The Confirmation of Trumpism – Adam Serwer | The Atlantic

The Confirmation of Trumpism

The accusations against Brett Kavanaugh—and his angry, defiant response—have made him a fitting champion for the party of Trump.

Adam Serwer | The Atlantic

On a Friday evening in 1991, Clarence Thomas’ nomination was in trouble. Anita Hill’s sober, matter-of-fact demeanor during her testimony that Thomas had sexually harassed her during their time at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had been inconsistent with the conservative campaign to paint her as an emotionally unstable, and perhaps romantically spurned, liar. Now it was Thomas’s turn to respond.

In Strange Justice, their chronicle of the battle over Thomas’ nomination, Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer wrote that Thomas paced back and forth in the office of his benefactor, Senator John Danforth. He told Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah that he didn’t believe he was going to make it. “Yes, you are,” Hatch told Thomas, “but it’s going to be close.”    

It was Hatch who encouraged Thomas to lose his temper, so that he might deliver the strongest testimony in his own defense.

“The strategy was useful from the larger political standpoint too,” Abramson and Mayer wrote. “Not only would it make Thomas angry, it would also anger the countless number of black viewers, whose sympathies were so critical to the nomination.”

Republicans dusted off the Thomas strategy on Thursday, as they sought to defend President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, from the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who told the Senate that Kavanaugh had attempted to rape her when they were teenagers.

Like Thomas, Kavanaugh alleged that the charges were a liberal conspiracy to smear him.

But where Thomas self-righteously invoked centuries of racist terrorism and oppression to defend himself, Kavanaugh’s rage was that of a member of the gilded class, whose political connections and private-school educations were supposed to shield him from scrutiny or accountability, even that which comes with an appointment to the nation’s highest court.

Where even Thomas’ supporters in 1991 stood stone-faced before his anger, several Republicans on the committee were moved to tears as Kavanaugh emotionally denied the charges against him.

That is unsurprising. Kavanaugh is one of them:

A conservative white man whose comfortable life and Ivy League education has smoothed his way to one of the most important jobs in the country.

Kavanaugh is what they want their children to be, what they want their grandchildren to be.

These senators’ hearts were cold to the Muslim families trapped in airports by Trump’s travel ban, the thousands who died in Puerto Rico, the millions of black parents who fear that their children’s chance encounters with law enforcement will end in death, and the woman who had testified only hours earlier that Kavanaugh had laughed while he had attempted to rape her.

But Kavanaugh’s suffering? That they understood.

Senate Republicans are poised to confirm a man credibly accused of sexual assault with a mere cursory attempt to investigate the charges. With Thomas, at least, many of the facts emerged only after his confirmation. But today’s senators are moving ahead with their eyes wide shut, knowing of Kavanaugh’s dishonesty, his devotion to partisan vengeance over the rule of law, and the possibility that he is a sexual predator.

They will do so because they have not paid a political price for the president’s bigotry, corruption, and incompetence, and the feebleness of the opposition they face has led them to believe they never will.

The Republican Party has surrendered itself to a Trumpian agenda of the restoration of America’s traditional hierarchies of race and gender, and of vengeance against those who would threaten those hierarchies. The accusations against Kavanaugh — and his angry, defiant response — have made him a fitting champion for the party of Trump.

“We had all come to see the campaign against my confirmation as evil. There seemed no other way to explain it,” Thomas would later write. Similarly, conservatives today have convinced themselves that the accusations against Kavanaugh are part of an elaborate liberal conspiracy, and the women accusing him are co-conspirators or delusional “puppets”. Like Thomas, Kavanaugh showed genuine rage.

 That fact has no bearing on whether either nominee was telling the truth.

Thomas’ charge that the proceedings had devolved into a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves” is now one of the most famous phrases in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. His calculated expression of rage worked — the vote was close, but Thomas was confirmed to the Court.

Despite the insistence of senators that Thomas was being falsely accused, or that the charges could not be corroborated, AFTER his confirmation, further evidence that Hill had told the truth, and that Thomas had lied, emerged.

Hill had testified that Thomas had “used work situations to discuss sex”, talked “about pornographic materials depicting individuals with large penises or large breasts involved in various sex acts”, and bragged “graphically of his own sexual prowess”.

