Op-Ed: Americans are divided over Ford and Kavanaugh, but not as much as you may think
Doom and gloom has engulfed the nation since Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh offered their competing testimonies to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ford narrated in stark, awful detail her stunning allegation against President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, while Kavanaugh alternated between tearing up and shouting, “I am innocent of this charge!”
The testimonies — both devastating — provided further proof that we are a nation divided between those on Kavanaugh’s side and those on Ford’s, Democrats versus Republicans, Trump supporters versus “the Resistance.” But the hearing also revealed the opposite: Far from being irrevocably divided, our nation has never been more united, at least when it comes to what constitutes acceptable treatment of women.
Americans remain far apart over whether to accept Kavanaugh’s denials. But when it comes to Ford, most Americans believed her, including the Republican senators who are determined to see Kavanaugh confirmed.
This may be the most important revelation of last Thursday and beyond: Kavanaugh’s biggest cheerleaders insist that Ford was credible.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation process so far has also revealed just how united America is in its expectations of how women should be treated.
Many wanted to have it both ways, comparing Ford’s plight to Kavanaugh’s. “She’s as much a victim as you are,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said to Kavanaugh on Thursday.
But in so doing, they were still doing something revolutionary: “I do believe something happened to her,” Graham said Friday. He was far from the only one.
“I think the way Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh have been treated is a scandal,” agreed Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Friday. “And it is cruel, reckless and indecent.”
“I think Dr. Ford is a victim, and I think she’s been through hell and I’m very sympathetic to her,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said.
Ford was clearly “hurting and hurting mightily,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Cruz, like most of the Republicans, pinned Ford’s suffering on the Democrats. “Having her name made public against her wishes and dragged through the mud was a hurtful thing to do. It was the wrong thing to do.” (It is not clear who first revealed Ford’s name publicly.)
And it’s true none of these Republicans believed Ford’s assertion that it was Kavanaugh who had assaulted her. Obviously, the GOP’s message isn’t the same as the liberal “We Believe.”
But these men aren’t calling Ford a liar. They do not describe what happened to her as “locker room” behavior. The “boys will be boys” meme has faded away. She was not called “a little bit slutty” or “a little bit nutty.”
The acceptance of her credibility is a big win for American women. Think about the way just two years ago, Trump was voted into office after having bragged about sexually assaulting women. On Friday, Trump called Ford “compelling” and “credible.”
“She looks like a very fine woman to me. A very fine woman,” the president said. “And I thought that Brett’s testimony likewise was really something that I hadn’t seen before. Incredible. It was an incredible moment in the history of our country.”
For once, the president was right, even insightful. It was an incredible moment in the history of our country. A woman came forward to describe a decades-old sexual assault, and she was believed by those whose political side she threatened.
Kavanaugh himself refused to call Ford a liar. “I’m not questioning that Dr. Ford may have been sexually assaulted by some person in some place at some time,” he said. “But I have never done this, to her or to anyone.”
More tellingly, Kavanaugh’s defense hung on his treatment of women. “Throughout my life, I’ve devoted huge efforts to encouraging and promoting the careers of women,” he said. “I will put my record up against anyone’s, male or female.”
Many of the times Kavanaugh teared up, it was in describing his advocacy for women and the many women he counts as friends, and, most wrenchingly, his daughter’s prayers for Ford.
Even Democrats must admit that for a man who they believe treated women very poorly in high school and college, Kavanaugh seems to have made a very sharp turn in the opposite direction soon thereafter. Among his many female clerks, no one has accused him of any impropriety; in fact, they praised him for his support.
Reactions to Kavanaugh without a doubt are prima facie evidence of our divided political climate. He is either a privileged sexual abuser or a wronged martyr, depending on your tribe.
And yet Kavanaugh’s confirmation process so far has also revealed just how united America is in its expectations of how women should be treated and what constitutes crimes against them.
“Every woman who has been victimized needs to be heard,” Graham said Friday. “Count me in 1,000 times over.”
What cause for celebration.
Batya Ungar-Sargon is the opinion editor of the Forward. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Foreign Policy and other media.
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