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There’s so much bald-faced lying going on among Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee that the media needs to stop accepting this condition as normal and “to penetrate that lie.” That’s the view of Lawrence O’Donnell, a self-proclaimed mainstream socialist who isn’t afraid of controversy, a man who has worked in a number of roles inside the American political/cultural machine. Besides his nightly show on MSNBC, he was an aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then for years he was a writer/producer on a fictional TV show, The West Wing. He even acted on the show as the president’s father in flashbacks; he played an attorney on the HBO show Big Love. These days, politics and culture are irretrievably mixed up.
Imagination is a tool given to each and every one of us by either God or Nature, depending on your choice of metaphor for the abiding Great Mystery. To accept the idea of imagination as a tool useful “to penetrate” a wall of dishonesty one has to first accept the idea that memories are not fact, that memory is actually nothing but the imagining, or re-imagining, of experience filed somewhere in the brain as micro electro-chemical charges. Somehow, the brain takes orders and responds to provocations and turns these filed records into re-imagined words, sounds and pictures — a virtual theater of the mind. Of course, trained psychologists can explain this better than I can. I’m only a trained writer. Once one accepts the idea that memory is not a pure copy of reality, the issue quickly becomes the integrity and credibility of the person doing the imagining.
Thanks to things like the Vietnam War, there’s been a lot of research on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So we know how really scary events can get locked up in remote parts of the nervous system, which means they never made it to the proper filing cabinet in the brain and they sometimes trigger unexpected flashbacks. Counseling helps re-direct these improperly-stored records to the proper filing location in the central brain. The point is the exact same incident can mean wholly different things to different people.
A lot of synapses went off in my brain when I heard about the charges of attempted rape leveled at Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a 51-year-old research-oriented professor of psychology in California. Dr. Blasey (who chooses to be known by her maiden name only) says she was so traumatized at age 15 by the sexual assault she experienced 36 years ago that it negatively affected her life for many years. Given she works in the area of trauma, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the sexual assault she tells of kicked off her own psychological education — in the spirit of the ancient adage, know thyself. Six years ago with her husband (they have two sons), she went into counseling and, because the assault involved a powerful person, she submitted to a lie-detector test administered by an experienced FBI agent, a test she passed with flying colors.
Meanwhile, Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh insists the teenage incident never happened. Republican senators like Orin Hatch suggest Dr. Blasey is mistaken, that her memory is flawed and it was someone else who attempted to rape her — even though she says she knew Kavanaugh slightly at the time and he says he was aware of her socially. Dr. Blasey is eager to be interviewed by the FBI, while Kavanaugh and his Republican patrons seem desperate and even scared for him to be interviewed by the FBI. Of course, all these people (including Dr. Blasey) are well aware lying to the FBI is a federal crime. Do the math: If the incident never happened one would think Kavanaugh would want an FBI investigation. The question is, can and will senate Republicans cynically push this suddenly vulnerable nomination through on a purely partisan vote when such a telling character issue has been raised about a man who will rule for life on the rights of women? Are they that corrupted?
As a journalist trained in fiction writing, I’m legally able to use my imagination as a tool to “penetrate the lie.” Since Judge Kavanaugh and Senate Judiciary Committee members are all “public figures,” Sullivan vs. The New York Times gives me the right to cut loose from the Sergeant Joe Friday rule, “Only the facts, ma’am.” Given the degree of secrecy everywhere in our culture that intentionally frustrates the search for truth, approaching a story this way sometimes makes sense. Instead of facts and footnotes, use pattern recognition and metaphor. Suggest rather than proclaim. Encourage the reader to get his or her own imagination involved. It’s amazing how secrecy barriers and dishonesty can be leaped over in a single bound.
Let’s take Dr. Blasey’s story as she presented it in a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein and attempt to fairly reconstruct the incident using personal experiences and other material as aides. The point is to create a plausible version of the story from the point of view of two young males who, as adults, can’t seem to remember an event so vividly remembered by Dr. Blasey. I wonder why? Before I was a 71-year-old aging male, I too was a horny young male who, truth be known, has done some less-than-honorable things, especially when he frolicked with young prostitutes as a teenage US soldier serving his country in the Vietnam War. I didn’t force them or hurt them; I exploited them for my own pleasure. Guilty! Retired federal Judge Nancy Gertner, a mother who raised two teenage boys, told The New York Times: “Teenage boys are nuts.” Despite the mother-love irony evident in that remark, it feels right to me. In 1965, when that recruiter saw me walk in the door, he saw gold.
When the Kavanaugh sexual assault story broke, two things immediately popped into my mind.
First was an erotic scene from a wonderful Mexican film some years back, Y Tu Mama Tambien. The scene in question is at the end of the movie, which is about two teenage boys and a mid-twenties woman who I recall had cancer. The story is of a wild trip to the beach. The boys and the woman become more and more entangled, until the closing scene where the boys are fondling the woman up and down her body in such a state of mindless erotic reverie they end up fondling each other. They are so horrified and shamed by this erotic spin-off, when they get back to Mexico City they agree to never see each other again. For an earlier scene that gives the flavor of the last scene, click here. Of course, the woman in this threesome is very willing, a very key distinction from Dr. Blasey’s story of attempted rape. The point is about the arousal of teenage boys who are nuts.
