Garrett Epps: What the Kavanaugh sexual-assault allegation means
What Kavanaugh is saying in response, and what the Senate does next, speaks not only to Ford’s personal experience but to the experiences of far too many women. The defense of Kavanaugh is unavoidably situated in the context of the nationwide reckoning with sexual harassment and assault that has taken place over the course of the past year—and under the presidency of a man who has been credibly accused of sexually harassing or assaulting 19 women and who has a history of making excuses for other powerful men credibly accused of assault and violence against other women.*
Western philosophy tends to present morality as a matter of deliberation: You should be judged on the basis of what you intended to do. This is what Prager means when he tallies up Kavanaugh’s “good” and “bad” actions. But the harder question is how to think about the aspects of our life that are shaped not entirely by what we intend but instead by unavoidable contingency, a necessary exercise given that we humans tend to live in the company of other people. What we do and who we are are unavoidably shaped by, as the philosopher Hannah Arendt famously put it, “the fact that men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world.”
Presumably, Arendt was using the male pronoun by default. Today, however, the “he” feels inevitable.
Arendt’s advice is that we must “go visiting”: that is, train ourselves to not only think from our own perspective but imagine the world from the possible point of view of others. In the case of the Kavanaugh nomination, this kind of thinking means going beyond the who did what and beginning to understand the context that leads such a question to be necessary in the first place. It means acknowledging the weight of circumstance on Kavanaugh’s shoulders, however unfair that may seem.
David Frum: Delay the Kavanaugh vote.
Yet in two recent instances, Kavanaugh has not seemed willing or able to “go visiting” from the perspective of the women involved. In Garza v. Hargan, the case of the undocumented teenager blocked by the government from obtaining an abortion, it is hard to see in Kavanaugh’s legal opinions any comprehension of the pain and fear that girl must have felt. In the Kozinski controversy, his comments to the Senate gave no hint of understanding about how Kozinski’s harassment damaged those around him.
The tragedy here is that the seriousness of the allegations against Kavanaugh and the care with which they deserve to be treated are entirely at odds with the circus of the Trump administration. In her letter, Ford wrote that when Kavanaugh climbed on top of her and put his hand over her mouth, “I feared he may inadvertently kill me.” The adverb is devastating: the teenage boy is rambunctious, galumphing, while the girl underneath him stiffens in terror. It’s a fitting allegation to be leveled under President Donald Trump, a man who does so much harm and is somehow held responsible for nothing.
* This article originally included a CNN quote that was later corrected.