Republican Sen. Jeff Flake has spent the Trump era delivering high-minded sermons deploring the president’s crassness while mostly continuing to vote the party line. Last week he made a show of being torn over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, only to announce on Friday that he would vote to confirm.
Minutes after Flake’s announcement, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher cornered him in a Senate elevator to tell him they were sexual assault survivors and rebuke him for falling in line despite Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s brave, compelling testimony. Flake then attended a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, where he conferred with his friend, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, and others. This led Flake to leverage his senatorial power, backed by Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, to slow the process to allow a week for an updated FBI investigation.
The bipartisan breakthrough was a welcome interruption of partisan rancor; but the shift by Flake’s GOP colleagues from attacking Anita Hill in 1991 to politely dismissing or patronizing Dr. Ford today reflects a halfhearted desire to improve the optics, not growth in respect for women.
At the Judiciary hearing on September 27, the Democrats were sober and professional, in contrast to the belligerent nominee and his angry defenders on the Republican side of the dais. By its end, despite overheated right-wing accusations and conspiracy mongering, my overall sense was that Democrats appeal to aspirations while Republicans appeal to resentments.
Kavanaugh could have striven to show he is more than a scion of white male privilege and a dedicated partisan operative. Instead, he pouted, cried, yelled at and insulted Democratic senators, and displayed an outraged sense of entitlement rather than anything like a judicial temperament. He left no doubt regarding the narrow interests he would serve on the Court.
Last week showed that it matters who is at the table, who stands in the elevator doorway, and who does the reporting.
As a friend who knows the Court well recently noted, Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee was “a rich white frat boy … who attended Georgetown Prep with its own Olympic size swimming pool.” For the next vacancy on the Court, Trump chose “a rich white frat boy … who attended Georgetown Prep.” My friend observes, “This from a populist president who promised to drain the Washington lobbyist swamp. He can’t even drain the Georgetown Prep swimming pool.”
“Why,” my friend wishes a senator had asked Kavanaugh, “should we add such a similar pea to that small pod? What do you bring to the Court’s deliberations that Neil Gorsuch didn’t?” The answer, he suggests, is that conservative economic true believers “wanted to take no chance whatsoever on getting a rock solid anti-redistribution, anti-regulatory Fifth Justice.” (Actually, they are fine with upward redistribution to themselves.)
The lack of diversity on the Court (every justice hales from Harvard or Yale) resembles that of commercial bananas, which are genetically identical to the point that a single blight could wipe out the entire world supply.
Beyond their privilege blindness regarding sexual assault, Kavanaugh’s patrons overlook the innovation and vitality that have come from immigrants and their children (see Steve Jobs). They dismiss the greater good that is served by environmental regulations. As they widen the gap between the monied class and the working class, they weaken the common cause that binds us together as a people. They rob us of the adaptability that diversity gives us in facing future challenges.
In contrast, the bracing spectacle of Flake’s “elevator moment” may inspire more women to end their miscasting as props for men. Standing against the trampling of norms and decency in pursuit of power, women and their male allies can work to restore the vital center and pull America back from alienation and governmental immobility.
When Senators Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono stood with women protesters in the Hart Senate Office Building, one felt a fighting resolve stirring that will endure beyond the current battle.
If Kavanaugh is defeated, his replacement may be scandal-free but will likely be just as bad on constitutional issues including reproductive choice. Trump cannot be negotiated with, only defeated. Consistent civic engagement is essential if equality is to prevail.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2018 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.