Secret keeping is a theme Kavanaugh returns to repeatedly.
His 2014 speech to the Yale Law School Federalist Society featured tales of drunken exploits from his law-school days, including a bus trip he organized that ended with a night of bar-hopping in Boston and “group chugs from a keg” on the bus. He noted: “Fortunately for all of us, we had a motto: ‘What happens on the bus stays on the bus.’ Tonight, you can modify that to what happens at the Fed Soc after-party stays at the Fed Soc after-party.” In an address a year later at the Catholic University Columbus School of Law, he mentioned that three alumni of that school were “really, really good friends” of his from high school. Then he added: “Fortunately, we’ve had a good saying that we’ve held firm to this day, as the dean was reminding me before the talk, which is ‘What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep.’ That’s been a good thing for all of us I think.”
Further reading: The pernicious double standard around Kavanaugh’s drinking
Secrets and group loyalty go hand in hand. If you know that I did something wrong or illegal, but I don’t have anything similar on you, that’s a recipe for blackmail, not trust. But when the knowledge is mutual—when we’ve done something illicit together—the dynamic is radically different. Mutual misbehavior builds trusting bonds, partners in crime.
In his book Codes of the Underworld, the Oxford sociologist Diego Gambetta stated it clearly: “Groups whose members have transgressions to hide from public view and whose members share knowledge of these transgression with each other will enjoy a comparative advantage in their ability to support their internal cohesion.”
A lot of alleged transgressions are coming out to the light of day this week. But keep in mind that they very nearly did not. Kavanaugh has been prominent for decades, drafting the Starr report, serving as George W. Bush’s staff secretary, and confirmed after extended hearings to the U.S. Court of Appeals. He and his friends, and others like them in similar circles, seem to have managed a remarkable balancing act, discreetly flaunting their misbehavior, loudly enough so that others know that bad things had been done, but with enough plausible deniability that no one gets into trouble.
Being an excellent keeper of one’s own group’s secrets does not mean one will keep others’ dirty laundry safely hidden—quite the opposite. It was Kavanaugh, when working for Ken Starr, who argued for uncovering and including the most graphic sexual details about President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. Keep the secrets of the in-group; raid and reveal those of the out-group.
Further reading: A rare gentleman’s agreement in the Senate
Kavanaugh, up for an ostensibly nonpartisan position, has hinted that Trump is part of his in-group these days. In his formal response to Trump upon being nominated for the Supreme Court seat, he said: “I’ve witnessed firsthand your appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary. No president has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds, to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination.” Saying this to a president who has chosen his nominees from a shortlist vetted by conservative groups demonstrates loyalty—and the secret keeper’s skill at saying the right thing to maintain a proper facade.