The second thing that popped into my mind was a story from my high school days in the redneck truck-farming area just above the Keys. A recent emigrant from suburban New York state, I was very much not part of the insider, cool gang, though I was on the periphery of it and a bit of a “bad boy” — caught by Dean Harris smoking in the boys room and all that. Lots of raging hormones and no place to go. I must have skipped half of my senior year joining friends surfing on South Beach in Miami Beach. We had a contest to see who could forge Dean Harris’ scrawl, and I won. Someone had stolen a stack of the little forms one had to carry around to each class for the teacher to initial so your absence would be accepted. I signed a stack of them, and we’d distribute them to anyone who needed one. Since it was all bogus, at the end of the day we just tossed the initialed form away and no one was the wiser. It worked like a charm. On a day I did not make the South Beach run, the event occurred, so my memory is based on a second-hand story. The next day, I learned what happened from a girl in study hall. The Most Cool Kid (think Johnny Depp) had gotten hooked up on the beach with a young hotty on vacation from Manhattan. My friend told me a flat place was dug out in the sand and covered with towels and things to make a tent. This was so Most Cool Kid could have sex with Manhattan Hotty. Of course, everyone was drinking. The girl in study hall was quite disturbed and disgusted by the event, so her re-construction of the memory was articulated in veiled language. The picture I got was of a semi-public event of raw sex in the blazing sun. She made a distasteful face when she told of several kids (all cool insiders I knew) who got so worked up they were masturbating. I was glad I hadn’t been there. The point is, as in the film Y Tu Mama Tambien, teen lust can become so contagious and so out of control it breaks the bounds of normal decorum and discipline. Under the sway of such compelling arousal, it should not shock anyone that drunk teenage boys might very easily turn into attempted rapists.
It’s like a cocky but naïve teenager behind the wheel of an automobile. Here’s a personal example: I was once driving my dad’s Volkswagen bug and for some reason decided to whip the wheel back and forth so the little car would go this way and that way. At first, it was lots of fun, maneuvering the thing back and forth. Then, it got out of control and I ended up — fortunately! — braking in the grassy space between trees in an avocado grove. As the good judge said: “Teenage boys are nuts.”
Now get a spoon and stir into this hybrid stew the fact that Kavanaugh’s prep school friend, Mark Judge, published a 1997 memoir called Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk in which he describes a character named Bart O’Kavanaugh as so drunk “he puked in someone’s car” and “passed out on his way back from a party.” That’s not evidence of anything, but it’s really interesting. In 2015, Judge penned an article for SpliceToday on the noir publisher Hard Case Crime, a well-known collection of dark, pulpy paperbacks that hark back to the days of Mickey Spillane, who ended his famous novel I, the Jury by having his PI Mike Hammer shoot a woman in the guts with a .45.
“Her eyes had pain in them now, the pain preceding death. Pain and unbelief.
“ ‘How c-could you?’ she gasped.
“I only had a moment before talking to a corpse, but I got it in.
“ ‘It was easy,’ I said.
“Hard Case Crime is more than nostalgia,” Mr. Judge tells us. “It reinvigorates the idea that male passion is good and beautiful. In the age where fights are waged by texting and belching gets one sent to sensitivity training, this is no small thing.” Then there’s this interesting item: “Of course, a man must be able to read a woman’s signals, and it’s a good thing that feminism is teaching young men that no means no and yes means yes. But there’s also that ambiguous middle ground, where the woman seems interested and indicates, whether verbally or not, that the man needs to prove himself to her. And if that man is any kind of man, he’ll allow himself to feel the awesome power, the wonderful beauty, of uncontrollable male passion.”
For several years a while back I was on a personal jag about dark noir fiction. I liked the bleak, down-and-out stuff reeking of existential angst. One of my favorite course in college was Existentialism and The Bible. I read some of the noir classic by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, James M. Cain. I attended several conferences on noir fiction. I had a special interest in Philadelphian David Goodis, whose low-key, pulpy books are the opposite of those Judge likes. Goodis’ characters are classic can’t-get-it-together schlemiels that have nothing to do with “the wonderful beauty of uncontrollable male passion.” Goodis’ men are violent for other reasons, mainly because they’re losers trying to survive in violent and desperate circumstances. I’d say Judge’s interests are on the political right in what I’d describe as masculinist narratives, some even would qualify as masculinist propaganda. Goodis is more focused on the underdog and, thus, to the political left. Noir writing covers the entire political waterfront.
I would submit Matt Judge’s reverie on the beauty of uncontrollable male passion may have a lot to tell us about the incident between two 17-year-old elite Catholic all-boys-school friends and an attractive 15-year-old girl in a bathing suit from an all-girls prep school — all three apparently at a pool party for a small number of kids in a suburban Maryland home with no adults present. Christine Blasey — now 51-year old Doctor Blasey-Ford — revealed her story in a letter sent to Senator Dianne Feinstein. Here’s some of it:
The assault occurred in a suburban Maryland area home at a gathering that included me and four others.
