“We’re going to plow right through it.”
That was Mitch McConnell, speaking at the Values Voters Summit last Friday, assuring the gathered crowd that Brett Kavanaugh, despite some recent setbacks to his nomination, will soon be confirmed for a lifetime appointment to the United States Supreme Court. The timing of McConnell’s assurance making is significant: The Senate majority leader made his promise several days before Christine Blasey Ford, who has alleged that Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were both teenagers, is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, as the committee requested—demanded—that she do. McConnell also made his plow-through-it promises, The New Yorker suggests, after senior Republican officials learned that another woman, Deborah Ramirez, had come forward to echo Ford’s claims: to allege that a young Kavanaugh had exposed himself to her at a party in a Yale dorm.
Americans have been talking a lot, over the past week, about timing. Timing as a weapon; timing as a salve; timing as its own best evidence. Why, people want to know, didn’t Christine Blasey Ford, who contacted her congressional representatives in July informing them about an alleged incident with Kavanaugh in the early 1980s, come forward sooner? Why, if things had happened as she claims, didn’t she tell the authorities at the time? Why didn’t Dianne Feinstein, in possession of Ford’s allegations for much of this long summer, act earlier? And, indeed: Should allegations made about decades-old events even count, at this point, as actionable allegations at all?
The game clock, the time bombs, the midterms, the calendar, the fleeting moment, the lifetime appointment, the mechanical tickings of political partisanship: As my colleague David Graham wrote of Kavanaugh on Monday, “Republicans, both in the Senate and the White House, have been eager to confirm him as soon as possible, both to notch a political win that could energize Republicans before the midterm elections and to avoid the danger of Democrats gaining seats in the Senate and blocking his confirmation.” Kavanaugh himself, in steadfastly maintaining his innocence against Ford’s allegations and, now, against Ramirez’s, has emphasized at once the age of the women’s claims (“this alleged event from 35 years ago,” he put it in a statement to The New Yorker) and the newness of them (“these last-minute allegations”). The nominee’s allies have also used time as a defense, focusing on the long span of a career and a reputation as its own kind of inoculation against the time-bound allegations in question. The New York Times columnist David Leonhardt summed things up like so: “Kavanaugh’s side has made one argument above all: Don’t rush to believe every allegation of sexual assault or harassment.”
That side has also, of course, made precisely the opposite argument, at precisely the same time: Definitely do rush. To a different kind of judgment. Some of Kavanaugh’s records withheld, in order to expedite the confirmation process. Others—42,000 pages’ worth—released just hours before the nominee’s Senate confirmation hearings. “It is imperative the Judiciary committee move forward on the Kavanaugh nomination and a committee vote be taken ASAP,” Senator Lindsey Graham said last week, summoning the haste without explaining it. And so, day by day, haste itself became cannily weaponized. They—the Senate, the FBI—could investigate the women’s claims more deeply, yes, but that would take so long, the implied argument went, and we have simply run out of that commodity that binds us all, in the end: time.
They could learn more, if they cared to. The president could order an FBI investigation. The Senate Judiciary Committee could subpoena Mark Judge. They could delay things further, to be sure, just to be sure. The false sense of speed surrounding Kavanaugh’s confirmation is in one way, of course, simply more evidence of the demands of partisanship trumping the demands of morality: The team has put forward its guy, and that guy must win so that the team can win. But the haste is also a tidy reminder of how deeply a system that has become skilled at performing its sympathy for those who come forward with claims of misconduct remains, in fact, stubbornly rigged against them. This is another kind of game clock. This is another way of keeping time. There are deadlines, after all, those in power say, not acknowledging that they set the schedules; it’s just the way the system works, they insist, not acknowledging that they are the system.
On Sunday evening, The New Yorker published its report announcing that another woman has come forward with allegations about the long-ago sexual conduct of Brett Kavanaugh. Deborah Ramirez, Kavanaugh’s classmate at Yale, told Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee via a lawyer—and, then, the magazine’s Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow—that during the 1983–84 school year, at a party in a campus dorm, Kavanaugh, encouraged by other students, had undone his pants and exposed himself to her, thrusting his penis in her face. Ramirez—raised a devout Catholic, “I wasn’t going to touch a penis until I was married”—inadvertently made contact, she said, as she tried to push him away. As it all took place, she recalled, the other students laughed.
“The offices of at least four Democratic senators have received information about the allegation,” Mayer and Farrow write, “and at least two have begun investigating it. Senior Republican staffers also learned of the allegation last week and, in conversations with The New Yorker, expressed concern about its potential impact on Kavanaugh’s nomination. Soon after, Senate Republicans issued renewed calls to accelerate the timing of a committee vote.”
It is a striking line that, in a story full of striking lines, bears repeating: Senate Republicans, in response to a new claim of impropriety made about a man who is seeking a judicial appointment that will last a lifetime, expressed concern about the claim’s impact on Kavanaugh’s nomination … and issued renewed calls to accelerate the timing of a committee vote. Among those with the power to decide the direction of Kavanaugh’s nomination, the reaction to another claim of sexual violence was, according to The New Yorker, not to investigate it, but rather to plow right through it. To prioritize the haste over the truth.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump, forgoing his earlier polite silence on the matter, asked the question that many asked last week in response to Ford’s allegations: Why didn’t someone, the president asked before a rally, “call the FBI 36 years ago?” On Friday morning, evidently pleased with the talking point, the president reiterated the question in a tweet: “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says,” he wrote, “charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.”
In response to this—and in response to a broader sense, among many in the American public, that those in power are willfully misunderstanding the way sexual abuse interacts with the tickings of clocks and the stretchings of time—a hashtag sprang up: #WhyIDidntReport. The poignant and often wrenching cascade of stories, summoned forth from the negative spaces of #MeToo, are not merely shared memories. They are also explanations of the time delay that so often characterizes discussions of sexual violence: reminders of why so many victims choose not to come forward, just after the violence or in its long aftermath. Why so many don’t report that violence to authorities. Why so many decline to talk about it all. Why there are so many people who walk the world bearing tragic truths they have determined—with so much evidence on their side—that the world is not ready to hear.
Their stories should have been redundant; it should no longer be asked of people that they share their traumas in order to dispel the willful ignorance of the powerful. But that is what things have come to in the national debate about what went on in the early 1980s between Brett Kavanaugh and the women whose lives, they claim, he altered. It is the inequality of memory: She carries it with her, over the march of time, until it shapes her posture and her path; he carries on. There are, in this debate, so many possibilities: Maybe—lies or mistaken memories—things didn’t happen the way they remember, or the way they say. Maybe they did, and Kavanaugh is lying. But there’s another possibility, as well: Maybe things happened just as the women say—and maybe they have carried the memories with them for each day since, the freshness of the fear and the rawness of the shame dragging behind them, wherever they go—and maybe … he simply doesn’t remember it. Maybe there was abuse that never registered to him as abuse at all; maybe he did it and then saw no need to recall that he did.
Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Forgetfulness is its own kind of privilege; memory, at the same time, can be a moral demand. So many of the requests being made as part of #MeToo, my colleague Hannah Giorgis wrote last week, are maddeningly simple: for those who claim they have been wronged simply to be acknowledged. For those who have spoken simply to be heard. Deborah Ramirez, coming forward on Sunday, articulated one more such basic request: She asked merely that her claims, now that they are public, be investigated. “At least look at it,” Ramirez asked of her leaders, knowing that her petition would very likely be denied. “At least check it out.”
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