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Losing Respect for Our Institutions

Terry H. Schwadron

Sept. 22, 2018

Outcome of any still pending showdown between accuser and defender in the Supreme Court confirmation aside, the losers already are clear. There will be no winners, there only will be differing versions of shame and regret which our society must bear.

The circumstances of this confirmation chicken game keep moving every few hours. It seemed equally possible that that the Senate committee’s Republican majority will simply ignore the accusation altogether or that there will be a dramatic turn in the actual confirmation vote on the Senate floor.

We can only hope that we learn something from the awfulness that grinds on now, though we don’t seem to have gotten very far in believing women much more than we as a society accepted Anita Hill’s recollection over those of Clarence Thomas.

· Both Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, and the nominee are being hounded by partisan nastiness that seems to know no limits. Republican senators and the president are showing that they do not believe reports of women, or worse, care.

· Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Democrats are losing in the public wars even as promoting Blasey Ford’s case in some kind of weird attack for making an already enflamed partisan confirmation matter yet more political, and for leaving themselves open to a charge of holding onto the allegation until late in the confirmation game — even for very good reasons — and then, somehow, letting the accuser’s name leak.

· The 11 Republican male senators who are the majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee are clearly guilty of lacking anything close to empathy, and worse, appearing to put partisanship in front of truth. Just to underscore that they recognize the charge that they are gender cavemen, they are talking about hiring a woman prosecutor to ask questions at any hearing still to come. Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader told a conservative values conference not to worry, Kavanaugh indeed will be confirmed. — hearing or not.

· President Trump, who apparently struggled mightily to stay out of the fray for a couple of days, definitely loses in this deal by slipping and publicly showing himself again to be a boor who can’t understand that a sexual assault on a 15-year-old might not have resulted in immediate calls to law enforcement. It is clear he has learned nothing from the problems that the Catholic Church has faced from priest-abused children coming forward only decades later.

· But, sadly, other than women’s rights in general, perhaps the biggest loser here is institutional respect — for the Senate, for the presidency, for the FBI’s reticence, for the constant talk on cable news, and for the Supreme Court, which is poised with Kavanaugh or any equivalent conservative, to act to radically undo a number of laws and rulings using the shield of originalist interpretation of the Constitution. It is exactly this loss of respect that will create permanent values rifts in the U.S. psyche as decisions on abortion, civil rights, affirmative action, immigration and presidential power move to the front of the court agenda.

If there is a sham hearing with no attempt to bring in witnesses or relevant testimony beyond she said, he said, the outcome is already known. Impatient Republican senators will simply say tut-tut, and push through the confirmation. If Blasey Ford somehow proves so persuasive to draw senators’ sympathy, it is always possible that Kavanaugh will withdraw, but the chances of that happening feel remote.

If senators were interested in truth-finding, they would invite or subpoena the Kavanaugh friend whom Blasey Ford put in the still-undisclosed room where the assault took place. They would have asked the FBI to see what patterns there were from beyond the nominee himself. They might even look at the polling that shows more of the American public believes what they already have heard from Blasey Ford than they do of the judge who was often less than forthcoming during his confirmation hearing on various questions.

Personally, I like the alternative route of asking the Maryland state attorney general to open a criminal investigation in a state without a statute of limitations on sexual assaults. That was not Blasey Ford’s intention in coming forward, but it may be the only way to show just how absurd this situation has become.

The politicians involved here eventually may meet their come-uppance, whether in November or upon their own individual re-election campaigns. The cable television hosts will find some other topic to weigh in on — regardless of whether they have any actual information before they speak (Note to cable hosts: Please learn what your news divisions do before you start yapping). Switching among CNN, MSNBC and Fox programs has been strange enough as to wonder if they are even discussing the same case.

While nothing seems to dampen the enthusiasm of Trump supporters, the prospects of having Trump crow over a Supreme Court justice with sexual assault allegation hanging over his head seems to add to a building pile of negatives for the president, himself a target of sexual complaints from a number of women.

Whatever the Supreme Court does next is going to demand a great deal of politics, internally and externally. If there are votes among the nine justices to support overturning much of Roe v. Wade, as just one example, the justices are facing a task of selling their logic to an America that is not as conservative as the court itself may reflect.

The handling of this 36-year-old sexual assault claim, straight-forward as it may be from either point of view, should frighten anyone who is looking forward to building acceptance of decisions from such a court. An adverse abortion decision will be based on nominations of two judges from a president who holds only disdain for sexual assault allegations, and from at least two justices who will have been through public hearings of sexual harassment or assault charges.

Republicans are not looking at the long term — only the next seven weeks to elections. No wonder we are losing yet more respect for our institutions.


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Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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