Now, filter everything that followed through those two prisms.
Essays by other women telling their own stories of abuse are heroic examples that support Ford’s reasons for waiting so long to report—or they’re inflammatory and prejudicial as applied to Kavanaugh, damning him for the sins of others.
The Senate’s demand for a prompt investigation and a public hearing was a disrespectful ploy by angry men designed to intimidate and shame a survivor—or it was an effort by the body constitutionally empowered to render advice and consent to test serious claims and expose Ford’s allegations to searching inquiry.
Ford’s demands to set the terms of the investigation were appropriate pleas for respect and professionalism—or they were requests for special treatment that impaired the search for truth.
These diametrically opposed worldviews collided most notably when Kavanaugh testified on his own behalf. Reading much of the progressive commentary in response to his rage and pain, I was struck by the assumption that Kavanaugh’s emotion was inextricably linked to his privilege, connected to his sense of entitlement to a Supreme Court seat that he couldn’t believe was about to be snatched from his grasp.
Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times that “nothing makes a man accustomed to privilege angrier than the prospect of losing some of that privilege, especially if it comes with the suggestion that people like him are subject to the same rules as the rest of us.” This was the explanation for his rage. Another white man was grasping for power. In Politico, former Yale Law Dean Robert Post declared that “Kavanaugh apparently cared more about his promotion than about preserving the dignity of the Supreme Court he aspired to join.”
Yet that is emphatically not what millions of other Americans witnessed on their televisions. In fact, these Americans are mystified and angered by these takes. I’m still surprised, even days later, by the sheer number of mainly (but not exclusively) conservative men and women who describe watching Kavanaugh’s testimony with deep emotion. They didn’t see a man grasping for power. They saw a man fighting to preserve something far more precious than a Supreme Court seat. They saw a man fighting for his family, for his very honor in the one moment when his defense could be most effective, in the one moment when the eyes of the nation were fixed upon him. I know that’s what I saw.
To this point I’ve not focused on the bad-faith actions and actors that polluted the discourse. The reason is simple. When even good-faith voices find themselves so diametrically, emotionally opposed—unable to step into the other side’s shoes—then we know polarization and division are deeply embedded into the current American DNA.
And we also know that in those circumstances the actual radicals, those who are truly unreasonable, will lash out with ever greater ferocity, placing strains not just on our body politic but also on our sense of public peace. One of the saddest aspects of the entire sad affair was watching both the Ford and Kavanaugh families face threats to their lives. Even more distressing: No one was surprised. This is how we expect political disputes to play out today.