History may be written by the winners, but when it comes to the controversy over Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Republicans aren’t taking any chances. They are engaged in a concerted, organized effort to write a very particular history of that controversy, one that not only renders them blameless and casts Democrats as monstrous, but also will — I promise you — be used in the future to justify almost any abhorrent behavior Republicans may decide to engage in.
Just today, President Trump called the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh “a hoax set up by the Democrats.” While we’ve gotten used to the president both lying and trying at every turn to divide the country, you might have expected the GOP to celebrate its victory and say that after a bitter conflict it’s now time for reflection and healing.
Instead, they have turned to an instant rewriting of history.
In their telling, we have just witnessed one the most appalling crimes of the century. Kavanaugh is a saint and a martyr, their own actions were above reproach, and Democrats were so abominable, so horrifying, so pure in their hate and immorality that the misbehavior of the opposition must be everyone’s relentless focus for the foreseeable future, perhaps until we can assemble some kind of confirmation crimes tribunal to mete out appropriate punishment to the party that engaged in so much unspeakable wrongdoing.
In making this case, a few central arguments and phrases are being repeated over and over. Democrats wanted to “destroy Kavanaugh’s life,” so they formed an “angry mob,” used “smear tactics” and subverted “due process” in their maniacal pursuit of power, which just shows that it would be disastrous to allow them to win any control in Washington. Here’s how Trump put it at a rally on Saturday:
Radical Democrats launched a disgraceful campaign to resist, obstruct, delay, demolish and destroy…What [Kavanaugh] and his wonderful family endured at the hands of Democrats is unthinkable, unthinkable. In their quest for power, the radical Democrats have turned into an angry mob…They threw away and threw aside every notion of fairness, of justice, of decency and of due process, nobody’s seen anything like it. But each of you will have a chance in just four weeks to render your verdict on the Democrats’ conduct at the ballot box.
These words come up again and again. “The left’s angry mob may have lost its latest smear campaign, but we need to make sure they lose at the ballot box, too,” said the chairman of the Republican Party, Ronna McDaniel. Democrats, said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), tried “to lower the standard and say that the presumption of innocence no longer applies in the United States of America and then the mob descended on Capitol Hill and tried to intimidate our members into opposing this good man’s nomination.” Jay Cost of the National Review wrote, “a mob was what we saw in Congress over the last ten days. Demonstrators were rude, crude, and abusive.” A former Trump White House aide spoke on NPR about the troubling spectacle of “shrieking” protesters.
Let’s consider some of these ideas. First, the angry, shrieking mob. Much as Republicans such as Susan Collins complained about how awful it was that outside Democratic groups were spending money to oppose Kavanaugh, pro-Kavanaugh groups were actually spending twice as much. Republicans got the vapors seeing anti-Kavanaugh protesters actually raise their voices, including right to senators’ faces. While the anger of those (mostly female) protesters is characterized as dangerous and almost animalistic, Republicans celebrated Kavanaugh’s anger as righteous and galvanizing.
The outcome of Kavanaugh’s nomination may have been assured from the beginning, but when he delivered his unhinged rant to the Judiciary Committee — shouting down senators, spinning out partisan conspiracy theories, and generally acting like exactly the kind of petulant, entitled teenager you could easily imagine pinning a girl down and putting his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams — the GOP seemed to wake up as one, casting off the propriety and respectfulness it had carried so uncomfortably and letting loose its own anger.
Kavanaugh’s fury quickly spread to the Republican senators in the room, producing a kind of joyous wrath, and when Trump followed up by mocking Christine Blasey Ford, they rediscovered their true selves. For Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who put on a performance of rage that drew rave reviews from everyone on the right, happiness and anger are now inextricably joined. “I’m happy that those that tried to destroy his life fell short,” he told Fox News yesterday. “I’m glad those who tried to overturn the rule of law and replace it with mob rule lost. I’ve never been more pissed in my life.”
The “due process” complaint is also a curious one. Exactly what due process were Democrats trying to circumvent? Trump and other Republicans expressed horror that a man might be considered guilty until proven innocent, but what they really seemed horrified by was the idea that accusations against a powerful man might be heard at all. All along, Democrats kept demanding more due process and Republicans kept refusing. Democrats wanted to take more time to evaluate the charges against Kavanaugh; Republicans refused and insisted that the vote be taken as soon as possible. When Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) managed to gain an extra week for an FBI investigation, Republicans made sure that it would be as perfunctory as possible; just a few people were interviewed, and people who could corroborate Deborah Ramirez’s story of an alleged assault by Kavanaugh in college were ignored.
So what are we left with? When Republicans stage loud protests (such as the Tea Party), it is not only a testament to the vitality of democracy; it is also proof that they have legitimate complaints that must be addressed; when Democrats stage loud protests, they are an “angry mob” that constitutes a threat to democracy. When Republicans refuse to allow a Democratic president’s nominee to the Supreme Court to be considered and hold the seat open until a Republican president can fill it, it is just “letting the people decide.”
When Democrats take seriously credible allegations of wrongdoing by a Supreme Court nominee, his “life has been destroyed,” and his angry, rude, emotional eruption and dishonest testimony are nothing but the perfectly appropriate response of a wronged man. When the president mocks a sexual assault survivor, he is simply “stating the facts,” in the words of his press secretary. Fully investigating charges against a nominee is not due process but the destruction of due process.
And finally, all this is proof that Democrats are immoral lunatics who must not ever be allowed to hold power. This is the justification Republicans always offer for their own eagerness to set fire to rules and norms: We have to do this, because the Democrats are so awful. We didn’t want to stage a riot to stop ballots from being counted, or spread racist conspiracy theories about the president, or filibuster every bill more important than the renaming of a post office, or pass one law after another putting hurdles in front of certain people trying to vote, or any of it. Look what you made us do!
Once again, Republicans are the sorest of winners, weaving a narrative in which not only did they get the partisan justice that they wanted, but also they’re the aggrieved party and Democrats are the villains. It is a story that has become all too familiar.