The Truth Escaped the Kavanaugh Hearing Undetected
By Arturo Castañares / Publisher and CEO
A spectacle played out live on TV from our nation’s capitol today as a woman detailed her claims of an assault 36 years ago by the current nominee to the Supreme Court.
Not since the nomination hearings of Clarence Thomas in 1991 has the country had to watch and listen to brutally-personal and emotionally-raw testimony from two individuals that each portrayed the other as a pawn in the most political of all games. In those hearings, it was a 35-year old Anita Hill that detailed workplace harassment by Thomas.
This week, it was a 51-year old university professor, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified about an alleged sexual assault she says was committed by Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Until last week, Kavanaugh seemed to be gliding toward a lifetime appointment to replace the late Antonin Scalia.
Dr. Ford’s allegations came to light just last week after a confidential letter she sent to US Senator Dianne Feinstein was leaked to the press. Feinstein has been criticized for having sat on the letter for weeks, but she maintains it was Ford that requested her name not be made public.
Although Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were reluctant to allow Dr. Ford to testify, she was finally scheduled for this Thursday and was given the morning to testify before Kavanaugh was allowed a rebuttal presentation.
Dr. Ford, visibly terrified to speak before TV cameras and a hostile majority on the committee, delivered a clear, articulate, and emotional presentation about the night she maintains then-17-year-old Kavanaugh assaulted her during a house party in 1982. She detailed the vivid details she says she still remembers clearly, including his covering her mouth with his hand, and the cruel laughing from Kavanaugh and his friend Ford alleges witnessed the assault.
Like many victims of trauma and assault, Dr. Ford says she did not report the incident at the time, and only disclosed it to her husband, therapist, and eventually close friends in recent years, all before Kavanaugh become the nominee in July.
When she was done, it was Kavanaugh’s turn, and he delivered a harsh, sometimes angry, and more often combative response. He denied the allegations and accused Democrats of a coordinated conspiracy against him.
Not to be left out, Republican Senators jumped in to offer their full-throated support for him and cast Dr. Ford as either confused or simply a tool of partisan politics.
Online trolls and political operatives have criticized Ford for the timing of her allegations, for her sketchy recollection of the exact location of the party, and for her failure to report the alleged assault at the time it supposedly happened.
In their desperate desire to appoint a conservative to the Court that could tilt the balance of legal decisions for decades, Republicans have trampled on the credible claims of a woman that has nothing to gain by coming forward, and has already felt the pain of everything she has to lose. She has received death threats, been called horrible names, and had to flee her home in fear.
Like victims of abuse by priests, clergy, teachers, movie producers, football coaches, and even Bill Cosby that have bravely come forward in recent years to detail assaults from many years ago, Dr. Ford put herself in the line of fire before a politically polarized country that now seems to use politics to determine facts, not facts to determine politics.
In interviews and polling of average Americans, the number of people that believe Kavanaugh and Ford fall disproportionally along party lines. This week, an NPR poll found that Kavanaugh is believed by 61% of Republican men and 57% of Republican women, while Ford is believed by 54% of Democratic men and 57% of Democratic women.
Thursday’s Judiciary Committee hearing saw nearly every Democratic member repeatedly ask for the FBI to reopen its background investigation of Kavanaugh to review the new allegations. In addition to Ford, two other women have also come forward with their own claims against the nominee. Republican Senators dismissed the calls for the FBI to look into the matter.
When asked by Democratic Senators if he would support an FBI review, Kavanaugh refused to answer directly. Oddly, the committee also refused to subpoena Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, who Ford says was in the room when the alleged assault happened. Judge has stated he doesn’t remember any such event but refused to testify publicly.
In the end, the committee testimony turned into a she said/he said argument without any additional witnesses being called to testify. Critics claim Ford has no proof to substantiate her claims so her word alone should not disqualify Kavanaugh from the appointment.
Experts maintain that victims of abuse rarely have proof precisely because most assaults happen when victims are vulnerable, alone, or outnumbered. Ford, who is a psychology professor at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, knows exactly why victims remember the details of the trauma but may have forgotten other aspects of the events that led up to them or happened afterward.
Dr. Ford explained the way brains work, detailing, in her words, that “it’s just the level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain that … encodes that neurotransmitter, encodes memories into the hippocampus. And so the trauma-related experience then is kind of locked there whereas other details kind of drift.” It didn’t matter.
The tragedy of this week’s hearing is that the #metoo movement may have hit a speed bump when it ran into politics.
If Dr. Ford, a credible, educated, articulate women couldn’t be taken seriously when detailing an assault she says she’s “100%” certain was perpetrated by a known assailant, then what hope do young boys, girls, teenagers, runaways, wives, husbands, actresses, and other victims have that their claims will be believed?
Victims’ claims should be reviewed, investigated, and vetted to ensure proper due process is afforded to both the accuser and the accused. No one should fear either outright rejection or prejudiced prosecution.
But, this week’s political theatre left both sides unsatisfied that the truth was pursued, that justice was served, or that victims will be better protected in the future.
In the end, politics won the day. Lives were forever altered. And the truth escaped the light of day. It was another black eye for our society that seems to only move forward in fits and starts, and mostly by taking one step forward and two steps back.
And it was another reminder that politics operate on another plane, are slow to change, and resistant to social pressure until voters demand change through elections.
We will all have to wait to see if the November elections usher change into Washington, or if the old “boys will be boys” mentality will prevail.