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Opinion I hope you cried

We should apply a higher standard to Supreme Court nominees. Nobody deserves to be on the bench, says editorial board member Stephen Stromberg. (Video: Adriana Usero, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

I didn’t think I’d cry.

It has been almost a year, after all, of hearing about women who have been assaulted and must live with it for the rest of their lives, and about men who have assaulted them and are living no differently at all. And, in that year, there is a lot we’ve learned. Every accuser risks more harassment and more hurt. Society is more ready to forgive these abusers than it ever was to punish them. Americans — men, mostly — fear unseen excesses of the movement against assault more than they fear things staying miserably the same.

I’ve been angry, of course, but I hadn’t cried because, though I had learned about all this and heard about it, until today, I hadn’t really seen it.

Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, about Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assault against her, took everything we’ve confronted — and failed to confront — over the past 10 months of the #MeToo movement and brandished it right in front of us.

There was the accuser, the muscles in her throat moving with every hard swallow as she recounted how the past 36 years, for her, had been warped by what she experienced as a 15-year-old girl without even a driver’s license.

There was the harsh precision of her memory surrounding the moment of trauma — “seared in,” she said, and encased forever by a stubborn hippocampus. The narrow stairwell, the hands on her back pushing her into a bedroom and, most of all, the laughter.

There was the view Ford saw as she described what two young men did to her in the worst moments of her life: more men, a wall of them, sitting in dark suits, staring at her.

And there was the evidence of Ford’s trauma, a second front door, literally built-in to her home.

What happened on Capitol Hill on Thursday encompassed every aspect, not only of the assault stories that have become a central narrative this calendar year, but also of the system that shelters abusers for years after their crimes, even after they have been accused.

The clarity of recollection is the same clarity many survivors report experiencing after an assault, and the fuzziness of everything around that horrible moment is caused by the same frustrating mechanism of the brain that makes women doubt themselves and others doubt them. It is also what prompts those doubters to try methodically to dismantle victims’ stories, much as Republican senators did on Thursday through the mouth of their much-touted “female assistant,” sex crimes attorney Rachel Mitchell.

The view of those men in suits, too, is the same view women imagine when they wrestle with whether to report what has happened to them; the country is used to letting this slide, and the people in power are primed to disbelieve those who threaten the system that props them up.

By broadcasting all this to Americans everywhere, Thursday’s hearing made the story of assault specific and universal, all at once. Ford’s testimony attached not only a name to the narrative, but a face, open and expressive and responding in real-time; and a voice, small but carrying across the country. Her trauma became collective. It hurt that this had happened in the first place, and it hurt that she had to recount it now, under oath, to a hostile audience, with only a couple hundred milligrams of caffeine to get her through.

If what we’ve heard and learned this past year was ever going to change anything, Americans were going to have to reckon with it collectively. The Kavanaugh confirmation, it turned out, offered a rare opportunity. How we deal with any man accused of assault, no matter how famous, has always affected every single one of us. But this time, with a Supreme Court seat in question, the line between that man and women everywhere is direct as can be. The entire nation is on notice.

The outcome of the Kavanaugh confirmation is more important than ever. The damage to the alleged victim, right in front of us, feels more immediate. Christine Blasey Ford’s courage is the courage of every woman who has had to live with the trauma a man has inflicted on her, and the Senate failing to take her allegations seriously would send the message not only that her bravery doesn’t matter, but that no one else’s has or ever will.

So, yes, I cried. I hope others were crying, too.

Read more:

Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony was devastating

Opening statements from Kavanaugh and Ford reveal what a sham this hearing is

The New York Times bails on insta-credibility poll for Christine Blasey Ford

The surprising thing about Christine Blasey Ford’s story is that she fought back

Brett Kavanaugh was a model youngster. Bart O’Kavanaugh was not.