The Kavanaugh confirmation as a mirror onto America

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Here in America, we have just endured an extraordinarily ugly and partisan confirmation process for a U.S. Supreme Court nominee. Events leading to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to be the next Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court now comprise a terrible episode in our political and legal history. This will reverberate on many levels for a long time.

Kavanaugh, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, was nominated by Donald Trump to fill a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. Late in the confirmation process, several women accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct when he was in high school and in college.

Psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford was the first and most prominent accuser, alleging that during high school, a drunken Kavanaugh and his friend attempted to rape her. She and Kavanaugh both testified about these allegations before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27. The debates over these allegations and Kavanaugh’s suitability for confirmation have dominated the national news coverage and everyday conversations across the country.

I make no claim to objectivity on this topic. I was among some 2,400 American law professors who signed a public letter expressing concerns about Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial temperament and urging the U.S. Senate to reject the appointment. However, my purpose here is to pull back on the camera a bit and examine the destructive impact of this episode on America’s civic, political, and legal culture. Here are some of the key dimensions:

A deeply divided country

If America needed yet another painful reminder of its deep political and ideological divisions, this was it. It’s too early to predict exactly how this will affect future national elections, but it will play a major role in shaping political discussions.

Trauma and abuse

For trauma survivors, especially women who have experienced sexual assault, these events may have been alternately re-traumatizing, empowering, sorrowful, clarifying, angering, depressing, and validating. It has been a very difficult and trying two week period for many. It remains to be seen whether this will galvanize a movement to call greater attention to sexual assault, psychological trauma, and the rights of abuse victims.

Toxic masculinity

The mocking and trashing of women who courageously gave credible accounts of sexual assault was horrific and outrageous, especially when it came from men in positions of power. It’s time to mainstream the term toxic masculinity and to understand that this behavioral dynamic is very much a part of American culture.

Getting to the truth

Thanks to boundaries set by the White House, the FBI’s investigation into allegations against Kavanaugh was grossly inadequate and gave all appearances of providing cover, rather than searching for the truth. Neither the accusers’ allegations nor Kavanaugh denials were subjected to a thorough vetting, and numerous possible witnesses were ignored.

High school

Believe me, a lot of people people experienced vivid flashbacks to high school during these events. For some this was accompanied by uncomfortable memories and contemplations about behavioral excesses during adolescence and early adulthood.

Class privilege

Matters of class privilege played out prominently. Media coverage of student life at elite private high schools and Ivy League career networks gave detailed, snapshot examples about how such advantages manifest themselves early in life and continue through adulthood.

Public job interview

My own impressions of Kavanaugh notwithstanding, I would not wish upon anyone this equivalent of a job interview in the form of a public ordeal, with millions of people watching the proceedings and discussing very personal and normally private aspects of an applicant’s life. It made for a tawdry spectacle.

Institutional credibility

The reputations of both Congress and the Supreme Court took well-deserved hits. And thanks to Kavanaugh’s highly partisan language and angry, threatening tones towards his opponents in his September 27 testimony, his credibility as an impartial judge is forever suspect. With that suffers the credibility of the Supreme Court as a judicial body.

Bullying behaviors

Accusations of bullying behaviors flew back and forth between both sides. While few incidents rose to the kind of virulent bullying discussed often on this blog, the proceedings were rife with incivility and name calling.

Conservative bloc

The Kavanaugh confirmation gives the conservative bloc of the Supreme Court the votes it needs to advance a sharply right-leaning legal agenda for years to come. We are very likely to see reversals in civil rights and workers’ rights as a result.


The events surrounding the Kavanaugh confirmation process will be studied and discussed for many years. Kavanaugh’s votes and judicial opinions will be scrutinized closely against the backdrop of how he was confirmed. I don’t have much optimism for the civic aftermath of what we’ve just experienced, but I hope that I’m wrong.

9 responses

  1. Thanks for not attempting unbiased acceptance of everything that was so clearly unacceptable, David. I am glad that you have written. Agreed on nearly every point. A double edged sword, though slightly tilted in the favor of those with the nation’s best interests at heart, that so much of this grievous nonsense took place in the light of day where we could all see it rather than behind closed doors.

  2. Both sides have their dirty tricks to taint the process. Neither will admit. Due to political lust for money and power, the American people come up short. Term limits is the only way to pull the rug from under their gravy train.

  3. I said the Pledge of Allegiance this morning and the one phrase that stood out to me was, ” one nation, indivisible,” Isn’t it just sad that #45 has brought so much divisiveness to our nation ) ^=

    • I appreciate this website and its respective resources for the outstanding value it provides on the topic of workplace bullying. What I do not appreciate about this site are polls, commentary, and written opinions that take away from the foundational purpose of this website. Intermingling this country’s politics with this country’s workplace bullying issues are separate issues and should remain separate. The likelihood of our solving workplace bullying issues, such as passing eventual legislation, is far greater than solving our broken political system.

      That being said, Ms. Smith, I respectfully disagree with your assessment that President Trump brought about divisiveness. The country was divided far earlier in time than when President Trump took office. We didn’t just become divided when President Trump took office. It has taken years, even decades, to become as divisive as we are. Our country is undergoing tremendous change due to decades of internal and external influences, some of which we can control and some of which we cannot, such as: globalization, technology advancements, emerging economies, collapsing societies, peacetime/wartime/cybertime, distrust in our government and political system, and so much more.

      In fact, I believe Obama was the most divisive president in my voting lifetime. I voted for Obama his first term, but did not his second term. I am female, a registered republican (MEANING … fiscally conservative), yet, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and believe religion should have nothing to do with politics. I believe our government should be focused on managing the country’s fiscal operations, ensuring solvency for our nation, and that most social issues (religion, whom you fall in love with/marry, birth control & a woman’s rights over her own body, have no business in government. Run the country like a business, that’s what I believe.

      Now, let me get to my point … we may not have our politics in common, right? However, what we do have in common, I believe, is our belief in and support for a work environment free of harassment and related ugliness. My point here is, for this site, the creators, and the commentators … focus on the matter at hand … by that I mean, focus on our core mission of bringing workplace bullying to light. In doing so, regardless of political leanings, our commonality is the eradication of workplace bullying through legislation. This, to me, is objective unification.

  4. the blatant sexism and abuse of power along with the bogus accusations by the “republicans” while flipping themselves as gravely wronged…amazing

  5. There was a whole ‘nother layer of re-traumatized people- those who have brought their abuse to the attention of people in positions of authority only to be discredited, belittled, and humiliated. Sometimes truth-telling is more awful than being mistreated in the first place.

    • There is a second tier of abuse. That is the inability to be heard and expose abuses. I don’t know the reasons that the media fails in reporting. It might be lack of resources. It might be that editors fear retaliation. They have the power to act as a deterrent to abuses of power. In the times we now live, everything seems to be filtered as to political significance before its judged worthy of publication.

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