America the Delusional: Lies and the Kavanaugh Hearings

Did Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assault Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in 1982? The Democrat base is convinced Kavanaugh is lying; the Republican base is convinced Ford is lying. They’re convinced of this because the two parties and their constituents no longer trust each other to act in good faith. As well they might, because good faith can’t flourish in a society where deceit and self-deception not only abound but are excused, and even Christians try to justify lies according to some greater good. All Kavanaugh’s and Ford’s testimonies revealed is that our culture has lost its soul in a web of lies and politically convenient myths.

The Revenge of Subjectivism

The only people who really know what happened at that party 36 years ago are Ford, Kavanaugh, and writer Mike Judge. There were no cameras present to record every moment; even today, when camera-ready cell phones seem omnipresent, many social transactions manage to escape posterity. Even if we grant the memories of assault victims don’t undergo change or degradation, there’s no link or port to our limbic systems to which we can hook up a thumb drive or a USB cable and download our minds. All three have potential motives for telling the truth and for lying. Both sides have spent plenty of man-hours poking holes in their stories.

Call it “the revenge of subjectivism”: In the absence of objective facts, and even in absence of agreement whether objective facts exist and are knowable, credibility becomes uselessly self-referential. What’s “true” for you isn’t necessarily what’s “true” for me; the standards of credibility are whatever you choose. Nobody has to believe either Kavanaugh or Ford, especially if doing so conflicts with your view of The Way the World Really Is. The essence of subjectivism is that my preference/desire/need to believe X trumps all facts and logic which say not-X is true. They can’t be “facts” or “logic” if they disrupt my worldview or self-image.

And if you disagree with me, you’re defective. You’re stupid or biased or misogynist or hysterical or internalizing the oppressor or yadda-yadda-yadda. What’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me, but what’s true for me better darn well be true for you, too!

Consequently, the testimonies of Ford and Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee were non-events. She was emotional but calm and direct. He was passionate and persuasive. Grilled by prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, Ford’s testimony didn’t meet the “preponderance of evidence” standard of a civil trial. Lobbed softballs by the Committee, Kavanaugh was combative and often evasive, not of a judicial temperament. Few minds and hearts were changed; many were insulted and outraged. The game-changer turned out to be Sen. Jeff Flake, who was buttonholed in an elevator by two assault victims. Otherwise, it was a sideshow and a Senatorial pose-a-thon.

Politics at Its Ugliest

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s mismanagement of the Ford accusation has done female sexual assault victims no favors. Rachel Lu argues that “it was a textbook case of putting process over principle, cynically using a woman’s traumatic sexual experiences in the manner most likely to gain a tactical advantage.” Jonathan V. Last contends that the discord sowed by the slow-walk “makes it harder for women to bring assault claims.” Indeed, I’ve already seen one article advising right-wing parents how to protect their sons against the wicked lies of scheming feminists. “So congratulations, Sen. Feinstein,” snarled Jonah Goldberg, “you’ve done the unimaginable: You’ve made our politics even uglier.”

But Feinstein is not alone in trading on women’s sexual trauma. Third-wave feminism feeds like a vampire on the pain and anger of female victims. As I reported a couple of years ago, men are more frequently the targets of sexual assault (and women are more often the aggressors) than official reports and conventional wisdom would lead us to believe. Same-sex assaults are also underreported. However, neither of these facts are convenient to the feminist narrative of the “war on women,” so they’re roundly ignored or dismissed: “We’re not talking about you.” Only women victimized by men count because they prop up the patriarchy bogeyman.

To be sure, Republicans have by no means conducted themselves blamelessly in the process. In fact, the verbal abuse of Dr. Ford by some nominally Christian right-wingers, in a perhaps more civilized age, would have merited the cads a horsewhipping or led to a call for pistols at twenty paces. And Pres. Trump’s mockery of Ford and the #MeToo movement was despicable, a new low for an Administration that’s already a global embarrassment and an historical nadir. In their zeal to protect Judge Kavanaugh’s reputation and ram through his nomination, few GOP senators have shown any respect or concern for Ford or her family.

“In saner times,” harrumphed the New York Times, “the Senate would have paused in its mad rush to confirm Judge Kavanaugh when the first credible allegations of sexual assault surfaced.” But these are not saner times. The credibility of all the allegations is in doubt precisely because Feinstein, a Democrat, withheld revelation of the first one until the confirmation process had moved into the public phase. It was an act of bad faith that displays the rampant distrust the two parties feel for each other. But it also shows that the truth of the allegation mattered less than its political effect.

Kavanaugh and Caesar’s Wife

I wish I could wholeheartedly believe either Ford or Kavanaugh. If this were a felony trial and I was a juror, I couldn’t say with confidence that the evidence is sufficient to meet the test of “beyond reasonable doubt.” The test it does meet, though, is the “Caesar’s wife” rule; no one, no matter how exemplary their character might be, is entitled to a SCOTUS seat. Trump probably already has another potential nominee in the on-deck circle, and the Democrats have little real hope of keeping Kennedy’s seat open until Trump leaves office.

Does that mean it will only take one uncorroborated allegation to ruin a person’s life? That’s all it has ever taken. It’s horrible that so many victims get no justice because people don’t believe them. However, men have been imprisoned, executed, and even lynched on accusations alone; read up sometime on the French Reign of Terror. That’s why the Church considers rash judgment and calumny sins against the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2477; cf. Exodus 20:16, Deuteronomy 5:20).

Again, though, we don’t really know the truth about what happened that night, so we have no real right to claim certainty of either Kavanaugh’s guilt or Ford’s dishonesty. In saner times, we might have been willing to admit our ignorance and bid both plaintiff and defendant go in peace. But these are not saner times. It’s a morality play, and Ford and Kavanaugh have become avatars, symbolic devil-figures—the Lying Liberal Feminist and the Privileged White Male—drawn from the mythologies of mutually antagonistic secular cults. Ideology has replaced religion as the opiate of the masses.

A Nation of Liars

As St. Thomas Aquinas observed, it’s impossible for people to live with one another unless they can trust that each other is telling the truth. That trust is radically absent because we are a nation of liars, and our government—including our Liar-in-Chief, Donald Trump—is exactly the government we deserve. We lie to ourselves; we lie to others; we accuse as liars those who don’t tell us the lies we prefer to believe; we create rationalizations which make lying not only acceptable but praiseworthy, even expected. Writes Dr. Gregory Jantz, with no little irony:

As a nation, we’re accustomed to being lied to. In some ways, we’ve come to expect it. We’re also accustomed to lying and, it appears, we’re passing this trait along to our kids. A recent ethics study among teenagers found that 48% of boys and 35% of girls lied to save money and 80% lied to a parent about something significant. Of course, it was difficult to get completely accurate numbers because 25% admitted they’d lied on at least one or two of the survey questions—they lied about lying. There was a silver lining—92% of them felt satisfied about their personal ethics and character. Our kids may lie but at least they’ve learned to still feel good about themselves.

There’s no happy ending here. No one is going to win. It’s become less important that justice be done than that people believe themselves to be crusaders for justice. It’s become less important that the truth be told than that people have their self-interests served, their self-images protected, and their self-righteousness confirmed. These are not saner times, because sanity recognizes truth. Welcome to America the Delusional.