Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on Thursday. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Columnist

This column has been updated.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said the appalling final day of testimony on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh was the most “embarrassing scandal for the United States Senate since the McCarthy hearings.”

That’s putting it mildly.

Patriotic Americans: We are on our own. Patriotic Americans — by which I mean those of us who are not willing to drag down the temple of our nation in hopes of crushing our ideological foes in the rubble — appear to have few remaining representatives in Washington. Especially with solution-seeking Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) heading for the exits.

If the United States’ worst enemies had schemed to design a more divisive, more demoralizing, more hurtful episode, they could not have done so. And no single party or faction could fail so spectacularly on its own.

Where to begin? The blame is so complete and sweeping, it runs in a vast circle. But I’ve got to start somewhere, so I’ll begin with Senate Democrats.

Whoever decided during the summer that the important and compelling testimony of research psychologist Christine Blasey Ford should be held back — apparently as a potential delaying tactic — rather than put forward promptly when it came in was no friend of victimized women. That decision, however it was arrived at, assured that Ford’s traumatic memory would become just another political wedge in a country that is already coming apart at the seams.

In one of the many thoughtful and moving moments of Ford’s testimony, she explained the anguish she felt in deciding whether to bring her personal pain to the attention of people in authority. She was “wondering whether I would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed anyway, and that I would just be personally annihilated.” If she is not, in fact, annihilated — if she is only deeply injured and disillusioned — it will be no thanks to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and her staff, in whom Ford placed her trust.

The only plausible explanation for the late leaking of Ford’s name to the press is that Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee hoped to reopen the official background investigation of Kavanaugh, and with a little luck find something incriminating. Even if the FBI found nothing more than the committee already knew, every fishing expedition takes some time, and with the midterms approaching Democrats believe time is their friend. I say this is the only plausible explanation because the excruciating hearing went on for nine hours Thursday without any better explanation being offered by Feinstein, the ranking Democrat, and company.

In the great circle of blame and shame, the Democrats justify this by noting that regular order and mutual respect were already dead in the Supreme Court confirmation process. If, as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) thundered (in the opening salvo of his next presidential campaign), the Democratic delay was a naked power grab, it was no more naked than the brazen refusal by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to hold hearings and allow a vote on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland during the final year of the Obama administration.

This was not the first time the Senate treated the third branch of our constitutional government as a cheap political pawn. But it was a cold and small-minded example of placing party over country.

In Garland, President Barack Obama chose a classic example of a bipartisan nominee. Understanding that his presidency was nearing its end, and the opposing party controlled the Senate, he offered a moderate jurist of relatively advanced age who could be counted on to find the center of a divided court for a relatively short term.

But in this case, with the Senate failing America across the board, this was a moment for the president to play a unifying role. But then came reports out of the White House that President Trump was delighted with Kavanaugh’s shocking transformation from Fox News choirboy earlier in the week to the sneering, contemptuous lout who appeared before the Judiciary Committee.

I don’t blame Kavanaugh for being angry. Despite his appearance under pressure as a belligerent in a barroom, it remains true that Ford’s allegation is unproven. But it is possible to defend oneself with dignity. Clarence Thomas was plenty steamed as he answered Anita Hill’s accusations in 1991. But he did so with far more composure and respect for our institutions than bratty Brett.

Finally, the press. The utterly unsubstantiated last-minute allegations peddled by grandstanding lawyer Michael Avenatti should never have seen the light of day with any reputable publication or news program. The unfairness to Kavanaugh was obvious enough, but forcing Ford to appear under the shadow of Avenatti was yet another injury done to a woman who appears to have suffered more than enough.

What is a patriotic American to do in such a roaring vacuum of leadership? It’s hard not to weep. Somehow, we must demand better.

Read more from David Von Drehle’s archive.