centuries of trial and error (if you excuse the pun) and not according to who in your opinion seems more passionate or believable telling their story. This is why we have rules of evidence – and the need for evidence in the first place – and also why we have statutes of limitations, so that criminal charges can be pursued when the memories are fresh and evidence still possibly available.

I’m all for such investigations – even now, even today, for whatever’s worth – but the Democrats’ bad faith in sitting on Ford’s allegation for almost two months and dropping it this late in the process so as to make any proper investigation impossible in time to confirm Kavanaugh should not be rewarded. If I were a Republican Senator I would say precisely this; I will confirm because I do not believe in political witch hunts, but I’m happy for the FBI (who have no jurisdiction here and have refused to get involved) or any other law enforcement authority to investigate and the matter to go to trial if it’s warranted, and if Kavanaugh is found guilty, I will be the first to vote for his impeachment and removal from the Supreme Court.

How this will play out politically, I don’t know. It’s certainly energising the both party bases in time for the mid-term elections. The Republicans think that average, not strongly political people out there are disgusted with how Kavanaugh has been treated. The Democrats think that average, not strongly political people out there are disgusted with how Ford has been treated. The average, not strongly political people out there probably haven’t been paying all that much attention despite this being the number one political story for a fortnight now. But I’m inclined more towards the Democrat belief here, only because mud sticks. Which is precisely another reason why somebody’s whole life and reputation should not be destroyed on somebody’s say-so. Whether Kavanaugh is guilty or not, and whether or not he gets to sit on the Supreme Court he has been politically assassinated, his name dragged through dirt, his family traumatised. He will never get his reputation back. Whatever happens, the Democrats have won, which only means they will keep on doing it again and again. Everyone else – from Kavanaugh to the whole political system and people’s trust in the institutions – is the loser.

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