A divided nation must look for ways to heal, not for ways to rub it in or to pay back.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
From the point of view of the damage that the process of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation has done to the American people, it didn’t end up making a difference whether he was confirmed or not. Whether he was accepted or rejected, the country fell off a wall. Just like Humpty Dumpty could not be put together again, we wonder whether the same is true of our beloved country.
Some see Kavanaugh as the ultimate villain. Some see him as the ultimate victim. Most everyone, even those agnostic on Kavanaugh himself, see the process by which the US Senate vetted him as deeply flawed and politicized.
In an unprecedented swirl of spin and of an unending stream of political grandstanding, one of the most obtuse remarks in the entire process was made by Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. When asked by NPR whether she ascribed any credibility to Kavanaughemotional defense of his record on women in general and against Prof. Ford’s charges in particular, she evaded the question by offering this answer: Judge Kavanaugh has everything to gain from the hearings, while Prof. Ford has everything to lose.
Not so, not at all. Both the judge and the professor had everything to gain and everything to lose. Kavanaugh has lost his reputation and Ford has lost her privacy. Kavanaugh had a Supreme Court seat to gain and Ford had this to gain: either closure, or revenge, or vindication, or purification of the political process, or encouragement of female victims of sexual assault to come forth; or some combination thereof. In the case of each protagonist, what they had to gain was dependent on what they had to lose. And they each lost a lot. Ford’s life will never again be the same, and Kavanaugh ascends to the Supreme Court under a cloud as no other justice in memory. Further, if Democrats retake Congress, he is threatened with further investigation.
This is what strikes us as particularly reprehensible about the process of this particular nomination: The well being of two people was sacrificed on the altar of some larger political principle — sacrificed by each side’s diametrically opposed political principle. We don’t think “advice and consent” was intended to be, or needed to be, a contemporary political version of the ancient Roman coliseum, in which the individual gladiator was sacrificed to the roar of the crowd.
While this much might be admitted by partisans on both sides, it matters little, since each side of the political spectrum, while decrying the extreme partisanship, sees it as resting mostly or entirely on the other side. The most poignant, ironic and disheartening evidence of the partisanship is the attribution of it by the one side to the other, not by either side to itself.
As a result of the process of this nomination, #MeToo is also at risk of descending into partisanship. This would be a tragedy, for the outing of Harvey Weinstein and the seemingly endless line of other men in high places has played a most welcome and valuable role in righting some of the worst ethical and moral abuses within our culture. Just as it is surely critical that abusers face criminal and economic consequences, it is just as surely no easy task, in many cases, to retain the initialbalance between taking allegations seriously and retaining the presumption of innocence. If an allegation alone is taken to be a conviction, then #MeToo will lose the valuable credibility and high moral standing it has earned.
Can Humpty Dumpty be put back together again? It is in part an old question because, as a metaphor for the American nation, Humpty Dumpty was already badly split before he fell off the wall. This was evident in the national politics before the Kavanaugh nomination and even before the Trump election. During the process of Kavanaugh’s nomination, speak-to-the-perceived- political-gain-more-than-to-the-perceived-truth oozed from many members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on both sides of the aisle. We cringed listening to some of the senators’ statements, so blatantly exaggerated and empty of nuance.
As a nation, we have become champions at speaking and failures at listening; ready to ascribe the basest or the best motives instinctively, without dispassionate examination of facts. Human nature is more complicated than unrelieved cynicism, however warranted the politicking recently made it seem. Our political process deserves a higher standard. As a nation surely we can do better than this — better than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gloating about a mob energizing his base; better than Sen. Minority Leader Charles Schumer begging for payback at the polls.
It is too easy to ascribe the extreme flaws in this nominating process to the US senators and their behavior alone. The public gets the representation it elects. It is up to us to hold our representatives to a higher standard, and to exhibit that standard ourselves in discussing and debating the merits or demerits, or both, of Judge Kavanaugh and of Prof. Ford, and of those who brought them forward. The question about Humpty Dumpty is ultimately a question for us, the American voters.
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