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The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away

Sexual assault is such a nuisance, not only, but especially, for Republicans.

Here’s the Wall Street Journal editorial board, attempting, with gentlemanly politeness, to dispense with Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation against SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh as quickly as possible:

“Yet there is no way to confirm her story after 36 years, and to let it stop Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation would ratify what has all the earmarks of a calculated political ambush.

“This is not to say Christine Blasey Ford isn’t sincere in what she remembers.” But . . .

“The vagaries of memory are well known, all the more so when they emerge in the cauldron of a therapy session to rescue a marriage. Experts know that human beings can come to believe firmly over the years that something happened when it never did or is based on partial truth. Mistaken identity is also possible.”

We respect your sincerity, Ma’am, but please get out of our way. We can’t let unreliable lady memories complicate matters. We’re pushing a serious political agenda here. And besides, if this alleged rape attempt by two drunk teenage boys was such a big deal, why did you keep it to yourself for 30+ years?

This is politically motivated obtuseness, which I don’t believe for a moment. That is to say, I think any journalist has enough awareness of the human condition to grasp the complex trauma that rape or attempted rape could inflict on a child, and that internalizing a traumatic incident rather than blabbing about it is hardly unusual.

I also think every journalist is aware that these matters aren’t simply individual issues – separate, discrete, unrelated incidents – but that a culture of sexual abuse and male domination has always been the American norm, creating conditions in which a female would know that she has one sensible option: Keep the incident to herself or risk further humiliation. Excuse me, Wall Street Journal editorial board, but have you read any of the accounts about the prevalence of rape in the U.S. military, and of the consequences the victim often faces if she reports an assault to her commanding officer?

And the elite boys’ high school Kavanaugh attended in the 1980s may well have had a military-esque atmosphere, at least regarding male sexuality and what it means to “come of age” in the American social context of winning and losing. Boys are left to figure out their sexuality all by themselves. And girls are the enticing “other” it is their job to conquer.

Thus: “Kavanaugh physically pushed me into a bedroom as I was headed for a bathroom up a short stairwell from the living room. They locked the door and played loud music precluding any successful attempt to yell for help. Kavanaugh was on top of me while laughing with (his companion, Mark Judge), who periodically jumped onto Kavanaugh. They both laughed as Kavanaugh tried to disrobe me in their highly inebriated state. With Kavanaugh’s hand over my mouth I feared he may inadvertently kill me.”

This is the accusation the Republicans are stuck with, against their right-wing, anti-Roe.-vs.-Wade Supreme Court nominee. Dismiss it though they might – the whole thing is an attempt by the Dems to create “an election-eve #MeToo conflagration,” the Journal editorial put it – Ford’s accusation has credibility.

Indeed, it has so much credibility that more than 200 women (including actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who graduated from Ford’s alma mater, Holton-Arms, an all-female college prep school in Bethesda, Md., have signed a letter in support of her claims:

“We believe Dr. Blasey Ford and are grateful that she came forward to tell her story,” the letter reads, as reported on Huffington Post. “It demands a thorough and independent investigation before the Senate can reasonably vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to a lifetime seat on the nation’s highest court.”

The accusation is “all too consistent with stories we heard and lived while attending Holton. Many of us are survivors ourselves.”

And there it is, coming forward at a time when national awareness is shifting, when male sexual domination is suddenly, you might say, naked in public. People see it for what it is. The Kavanaugh supporters, in order to make the whole thing go away, are attempting to reduce the allegation to a “he said, she said” situation, free of credibility and context and, for all anyone knows, politically motivated. But it resonates, for too many people, as part of a larger truth that simply cannot be ignored any longer and should, at the very least, be investigated outside of a political context.

If Kavanaugh is implicated, his best defense is that he was just a kid – immature, reckless, coming of age. I’m all for forgiveness, for allowing people to learn from their mistakes and to atone for the harm they have caused. This requires facing what they have done.

It also requires facing the irony that only some Americans get a chance to move past their mistakes. As Josh Rovner writes at The Atlantic:

“Yet the repercussions many young people — particularly low-income youth of color — might face for the kind of conduct described by Ford are far more severe than a failed nomination. Our current laws and practices ensure that adolescent mistakes have lifelong consequences.”

This is the prison-industrial complex in operation, spawned in the ’80s and ’90s by militarized police forces, zero tolerance and various domestic “wars” that allow wholesale arrest and imprisonment (as adults) of young people of color.

“Kids who grow up like Kavanaugh,” Rovner writes, “— white kids whose parents can afford prep school tuition and, presumably, the services of a good lawyer — rarely experience prolonged contact with the criminal-justice system. Society gives them the benefit of the doubt and takes seriously their protestations of innocence. But most kids don’t grow up like Kavanaugh.”

So what a nuisance that this accusation has wrapped its claws around his Supreme Court nomination and the agenda he would bring to the national order.

The times they are a-changing. Or so I hope.

More articles by:

Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

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