Kavanaugh physically pushed me into a bedroom as I was headed for a bathroom up a short stair well 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 [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.
From across the room a very drunken [Mark Judge] said mixed words to Kavanaugh ranging from “go for it” to “stop.”
At one point when [Mark Judge] jumped onto the bed the weight on me was substantial. The pile toppled, and the two scrapped with each other. After a few attempts to get away, I was able to take this opportune moment to get up and run across to a hallway bathroom. I locked the bathroom door behind me. Both loudly stumbled down the stair well at which point other persons at the house were talking with them. I exited the bathroom, ran outside of the house and went home.
Kavanaugh gave a speech a few years back at his alma mater Georgetown Preparatory School in which, to great laughter, he said, “What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep. That’s been a good thing for all of us, I think.”
It’s interesting — and further evidence of something fishy — that when Judge Kavanaugh submitted that speech to the Senate Judiciary Committee he edited out that material. Some senator should ask Kavanaugh why he did that.
In the psychological literature, sexual assault is right up there with war-related memories when it comes to traumatic events that have an amazing hold on a person throughout their life, especially those who are young, inexperienced and unprepared for some rude event that suddenly hits you hard out of the blue. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone, or seem at all fabricated for political purposes, that a female (or a male abused by, let’s say, a priest) would hold onto a memory like this and, after 36 years, be compelled to speak out when the drunk boy who she felt made a fumbling attempt to rape her was nominated for the United States Supreme Court. I know that would really stick in my craw. I also know why, if Dr. Blasey’s story is true, the two boys might not be able to remember the event and want to change the subject. To gild the lilly, Judge Kavanaugh was nominated by a president who is on record as gloating over the grabbing of woman by the “pussy”.
I imagine the most embarrassing aspect of this 36-year-old story harks back to the two stories I told above, the one from Y Tu Mama Tambien and the one of high school sex on Miami Beach. It’s the idea of two boys from an all-boys school experiencing their male sexuality like a new driver at the wheel of a runaway automobile. A significant moment in the story is how 15-year-old Christine is able to get loose from the humping boys and escape, to lock herself in a bathroom as the drunken, laughing boys slip down the stairs. It’s a giggling Mark Judge jumping on top of his friend who is trying to yank off Christine’s bathing suit as he roughly muffles her screams. With the closing scene from Y Tu Mama Tambien as metaphor and considering Judge’s interests in “the wonderful beauty of uncontrollable male passion,” one probably should ask: How much of this is un-perceived male eroticism? I’m not accusing anyone of being closeted; just sex in the teenage mind is complicated and sometimes “uncontrollable”. The two Mexican boys realize this and it ends their friendship; they learn that males can sexually reinforce each other’s masculine energy as they focus together on a female.
Think about it. Take your own imagination out for a spin and think about it. Who has more credibility in this sordid story? Is anyone surprised Brett Kavanaugh (not Bart O’Kavanaugh) and Mark Judge would respond like Sergeant Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes: “I remember nothing!” It’s a crime to lie to a Senate hearing, but “I don’t remember” is a safe life preserver to hold onto, especially when Senate Republicans are running interference and looking the other way. It’s clearly a case of powerful men fearful of losing their power. The word for it is corruption, something that thoroughly permeates Washington DC these days.
Then there’s Kavanaugh’s work with the prudish Ken Starr on putting together lurid material on President Bill Clinton’s sexual peccadilloes. Kavanaugh was apparently quite eager and good at assembling all that. The hypocrisy, of course, seems monumental. But, then, hypocrisy has long ago lost its sting in the swamp of corruption American citizens find themselves in. Consider Orin Hatch, a senator on the judiciary committee in 1991 whose questions (more like oily articulated assumptions) of Anita Hill feel obscene in 2018. It reminds me of the corrupt stench that comes out of my poorly-understood composter whenever I open it to drop in fresh vegetable scraps; I have been a poor steward of my composter the same way the Republicans are poor stewards of the US Congress. The smell is horrible. Why would anyone believe such people?
It’s not that Brett Kavanaugh couldn’t man up and, with just a little backbone, concede he did foolish things as a young prep school teenager. That way, he and his patrons wouldn’t be so fearful of an FBI interview. At the beginning there was a way out of the vice he’s gotten himself into. Sure, honesty is always risky, and it might mean not being seated for life on the Supreme Court. But he would be an honorable man who could look his two daughters in the eye for the rest of his life. This way, he may slither his way onto the Supreme Court, but he will lose dignity and honor. I feel one thing is certain: this story isn’t going away.
Like the stain that has followed Clarence Thomas’ cynical installation as the replacement for civil rights giant Thurgood Marshall, if Judge Kavanaugh gets to the Supreme Court, his legacy will carry a lifetime stench like that rot that wafts up out of my corrupted composter.