How times flies.
Within the past week, serious allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh have been made public. His accuser, professor Christine Blasey Ford, has been revealed. And after some hemming and hawing, Senate Republicans acknowledged that Ford’s claims deserve a hearing, and one is scheduled for next week.
But it’s still not certain that Monday’s hearing will actually take place. It’s also not certain that it won’t. So after a dizzying week of developments, we’re settling down to wait.
And that may be a good thing.
The allegations against Kavanaugh — that, at 17, he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old Ford while drunk at a house party — may never be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction. The new FBI investigation that Ford has requested may not provide much new information, if it even occurs. The case, such as it is, is more than 30 years old. Many critical details have been lost to time.
But the delay is still a blessing in that it provides opportunity for us to think about the larger implications of this unexpected hearing-within-a-hearing. This sexual assault allegation, coming at this time, embodies arguments about justice and gender that have been roiling for months and even years.
So what should we do while we wait? Watch. And maybe even learn.
The first group to watch would be the players: not just Kavanaugh and Ford, but the political parties behind them, as well. If you’ve wondered how much we’ve learned since the Anita Hill debacle and “Year of the Woman” backlash of the early 1990s, you’re about to get your answer.
So far, Republicans, apparently having realized the foolhardiness of ignoring such allegations, are treading carefully. In early statements, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, promised to “provide ample transparency” and “a full airing” of the allegations. But did he mean it? As the waiting begins to wear, we will know by how his party acts. Early on, it was unclear whether that surprising deference was spurred by a real interest in the truth or pure political calculation. The evidence, as the days tick by, has begun to point to the latter.
But this story extends beyond politics. This week — and the days that follow — will be an excellent time to listen to the women around us — and the men, too.
In the hours after Ford’s story became public, women began to pour out their own stories of the same sort of sexual assault. They explained why, like her, they would not have revealed it at the time but might do so now.
Alarmingly, many men have revealed something quite different. Ford must be “mixed up,” according to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried,” said one anonymous lawyer close to the White House. Some have suggested that Kavanaugh shouldn’t be judged on the basis of one act — if in fact the allegations are true — rather than a pattern of behavior. Is one assault a freebie, as long as you don’t do it again?
But there is a less risible argument making the rounds, one worth real consideration on its own merits. Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary for President George W. Bush, asked: “How much in society should any of us be held liable today when we lived a good life, [and an] arguable issue took place in high school? Should that deny us chances later in life?”
It’s reasonable to suggest that crimes of youth should not follow you to old age, that America is a place of new beginnings, that we are not who we were yesterday. But do we really believe that? Seventeen-year-olds are regularly charged as adults — but they tend to be poor and of color, not wealthy students at elite prep schools. And are all “chances” the same? Losing a chance to be seated on the highest court in the land would be a disappointment, certainly, but some things are privileges, not entitlements.
This wait is an excellent moment to take stock of how much has changed and how far we have yet to go. The #MeToo movement has advanced, but maybe it hasn’t gone far enough. And while filling a Supreme Court seat is important, there are other questions of justice that matter more. They could even reshape how we see the role.
Washington isn’t known for its habits of contemplation, but the wait for Ford and Kavanaugh might force us to change our ways. And if we allow it to, we can give some of the bigger questions the hearing they deserve.