The erosion of supremacy.
While I was unsurprised by Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, like many, I was disheartened. Once again, privilege and political gamesmanship won, and the rest of us lost. The pillars of supremacy still stand tall. Many rejected Dr. Balsey Ford’s testimony out of hand, with senator and layman alike confusing the standard between what our law requires to take away someone’s physical liberty and what might disqualify them for a seat on the highest court in the country. This, tied together with the ongoing fantasy of political conspiracy, seems to leave us exactly where we were nearly 30 years ago during Clarence Thomas’s confirmation — we still don’t believe women. Based on the many threats and terrible things said of Dr. Ford, we still entertain the notion that women stepping out of line have only one motivation — self-gain. Yet, no matter how ludicrous the excuses, or indignant the hypocrisy, privilege is not immune to weathering. Kavanaugh’s confirmation, especially his performance after Dr. Ford’s testimony, revealed cracks in the pillars of supremacy.
We’re all exhausted from pointing out the rampant hypocrisies of senators like Lindsey Graham (“keep this seat open and hope they win midterms” is so arduously hypocritical that I’m surprised he wasn’t stifling a laugh). That’s the nature of supremacy, you get to make on-the-spot edits, no consistency required. While pinpointing hypocrisy is unlikely to change anyone’s position, it did reveal two things — Lindsey Graham, like others in the Senate and the public, believes Dr. Ford was part of some sort of conspiracy to destroy Kavanaugh. Likewise, Graham was far less interested in the truth than he was vindicating his parties’ choice. This tilt towards the conspiratorial is nothing new. As Kurt Andersen notes in his recent book Fantasyland, we as a country have long held a romantic interest with the occult and conspiratorial (e.g., our conspiratorial fascination with the Freemasons dates back to 18th century). This administration is no different — the President himself appears to believe that Kavanaugh’s protestors are actors paid by billionaire George Soros (is the economy really that bad?). Power can easily lend credibility to the even the most absurd (and hypocritical) opinions.
This conspiratorial bent is an easy way out. It refuses to pause and reflect on what Dr. Ford’s testimony means and the implications to herself and the people she loves. Rather than dictate what you should believe about Dr. Ford’s testimony, let’s ask a few questions — Is Dr. Ford running for office? Is she a competing Supreme Court nominee? Do we have some sort of cash prize available for bringing down a nominee? Is Anita Hill approaching Kardashian fame? To my knowledge, the answers to all of these questions are “no.” Why would she risk her personal and familial safety for the sake of a political “smear” campaign where she stands to gain nothing (or in the case of death threats, lose everything)? There is one reasonable answer — conviction. It is conviction that brought her forward and conviction alone that held her in her seat, which is far more than can be said about most of the individuals in that room, nominee or otherwise. A “conspiracy” approach to Dr. Ford’s testimony is, in short, an excuse. An excuse to disbelieve yet another credible woman. But it also reveals a crack in supremacy — the best anyone could come up with to ignore her testimony was a conspiracy. And conspiracies make for poor mortar.
Truth is inconvenient and Kavanaugh readily demonstrated that this woman shook him. Shook him to incoherency, to denial, and eventually to outrage. Shook loose all of those vague memories of “boys being boys” that he must have long ago filed away under “Oh, well.” Dr. Ford’s word bumped into Kavanaugh just hard enough that for a moment, he and his cohort were afraid that privilege alone would not be enough to sustain him. That day, Dr. Ford stared defiantly into the eyes of supremacy, and supremacy flinched.
There is an apt Haitian proverb — “Those who give the blows may try to forget, but those who carry the scars must remember.” Kavanaugh, for all of his bluster and indignation, was doing his absolute best to walk away from past behavior and doing a lousy job at re-categorizing it. But listening to his responses, it became more and more apparent that maybe, amidst all of the happenings of his privileged youth, he just doesn’t remember. Dr. Ford, however, clearly did not have the luxury of forgetting. Scars, however wrongly imposed, bear power. As I’ve argued elsewhere, privilege and power are sustained by enforcing silence. Silence, created by trauma, threats of violence, or fear, helps protect the pillars of supremacy. But silence does not erase scars. By breaking the silence, we erode the strength of those who would demand otherwise. Dr. Ford bared her scars knowing what it might cost her and demanded that others remember with her. She chipped away at the privilege of forgetting.
None of us should be so naive as to think that supremacy is easily toppled from its perch. But much like bringing down a thirty-story building, it need not be done one floor at a time. It only requires destruction of the supports that hold it together and it will collapse on itself. By working to destroy silence, bearing our scars, and facing privilege with a mirror, we erode those supports holding up supremacy. True, it did not tip this time — Kavanaugh made it through. But he did not do so unshaken. He is not free to walk away from his past. More importantly, Dr. Ford showed us that power and privilege are not as strong as they pretend to be. Supremacy is anything but.