Whatever he did or didn’t do in the past, Brett Kavanaugh proved this week that he is unfit to serve as a judge on the United States Supreme Court. One sentence was enough for Kavanaugh to show himself unworthy – even if, as it may turn out once the FBI hands in its report at the end of the week, the same sentence was the key to securing his nomination. It came in his opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee in rebuttal of the charges of sexual assault leveled by Christine Blasey Ford, when Kavanaugh suddenly assumed his master’s voice and Republicans on the committee clicked their heels and fell in line.
"This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups,” Kavanaugh said. It worked like magic.
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Kavanaugh had invoked the explicit name of Trump, the Supreme Honcho. He resorted to the kind of crazy and mostly incoherent conspiracy theory that is Trump’s trademark response to any and all obstacles. He said all the magic words – Clinton! Left-wing groups! Millions of dollars! – that turn on Fox News and ignite Trump’s fanatic base.
By doing so, Kavanaugh pushed all the right buttons that transform otherwise respectable U.S. senators into walking, talking automatons that follow orders, no questions asked. Ford’s riveting and utterly credible testimony was deleted from their memories while it was still fresh on their minds, replaced by an unequivocal edict from high above: Forget about getting to truth. Get Kavanaugh confirmed. Over and out.
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It was a depressing and distressing moment not only for liberal and moderate America, but also for cherishers of democracy everywhere. What would have once been viewed as a dramatic embodiment of American democracy in action, the epitome of transparency and accountability, mutated before the world’s unbelieving eyes into a demonstration of Trump’s remarkable hold on the Republican Party, the triumph of partisanship and polarization, the emasculation of an independent Congress and the breakdown of America’s system of checks and balances.
The Kavanaugh hearings, followed by many millions throughout the world, hit even closer to home for liberal-minded Israelis. The proceedings seemed like an American remake of current Israeli politics, including the absolute control that Benjamin Netanyahu exerts over his base and thus, by extension, over his ministers and parliamentarians. Kavanaugh’s allusion to a dark left-wing conspiracy wasn’t just flattery-by-imitation of Trump; it is the first and perhaps only page in Netanyahu’s handbook on deflecting attention, inciting the mob and subjugating politicians to his whims. The only difference is that if Kavanaugh had been Israeli, he would have mentioned George Soros and the New Israel Fund among the radical commie-pinkos who are out to get him.
Judging by international reactions to the Kavanaugh spectacle garnered by the New York Times, some foreign viewers were more dismayed by the public airing of 36-year-old claims of drunken high-school debauchery, forgetting that the puritan yet arguably prurient focus on sexual misbehavior has been part and parcel of American politics since their inception, from Alexander Hamilton’s extra-marital affair, Thomas Jefferson’s dalliances with slave Sally Hemmings, Andrew Jackson’s allegedly bigamist wife, the “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa” slogan used to savage Grover Cleveland for having a child out of wedlock and Warren Harding’s exceedingly young mistresses, all the way to Donna Rice and Gary Hart, Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton, Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, Al Franken, Roy Moore and the pussy-grabbing Trump himself. Sexual misbehavior, consensual or coerced, in the present or distant past, has threatened the careers of public servants in the U.S. since time immemorial. It may be prudish and hypocritical in the eyes of some, but it’s the American way.
The investigation of Kavanaugh’s alleged assault on Ford is simply another chapter in a long American tradition, albeit one that resonates stronger and harsher because of its conflation with the #MeToo movement and women’s intensifying war of liberation from male dominance and patriarchy. The cowardly, abject and total capitulation of the all-male GOP majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee to Kavanaugh’s Trump-inspired incitement, on the other hand, is a new and dangerous phenomenon that heralds the death of truth and the dangerous decay of American democracy.
Kavanaugh’s greatest potential crime isn’t his aberrant behavior in the past, anyway. If the D.C. Court of Appeals judge had acknowledged the possible veracity of Ford’s claims from the outset and apologized for the drunken recklessness of his youth, he would have probably been sworn in by now as the retiring Justice Arthur Kennedy’s replacement on the Supreme Court. His total and unequivocal denial of Ford’s allegations, however, upped the ante. If proven false, Kavanaugh would be guilty of perjury, an offense that surely and automatically disqualifies him from serving on the Supreme Court.
Under these circumstances, the need to verify the true facts seemed obvious, but Kavanaugh’s tribal call to arms proved far more potent and compelling for the Republican Senators than Ford’s unassailable account of her molestation at his hands. Whatever doubts they harbored, the GOP lawmakers were hypnotized by Kavanaugh’s alt-right abracadabra and hocus-pocus and paralyzed by the clear and present danger of bucking Trump and his base. They ignored the calls for an FBI investigation, became oblivious to the obvious necessity of verifying the facts and were ready and willing to ram Kavanaugh’s appointment through the Senate, come what may. They refused to go through the motions of showing sympathy for Ford or of performing due diligence regarding her accusations. Their primal fear of Trump’s retribution easily overpowered their political instincts, compelling them to risk alienating large swaths of American women and possibly ensuring their imminent downfall in the November 6 midterm elections.
It was left to Arizona Senator Jeff Flake to save the GOP’s lost honor and to salvage hopes that the state of American democracy isn’t terminal yet. Pilloried as a wishy-washy weakling after Flake’s firm statement that he would vote for moving Kavanaugh’s candidacy to the Senate floor, the Arizona senator was elevated to hero status within a few hours when it emerged that he was threatening to vote against it unless there was an FBI investigation of Ford and Cavanaugh’s conflicting claims. The Arizona Senator is said to have been swayed by the protests of two rape victims who cornered him in a Capitol Hill elevator, proving that prevarication by politicians is often a blessing rather than a curse.
But Flake is an exception that proves the rule. The Arizona Republican, one of the few to consistently criticize Trump, decided in October 2017 to retire from politics. There was no place for him, he said, in a Trump-dominated GOP. His decision to confront the slavish Republican majority and to demand an FBI investigation of Ford’s claims, admirable as it may be, could have only been made by a politician who has opted out of taking his marching orders from Trump’s fanatic base.
“It is time for our complicity and our accommodation for the unacceptable to end,” Flake said at the press conference heralding his departure. “There are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles. Now is such a time.” It is a noble sentiment, not shared, unfortunately, by most if not all Republicans who care for their careers and prefer to stay in the game.
It all comes down now to the findings of the weeklong FBI probe ordered by Donald Trump. If the necessarily frantic investigation fails to corroborate Ford’s allegations and vindicates Kavanaugh, Flake’s principles will be banished from the GOP for good. If, on the other hand, the FBI finds in favor of Ford, Republicans will be flummoxed, Trump deflated and Flake vindicated.
One might hope that such a rude awakening could jolt the GOP out of its sycophantic submissiveness and restore some semblance of the separation of powers that is so vital to U.S. democracy, but it’s much more likely that Trump will use the opportunity to trumpet the FBI’s failings and to cow wavering Senators into renewed submission. After all, Trump’s view of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is already on record, as the capital of the Criminal Deep State, a den of lying and spying scum, the arm and mouthpiece of the Clintons and outside left-wing opposition groups, with millions of dollars at their disposal, who are out to bury Trump through nefarious conspiracy. Kavanaugh, slated to become the ninth judge in what is arguably the most respected legal institution in the world, couldn’t have said it better.