Thomas had professed ignorance about the porn actor “Long Dong Silver” under oath, but Abramson and Mayer later reported that Thomas was a regular consumer of pornography, and had been witnessed renting videos that fit Hill’s description of Thomas’s work conversation. Two other women, Angela Wright and Kay Savage, offered accounts similar to Hill’s but were never called to testify, allowing Thomas’s allies to portray Hill’s charges as the isolated complaints of a possibly disgruntled employee or woman scorned.

The Senate Republicans now insisting that Kavanaugh has been falsely accused, or that Ford’s charges cannot be corroborated, have refused to investigate other allegations of sexual assault from Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick. Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s childhood friend who Ford says was present at the time of the assault, skipped town on the advice of his attorney and has not been called to testify.

But if Thomas lied to the committee in denying Hill’s allegations, he also misled it about his judicial philosophy.He told the Senate that “it is important for us … to eliminate agendas, to eliminate ideologies. And when one becomes a judge … that’s precisely what you start doing. You start putting the speeches away. You start putting the policy statements away. You begin to decline forming opinions in areas that could come before your Court, because you want to be stripped down like a runner. So, I have no agenda.”

He implied that his experience as a black man in the South would give him insight into the plight of Americans wronged by the criminal-justice system. He told the Senate that, passing a group of black convicts, he said to himself, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

Thomas now frequently makes speeches and appearances with conservative advocacy groups whose cases come before the Court, and merely four months into his tenure as a justice wrote that the vicious beating of a prisoner by two guards did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Kavanaugh has been, by any measure, far more dishonest.

In his initial testimony, Kavanaugh misled senators as to his knowledge of receiving documents stolen from Democratic committee staff during Bush-era judicial confirmation battles, Bush-era warrantless-wiretapping and torture policies, his role in the nominations of William Pryor and Charles Pickering to the federal bench, his views on Roe v. Wade, and, in an exchange with Senator Kamala Harris, his familiarity with Kasowitz Benson Torres, a law firm that has represented Trump.

In his Thursday testimony, Kavanaugh insisted that he had never drunk alcohol to the point of blacking out despite an email in which he jokes about not being able to recall a blown dice game with friends, and that a cruel reference to a woman in his high-school yearbook was merely about them being friends.

Only Kavanaugh, Judge, and Ford know for certain what happened decades ago, but Kavanaugh has shown a penchant for fibs and misleading statements even while under oath.

The most important lie that Kavanaugh told, however, was in his initial testimony. Echoing Thomas’s broken promise to avoid ideology as a judge, Kavanaugh initially proclaimed that “as Justice Kennedy showed us, a judge must be independent, not swayed by public pressure … The Supreme Court must never be viewed as a partisan institution. The justices on the Supreme Court do not sit on opposite sides of an aisle. They do not caucus in separate rooms. If confirmed to the Court, I would be part of a team of nine, committed to deciding cases according to the Constitution and laws of the United States. I would always strive to be a team player on the team of nine.”

On Thursday however, Kavanaugh made his partisan inclinations clear:

“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,” Kavanaugh testified, blaming “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.”

He added a threat for good measure, warning his critics that “what goes around comes around”. It was yet another echo of Thomas.

“While there were intermittent rumors that he might step down long before retirement age,” Mayer and Abramson wrote, “Thomas himself vowed on the day of his confirmation, at the age of forty-three, that he intended to spend the next forty-three years of his life as a Supreme Court justice. It would take that long, he told friends, to get even.”

By Kavanaugh’s own standard, he is incapable of sitting on the Court. While justices are in practice often partisan actors, hewing closely to one party’s preferred outcome in big cases, they understand their own role as impartial jurists interpreting the law and the Constitution.

Kavanaugh’s characterization of the charges against him as a left-wing revenge plot shows that the illusion is not one he even cares to maintain. There is no case that might come before the Court involving partisan interests in which Kavanaugh could be impartial. Kavanaugh himself told us so.

The Democrats, as in Thomas’ day, are weak and feckless. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has, as of yet, been unable to unite his caucus against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. His minority whip, Dick Durbin, has publicly lamented the removal of chamber rules that, had they not been changed, would have granted Trump even more judicial vacancies to fill than he has today.

The successful Republican effort to block the appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, and their elevation of Kavanaugh, shows that the GOP views the Supreme Court as simply another vehicle for partisan interests. The Republican Party feels no need to serve any civil obligations, only to pursue its own ideological objectives. Until Democrats view the Court in similar terms, THEY WILL CONTINUE TO LOSE.

