In this current moment of political debauchery—of name calling and journalist shoving and gun engraving and violence inciting—it’s worth remembering the last time that the national imagination was unwillingly drawn to the penis size of a candidate for one of the most powerful jobs in the land.
In 1991, while Donald Trump was filing for the first of his four corporate bankruptcies, Anita Hill was testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her boss at two different government agencies. The vestiges of the hearing remain woven into the cultural fabric—the infamous Coke can, Long Dong Silver, Thomas’s stony silence in the 25 years he’s been on the court—but it’s easy to forget what an extraordinary spectacle it was at the time. Just as FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson recently used a decades-old trial to reckon with a traumatic chapter in America’s history, HBO’s new dramatization of the hearing, Confirmation, casts a harsh light on a historical moment that feels almost more relevant than ever.
This isn’t the first time Hill’s testimony has resurfaced: In 2010, it emerged that Thomas’s wife, Ginni, had called Hill and left her a voicemail asking her to finally “consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.” The message plays in the opening scene of Anita, Freida Lee Mock’s 2013 documentary about Hill, which made a thorough and convincing (if one-sided) case that she’d been telling the truth, and had been railroaded by a Senate committee in which both sides wanted her out the way. “The Democrats really didn’t rescue Anita Hill the way they could have,” says the New Yorker writer Jane Mayer in that movie, “and the Republicans were busy disemboweling her.”