Now that the shouting is over and a vote is apparently eminent, we are left to try and make sense of what we have witnessed. I believe Dr. Ford. I first read her statement on line the night before the hearing. It has the “ring of truth.” Nothing I saw in the hearings changed that opinion. I identify with her. She, like me, is a professor who grew up with more privilege than anyone should expect. I know the world she inhabited, although mine was a south Texas version. I know about the heavy drinking of that era, the tightropes girls had to walk to seem like “ one of the guys” but still “a lady.” The days at the country club and the loosely supervised nights are familiar. It is also a world I left, like Dr. Ford, to find my own corner of the sky in academia.
What might surprise you is that I was also moved by Judge Kavanagh’s testimony. Not because I believe him, I don’t. Everything we know and hear points to him, in his adolescence being an excessive drinker in a highly male-centric, privileged life, a life that breeds entitlement to fun at women’s expense. To this day, so many assaults between students are aided by alcohol, the un-indicted co-conspirator. But something that happened in the hearing leads me to believe he has a conscience, that he knows the truth of what happened in the summer of 1982, and that he regrets it. His voice broke most notably when he recounted his 10-year-old daughter suggesting that their family “pray for the woman.” His tears at that moment are no coincidence. They are evidence of guilt, a guilt that he does not believe he can confess, take responsibility for, and atone for. Such a situation is ripe for the anguish and rage we saw on display.
Admittedly, this is supposition. But I think Dr. Ford may have told us this too. When she testified about the laughter that haunted her, she seemed to recognize that, at that moment, those two boys were not thinking about her at all, perhaps not realizing how frightened she was, or how outrageous their behavior. They were playing what many women of the era will recognize as an unnamed male game that I’ll call, “scare the girls.” Here’s a much milder version that I remember growing up in the early 80’s. I’d been studying at our local library and ran into two boys from my neighborhood. They offered to drive me home and I accepted. On the way, a possum ran in front of the car. The boy driving, about 16 years old, stopped, grabbed the possum by the tail and brought it around to my side of the car swinging it into the back seat where I was. The possum, mouth open, teeth exposed, drooling, was now playing dead. I was screaming, truly frightened, and the two boys were laughing at my fear. After a few minutes, they let the possum go and happily took me home. Scare the girl, have a few laughs, everything back to normal, still friends, no harm, no foul. Perhaps for Kavanaugh and his friend, too inebriated to realize they’d crossed a line, ‘scare the girl’ went too far. Only now, as an adult, with his life’s goal of a Supreme Court seat so close he can smell it, is he confronted with the harm his high school version of “scare the girl,” aided by the disinhibition that comes with drinking, caused. And because he wants his seat on the Supreme Court so badly, he ignores, at least publicly, his conscience. It’s a Faustian bargain and he is selling is soul.
His little daughter, with the faith of a child, is showing him another path: do what his faith demands of him. Pray for the woman, do unto others, let the truth set you free. Given what he and others describe about the outsized role that drinking played in his early life, there is almost no way he can say with certainty anything about his behavior under the influence. The talking points of, “I worked hard. I studied. I played sports. I would never do this. I remember everything. I like beer. So what?” are simply insufficient in the current circumstance. He diminishes himself and all he has accomplished with his false bravado.
I feel sorry for him; anyone can understand how much someone in his position would want this job and how embarrassed and ashamed he feels having his drinking behavior and his participation the misogyny of the time unveiled before the world. But he is not fragile and he owes it to himself and everyone else to confront and, indeed embrace, an ugly and uncomfortable truth. “Yes. There was a period of time where I drank far too much and it impaired my judgment. Yes. My friends and I were disrespectful in the way we talked about women, even as we cared deeply about many of them. Yes. There were parties and gatherings in the summer of 1982; I was drunk at several of them; I don’t know whether I did this terrible thing to this credible and accomplished woman or not. It sounds like I could have and she says I did. I believe her. I am sorry. It was wrong. It is not who I want to be or how I’ve lived my life as an adult. Please forgive me.”
What would happen then is uncertain. But the truth is disarming. Dr. Ford showed us that yesterday. Perhaps such a statement by Judge Kavanaugh would allow us all to put away our arms. Judge, listen to your little daughter. She is showing you the way. Pray for the woman, not for yourself, your position, or your reputation. Pray for understanding, pray for guidance and discernment, and then listen to the still, small voice of conscience that will tell you what you need to do.