The lesson of the Trump era, since his nomination for president, has been that Republicans will pay no political price for the shattering of rules or norms, or for disregarding common decency, because the Democrats are unwilling or unable to extract one.

As long as this is the case, Republicans have no reason to respect any of those things. If Republicans pay a price for confirming Kavanaugh, it will only be because the American electorate has had enough.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On September 29, 2018 at 10:57 pm

    The Kavanaugh Hearing Proves Yet Again the USA Hates Women

    Arwa Mahdawi | The Guardian UK

    The reaction to the Kavanaugh hearing proves that America hates women

    There was a moment on Thursday, while watching Dr Christine Blasey’s Ford brave and moving testimony, that I thought that was it:

    There was no way Brett Kavanaugh would be confirmed. Even Fox News called Ford’s testimony “extremely credible”. If Kavanaugh was confirmed when even Fox had to concede Ford was credible, then what message would that send about America’s attitude towards women?

    What message would that send to high school kids about the consequences of their actions?

    Then, when it was Kavanaugh’s turn to speak, I was even more certain he couldn’t possibly be given a lifelong seat on the supreme court. Judges are supposed to be measured and objective. He came across as an entitled hothead, unable to control his emotions, blaming everyone except himself for his current situation.

    If Kavanaugh was confirmed after that performance, the credibility of the supreme court, the credibility of America, would surely be undermined. There was no way it could happen.

    Well, it looks like I completely underestimated the pull of patriarchy in America.

    If you’re a rich, white guy with powerful friends it seems you can get away with anything. Kavanaugh hasn’t been confirmed yet, but the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has called for him to be confirmed and Republicans are rallying around him.

    It’s looking increasingly likely he’ll be given a lifelong appointment to impose his will on America, no matter how women feel about it.

    But Republicans shouldn’t expect women to accept this without a fight. We will march, we will strike, we will run for office. We have had enough: PATRIACHY IS ON BORROWED TIME.

    Sorry to keep on about Kavanaugh, but the entire episode really has been a case study in rape culture. Let’s review, shall we? Here are five defenses that Kavanaugh, a supposed genius in law, actually thought were credible.

    Say you were a virgin:
    In an interview with Fox News that aired on Monday, Kavanaugh stated, unprompted, he was a virgin for years after high school. If you think, as Kavanaugh appears to, that being a virgin means you can’t be guilty of sexual assault, then you have no right to be a judge in the first place, let alone on the supreme court.

    Use your 10-year-old daughter as a political pawn:
    In his testimony on Thursday, Kavanaugh said he meant no ill will to his accuser and, in fact, his 10-year-old daughter wanted to pray for Ford. He choked up after delivering this anecdote. I’d like to think in shame, but I’m not sure he is capable of feeling anything other than self-pity and entitlement.

    Dig out a calendar from 1982:
    Look, it doesn’t say “attempted to rape someone tonight on it”! Clear sign of innocence there.

    Reiterate how much you like beer:
    During the Thursday hearing Kavanaugh mentioned he liked beer around 30 times. He even asked a senator if they liked drinking beer, too. Can you imagine a woman telling a Senate judiciary committee how much she enjoyed drinking?
    She’d immediately be characterized as an irresponsible slut who deserved anything that happened to her. When men get drunk, it’s a whole different story.

    Convince more than 85 women you know to get onstage in support:
    If you’ve been nice to one woman, it stands to reason that you can’t have sexually assaulted another one, right? That’s supreme court justice thinking right there.

    Now for some good news from other supreme courts around the world:
    On 3 October, the UK’s supreme court will have a majority of female judges decide a case for the first time in its history.

    India’s supreme court has ruled adultery is no longer a crime. The court ruled that the colonial-era law, which criminalized a woman having an extramarital sexual relationship without her husband’s consent, was archaic and discriminated against women. “It is time to say husband is not the master,” said the chief justice, Dipak Misra.

    India’s supreme court seems to be on a roll. It has also ruled that women can no longer be banned from Sabarimala temple, which is one of the holiest for Hindus. Before this ruling, women of a menstruating age (which was defined as 10-50), were barred from entering the temple in Kerala.

    And let’s not forget – Bill Cosby is finally behind bars

    On Tuesday, Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home 14 years ago. It took decades for justice to be served, but as attorney Gloria Allred, who represents several women who say they were assaulted by Cosby, said: “We’re glad that judgment day has finally come.”

