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Brett Kavanaugh's Contagious Rage

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh gives his opening statement at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Michael Reynolds/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh gives his opening statement at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Michael Reynolds/AP)

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What is the indelible image of the Christine Blasey Ford-Brett Kavanaugh hearings? For many, it will be hard to forget Judge Kavanaugh’s display of anger, wounded pride and tears. His demeanor sharply contrasted to the sincere, even eager-to-help demeanor, of Dr. Ford. Their emotional displays echoed, at many points, the contrasting images of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill.

Thomas’s persona throughout his nomination process was an up-by-his-bootstraps moral individual. Kavanaugh was presented as someone born to sit on the highest court in the land. Throughout questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee, both memorably presented themselves in touching life narratives and as models of probity. Choir boys. Sober as a judge. Until both were accused of sexual misconduct and the mask dropped, revealing incendiary male anger barely suppressed beneath their careful façades.

In many regards, Kavanaugh followed the Clarence Thomas playbook. Like Thomas, he said he did not watch his accuser’s testimony. Like Thomas, he assailed the process as a circus and a disgrace and accused Democrats and nefarious forces on the left of monstrous conspiracy. And also like Thomas, he dropped the judicial demeanor previously on display throughout the hearing and lashed out in uncontrolled, unregulated emotion.

Thomas called his nomination process a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.” Kavanaugh called his a “hit job.” Kavanaugh’s voice was pitched at the peak of anger, veering from high dudgeon and entitlement to tears. Kavanaugh wept. He spoke of the damage to him and his family. As a nominee to the Supreme Court accused of sexual assault in the #MeToo era, he revealed himself to be filled with rage: an angry, accusatory, aggrieved and, possibly, vengeful man with unregulated emotions. Anything but sober as a judge.

Imagine if Anita Hill or Christine Blasey Ford expressed anger ... What if they had behaved with the same sense of aggrieved entitlement?

While the hearings risked re-traumatizing survivors for whom Dr. Ford’s account of sexual assault hit close to home, Brett Kavanaugh’s rage bursting into view was possibly as triggering. And he was not alone as other men piled on.

One Republican senator after another apologized to Kavanaugh for his trouble. After calling Ford an “attractive” and “pleasing” witness, Orrin Hatch told the nominee, “This is a national disgrace, the way you’re being treated.” Lindsey Graham pointed fingers, raised his voice in anger and, in strategic support of Kavanaugh’s rage, amplified it by calling the allegations “despicable.” Men egging each other on to “deny, deny” on the advice of Trump, to fight back with everything they have at the expense of a particular woman.

Imagine if Anita Hill or Christine Blasey Ford expressed anger. Imagine if they had accused powerful men, and the institutions that enabled them, in the terms Thomas and Kavanaugh used. What if they had behaved with the same sense of aggrieved entitlement?

How does the law judge women witnesses who lash out? It discounts their credibility. What will be the cost of male anger? It’s likely to be a seat on the Supreme Court. That should trigger all of us.

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Leigh Gilmore Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Leigh Gilmore is distinguished visiting professor of women’s and gender studies at Wellesley College. She is the author of “Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives.”

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