So, after a long speech, Senator Susan Collins has come out in favour of Judge Kavanaugh and will vote ‘yes’ in order to confirm him as a Supreme Court judge. Her speech was a long defense about her decision, but I doubt anyone will really take that in. Having watched the speech myself, along with the testimonies of both Professor Christine Ford and Judge Kavanaugh and reviewing what we know so far, the best way I can describe Collins’ defence is…naive.
Maybe I’m reading it wrong or I’ve got the wrong angle and I understand that. Being a Brit who is more used to a more politically neutral High Court (the almost-equal of the US Supreme Court), I might be misunderstanding how the confirmation process works.
I might be reading emotional responses wrong: was Kavanaugh’s anger justified, given the seriousness of the accusations? Would he or Dr Ford commit perjury knowingly? Who can truly say?
All in all, though, Susan Collins, while no doubt an excellent Senator, seems to me to be missing some crucial points. It’s hard to know where to start though.
The biggest problem I have with Kavanaugh is his partisan politics which he seems to wear on his sleeve with reckless abandon. This is a man who said that the president has the right to refuse to turn over evidence to, say, Mueller’s team. The president can refuse to answer questions in a criminal investigation. Kavanaugh is basically giving Trump newly found constitutional privileges to undermine Mueller’s investigation. It may not matter if the other judges disagree. The very fact that he can voice them at all should be a concern.
This is a man who, when faced with allegations of sexual assault, seems to have lost his temper and essentially borrowed Trump’s playbook, blaming a vast conspiracy organized by Hilary Clinton. This isn’t just trying to please Trump, it’s clearly partisan politics at its worst. Kavanaugh is feeding red meat to the die-hard Trumpians, even when he tried backpedaling just today in an op-ed to make sure he got the votes he needed to confirm himself.
This is partly why Collins’ speech struck me as naive because amongst other things, it seems to skirt over or outright ignore some of the other aspects of his character. In fact, I imagine that many commentators will be wondering why they put her down as an undecided. She sounded thoroughly convinced of her decision, as though she already knew of it.
Perhaps her descision can be boiled down to the two crucial elements which are also the most controversial: the sexual allegations and the FBI investigation.
When a powerful man faces multiple allegations of sexual assault, there is always bound to be doubt and confusion. The arguments devolve into ‘he said, she said’ affairs and much faith is put on witnesses and memory, neither of which are reliable at best. In my mind, while we can never know the truth, I’ve seen how hard it can be for someone to admit that they were assaulted and abused. I believe those people. I still believe them and based on what I saw in Dr. Ford’s testimony, I believe her too. At the very least, I’m inclined to believe her more than Kavanaugh merely by the response she provoked.
Grassley lambasted Democrats for the shameful situation and the attacks against Kavanaugh, confirming his U-turn from longtime critic to Trump’s attack dog. Kavanaugh’s anger was palatable and raised questions of his temperament and neutrality. But the most disgusting thing was President Trump, mocking both Ford and #MeToo.
This is where Collins’ speech hit the no-return point of naivety when she said that confirming Kavanaugh was not endorsing sexual assault. Perhaps not, but it sends out a terrible message nonetheless because it’s not just about Kavanaugh.
When I heard about Trump’s reaction and saw it for myself, I was fuming. The most powerful man in the world mocking someone who had been sexually assaulted! I’ve been shocked by Trump before but this? This was the man who endorsed Kavanaugh! This was a man who controlled the world’s largest economy, army, and nuclear arsenal, poking fun at someone who reluctantly spoke up about being raped.
I have friends who have been sexually, physically and mentally abused. I’ve heard their stories, told slowly and with long pauses, confided in me after years of knowing them. To my knowledge, I’m the only person who knows those secret stories. In most cases, even the parents don’t know how bad it got. It taught me a lot about how abusers work, how abuse can change a person and, most importantly, how love and compassion can make all the difference.
When I saw Trump mocking Ford, when I saw how the GOP simply let it happen, I was not angry for myself, but for all those people I knew whose stories are perhaps still untold. This is why Collins’ speech has gotten me so riled up. Kavanaugh’s nomination is a showcase of the old phrase ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know that counts’. As long as you have powerful friends like the President and a compliant political party, anything is possible! Serious charges! What serious charges?
Collins was right in that sexual assault is unacceptable and it is a major problem in both the USA and the world at large, but she is wrong to say that a vote for Kavanaugh does not equal an endorsement of such actions. It shows, clearly, that sexual assault is a serious case, but not serious enough to derail a man’s ambitions for high office. It should be treated with the utmost gravity unless it’s a major turning point for the conservative movement, in which case, it’s a problem.
The FBI investigation was a welcome one, but it was clearly rushed to meet a deadline and was too limited in scope. More should have been done to accommodate other witnesses, other accusers, and their witnesses. The whole process should have been delayed to account for all this new information and show real due process. So far, all this tells me as an observer is that the GOP wants their man on the bench and they’ll do anything to make it so. It is the height of hypocrisy after all they did to block Obama’s nominees only to then rush through Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Here again, Collins’ speech hit the naivety bar. She called it very thorough. That’s a major stretch, even if we’re just looking at Ford’s case alone. Yes, some of the key people were interviewed, but what about the rest. We hard Ford’s story but what about Deborah Ramirez or Julie Swetnick? Did he drink heavily or didn’t he? We might never know for certain now and even if we did, Kavanaugh will be happily ensconced in his Supreme Court seat.
The coup de grace came when Collins hoped that Kavanaugh would help unify the country. Seriously? Have you not been paying attention to what Trump’s doing? This is his man you’re confirming. If anything, he’s deepened the already bitter divides. If you honestly think that he will keep his promises, you’ll be in for a shock!
Again, I admit, I might be reading the signs all wrong and sure, Collins set out her reasons which are no doubt well-intentioned and reasonable to many who listen to them. Maybe my own personal experiences, knowing what I know, have affected my judgment and besides, it’s not really my problem. I could be entirely wrong and I will have no shame admitting that if I am.
I just feel that Collins is voting for the opposite of what she spoke in defence of in her speech. She preaches unity, cooperation and a beginning to the end of the bitter partisan divide. Yet her vote may work against all those noble principles and will simply encourage Trump even more than he has been thus far.
Kavanaugh has the votes. He will have his seat and he will hold it, just as Trump will hold on to his. The difference is, Trump will go but Kavanaugh will stay and his votes may affect millions of lives, not just in the next five years but for decades. It might be the beginning of yet another potential bully in a position of power.
And in those decades, many more will wonder why women don’t come forward more often when they’ve been sexually assaulted. This whole confirmation process will be the biggest reason of them all. For millions of Americans, especially women who face decades with Kavanaugh in his seat, their lives could hang on this judge’s temperament and political leanings.
When that happens, you can thank Susan Collins for that!