By the end of this centuries-long week, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, the person, seems almost beside the point. And in fact, so does Christine Blasey Ford.
Not because Kavanaugh’s testimony Thursday was not a spitting, hysterical display of resentment at being held to account. Or that Ford’s was not a searing revelation of the lifelong costs of sexual assault.
No, it will be because the confirmation process for the next Supreme Court justice has become something much larger than both. Rather than individuals, Kavanaugh and Ford have become avatars, vectors through which Americans across the country see themselves and each other. And the way that this confirmation process ends will charge our interactions for years to come.
Even before the hearing, the conversation around the allegations and their appropriate resolution had already strayed beyond any individual story. These weren’t just personal recollections of a teenage gathering that took a dark turn; they were a political smear by unscrupulous Democrats, willing to go to any lengths to undermine President Trump. This wasn’t pushback against a story that would be almost impossible to confirm or deny; it was the embodiment of a Republican Party that was stubborn and irrational, willing to support anything or anyone for a chance to “trigger the libs” and tear down Roe v. Wade.
Ford become emblematic of the #MeToo movement, of survivors of sexual assault, of women who have felt themselves ignored, or silenced, or afraid to tell anyone about the harrowing things they had experienced. But Kavanaugh had also became larger than life -- the everyman falsely accused, a living embodiment of a certain male fear of being held to account and of women’s voices suddenly mattering as much as — or more than — their own.
“Most Americans are not watching this, right?” asked NBC commentator Megyn Kelly, during the hearings’ lunchtime recess. “Most Americans are just going about their day.”
Incorrect. As the hours of dramatic and wrenching testimony continued to unfold on Thursday afternoon, Americans watched. More than watched, they imagined themselves in either role. From a male friend, texting from his investment bank desk: “Every guy at work right now sees Brett Kavanaugh in them. I’ve never seen the floor so uncomfortable.” From a female colleague, over social media: “Ford’s deep breaths — that attempt to keep her composure — are so familiar.” From a weeping C-Span caller: “I had not brought up [my own assault] for years until I heard this testimony, and it is breaking my heart.” And from an incensed senator, fuming from a front-row seat: “This is hell.”
As we wait for a final vote, the story will continue to expand beyond the bounds of its two central characters. And it’s right that it should. Kavanaugh’s confirmation, or lack thereof, is no longer just about his character and his reputation. Ford’s testimony will have consequences -- and not just for the approval rating of the Senate, or even the legitimacy of the highest court in the land.
Because, for most of American history we have been asked — or ordered — to sympathize with the Kavanaughs of the world, and to see our country through their eyes. But in the weeks to come, it’s the Fords to whom we owe our attention and our concern.
This is about whether men are entitled to seats of power because they have gone to the right schools and held the right jobs.
This is about whether the stories of women can be brushed aside.
This is about whether one’s past should affect one’s present, and whether what is best for the country matters more than partisan goals.
And by the end of next week, it will be about whether the truth matters at all.