    Kavanaugh, I hope you’re paying attention.

  • Clyde Duncan  On September 30, 2018 at 3:35 am

    Jeff Flake U-turn Stalls Rise of Trump Judge Brett Kavanaugh

    A senator’s U-turn after he was berated by sex abuse victims means Trump’s Supreme Court nominee now faces an inquiry

    Toby Harnden | The Times UK

    His head bowed, his face flushing with discomfort, perhaps even shame, Senator Jeff Flake stared at the floor of the lift as sexual abuse victims berated him for supporting Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

    The scene on Friday, which lasted an excruciating five minutes, seems to have been the turning point in a tumultuous week that ended with Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s pick for the US Supreme Court, in limbo as the FBI crawls over his teenage life.

    “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” shouted Maria Gallagher, 23, one of scores of activists who had stormed the US Capitol, at a silent Flake. “You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter, that what happened to me doesn’t matter.

    “You’re just going to help that man to power anyway. That’s what you’re telling all of these women. That’s what you’re telling me right now.”

    Ana Maria Archila, 39, among a crowd blocking the lift door so that Flake could not escape, also vented her rage. “What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court,” she told him. “This is not tolerable. You have children in your family. Think about them.”

    Flake’s discomfort seemed to encapsulate the bitter hearings in the Senate over Kavanaugh’s nomination to the highest court in America in which an anguished victim, Christine Blasey Ford, had described on Thursday how she had been sexually assaulted 36 years ago.

    The white-toothed, perma-tanned moderate Republican senator had himself lobbied his party leaders to agree to listen to Ford, a California psychology professor who claimed Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.

    The White House feared that Flake, 55, who is retiring from his Arizona seat after being rejected by conservative activists furious with his opposition to Trump, might vote against the nomination, a disaster when the Republican majority in the Senate was just 51 to 49. But after listening to hours of Ford relating her experience, followed by an angry denial from Kavanaugh, Flake had sided with his party and announced he was a “yes”.

    His decision led Democrats to assume it was game over, that Kavanaugh, 53, would take his lifetime seat on the nine-member court, which has the power to shape American laws and life, tilting it to the right. When Flake’s Democratic friend, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware heard the news, he responded, “Oh f***” and began to choke up.

    But something changed in the lift. By the time Flake stepped out he had abandoned his position that Kavanaugh was owed a “presumption of innocence” and should be confirmed. When the 21-member Senate judiciary committee met, Flake listened intently as Coons said there should be a delay so the FBI could look into Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh about what happened between them at a house in suburban Maryland when she was 15 and he was 17.

    “My concern was that by bulling through this nomination without any investigation it would send the wrong signal and leave a cloud over Judge Kavanaugh,” Coons said.

    Flake got up, signalling to Coons that he wanted to talk. Once outside the room they were joined by other Democrats. About 90 minutes later a deal had been done — Flake would call for a delay of a week so the FBI could look into the allegations against Kavanaugh.

    “This country is being ripped apart here, and we’ve got to ensure we do our due diligence,” Flake said.

    Suddenly Flake, who had been lambasted by liberals as a spineless coward after he had said he was backing Kavanaugh, was a hero on the left, a man of high principle putting country above party.

    Some believe Flake is trying to assume the mantle of Senator John McCain, also from Arizona, who died last month and was lauded for his bipartisanship and embrace of honour and sacrifice that seemed like part of a bygone era.

    What The Atlantic magazine once described as his “preternatural niceness” and “a default expression that might be described as resting troubled and saddened face” makes Flake seem like a throwback to a world swept away by Trump’s take-no-prisoners bombast.

    A Mormon, he was raised on a cattle ranch where migrant workers were employed, an experience that led to a pro-immigration stance that also put him at odds with Trump.

    He is a father of four adult sons and a daughter, but his personal life has not been as smooth. One son was charged with animal cruelty after more than 20 dogs died at a kennels he was supervising and another publicly apologised for his online racist and anti-Semitic comments.

    Republicans on Capitol Hill caution that Flake is unlikely to vote against Kavanaugh unless some significant new information is uncovered by the FBI.

    Ford has been unable to identify the place where or the date when the alleged attack occurred in the summer of 1982.

    The White House hopes that an inconclusive FBI report this week will give Flake and two other Republican waverers, senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, the cover they need to back Kavanaugh.

    Democrats argue that a week is an eternity in Trump’s Washington and that fresh allegations — there are already two other women accusers — or details could derail Kavanaugh.

    For the time being, Flake seems bemused by the focus on him and a U-turn that seems, rarely in politics, to have been motivated by a gut reaction rather than preplanned positioning.

    Reflecting on what happened in the lift, he told The Atlantic: “It was poignant . . . it certainly struck a chord.”

  • Clyde Duncan  On September 30, 2018 at 6:52 am

    The GOP Has a Communicable Disease

    Richard Cohen | The Washington Post

    The Republican Party has a communicable disease. For so long, it has been intimate with President Trump that it acts pretty much as he does. He lies and then Republicans lie about his lies — they don’t matter, just noise, the wall is more important, etc. These evasions are intended to suggest that moral squalor can be cleansed by a jump in the Dow Jones or a handshake with Kim Jong Un.

    The months of Trump have taken a toll. The GOP has been stripped of its dignity, decency and honor by a president woefully unfit for the office.

    A new kind of McCarthyism has emerged. It is not the one named for that bullying fraud, the late senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. This new one takes its name from Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader from California.

    McCarthy has traveled the country on behalf of Republican House candidates, name-dropping the ultimate name as a credential. “I developed a relationship with the president long before he was president and so you have a trust level,” the Wall Street Journal quotes him as saying.

    Maybe. But does McCarthy have a “trust level” in Trump’s judgment, honesty, competence, knowledge and — dare we say it — stability? If McCarthy does, it is a Guinness-worthy confession of idiocy.

    McCarthy wants to succeed Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) as speaker, and he might if the GOP keeps its majority and if meanies to his right do not deprive him of the necessary votes. If that happens, he would stand second in succession to the presidency — right behind the mannequin with the bobbing head posing as Vice President Pence.

    Yet McCarthy not only failed to protest when the president asked his attorney general to investigate who wrote an anonymous op-ed in the New York Times; he also called the writer a “subversive” who should be “exposed and fired.” Has the president never heard of the First Amendment? Has McCarthy?

    The title of the 1966 movie “What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?” stemmed from a question the producer-director Blake Edwards’ son had asked him.

    A similar question has to be asked of Republican officeholders by their own children: What did you do to stop Trump, Daddy or Mommy?

    What, Daddy or Mommy, did you do to insist on presidential honesty? Did you just look away and cowardly maintain that Trump’s behavior — his intellectual, political and spiritual corruption — was beside the point?

    And when, Daddy or Mommy, did you condemn his lies or not shake the hand of a man who dissed John McCain’s heroism?

    Did you demand that the president account for his bizarre relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin or his insidious attempt to cow the press?

    Did you confront him for suggesting that the indictment of two Republican congressmen should have been delayed until after the midterm elections?

    Where were you in the midst of the swirling tempest of misogyny around the Brett Kavanaugh hearing on his nomination by Trump to the U.S. Supreme Court?

    Tell me, Mom and Dad, did you ever sing Bob Dylan when you were a kid: “How many times can a man turn his head/Pretending he just doesn’t see?” Look, our freedoms are blowin’ in the wind.

    The most shocking thing about Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear,” is that the appalling no longer shocks. There’s not a member of Congress who does not know the truth of Woodward’s depiction of Trump as out of control and, in a way, out of his mind — downright dangerous.

    The revelations were of degree, but not of kind. The feeble act of faux heroism on the part of then-adviser Gary Cohn — he swiped documents off Trump’s desk — deserves a mock medal.

    Where was Cohn’s denunciation of Trump when he left the White House? Where were his harrowing details, anecdotes — anything – But Silence?

    Barack Obama, the other day, took the Republican Party to task. “These are extraordinary times. And they’re dangerous times,” he said at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The GOP is “abdicating” its responsibilities, he added.

    The former president is a gifted speaker, and this was one of his better speeches.
    But it was no partisan broadside. It was, instead, a lament, a reluctant commentary on how the GOP has morally collapsed.

    By now, we have all become inured to Trump and his antics. We know he’s a liar — some 5,713 false or misleading claims since his inauguration.

    The consequence is that lying has become normalized, like killing in a time of war. Trump has infected much of the Republican Party.

    The lie has become its First Principle — and there is no second. The GOP is diseased, in the tertiary stage of moral cowardice. It may never recover.

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