Imagine a woman accused of a crime shows up for a Senate hearing and mostly cries and shouts about how persecuted she feels. Imagine she loses her temper several times during her opening statement, and refuses to answer yes or no questions. Imagine she evades follow-up questions by talking about how often she went to her friends’ houses and how good her grades were in high school and college. Now, imagine that a black man is accused of a crime, but when he’s asked if he’d like there to be a further investigation to clear his name, he stammers, “I’m innocent!” and “They sprung it on me!” Imagine this man repeatedly states that he liked beer when he was younger, and he still likes beer. “Do you like beer?” he interrupts one senator’s question to ask. Imagine he admits to drinking to excess, but claims to have had a clear memory of every single thing he did while he was drinking.
A woman who conducted herself in that manner couldn’t get an assistant-manager job at Forever21, let alone on the Supreme Court. A black man who behaved that way would be dragged out of the room, or worse — much, much worse. The real insult of Thursday’s Kavanaugh hearings was the contrast between Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s calm, respectful, endlessly helpful testimony and Kavanaugh’s absolute master class in white-male privilege. Here was the accused, called to vouch for his character. We should’ve seen a solemn, cautious man indicating, with his words and his demeanor, that he takes both the accusations lodged against him and his future role as a Supreme Court Justice seriously enough that he’s more than willing to submit himself to the process at hand without becoming temperamental or defensive.
Instead, what we witnessed was a man who clearly believed that he could rage, cry, joke about beer, and parade his family’s suffering before our eyes with impunity. He believed that getting into Yale Law School somehow meant that he wasn’t capable of sexual assault. The people who get into Yale are the good people, he meant. He didn’t even deign to argue that point. He just assumed that we were all on the same page. He assumed that we’d think his demeanor was casual and likable, that drinking too much only made him relatable, that yelling only meant that he had clearly been wronged, that crying meant that he was in pain and someone should pay for that. He assumed that we would join him in feeling that someone should be held accountable for bringing a man like himself so low.
GOP senators interrupted the Kavanaugh hearings repeatedly to proclaim them a disgrace. But the real disgrace here is that Brett Kavanaugh is living on an utterly different planet than most of the citizens of the United States. Kavanaugh’s alternately blundering, messy, enraged, arrogant performance gave us a close-up look at what white fragility and entitlement look like: Even when you’re accused of a serious crime, you’re the one who’s being persecuted. Even when a credible witness has identified you, onlookers should be content in the knowledge that you did regular football workouts and even had some friends who were women. (“Friends with women?! Who would befriend them? What a guy!”) Even when you’re asked about your callous remarks about a woman’s sexual history with you in a yearbook, you accuse the questioner of dragging your friend’s name through the mud. Once again, as with Trump, it’s not about what this man actually did or didn’t do. It’s about the heartless mob who would dare to drag such things into the light of day, for all to see.
The unspoken shared belief Kavanaugh was working with was that it’s a white man’s God-given right to do whatever he wants behind closed doors. The fact that anyone would call you to the carpet is the biggest crime of all. So of course you never have to express regret over being a cad or a sloppy drunk. Of course you never have to own up to your obvious lies at your previous hearing. Of course you never have to address your character or temperament in any meaningful way beyond your achievements. You never have to do more than swear to your God, a white man in the sky, when the white man in front of you asks you to do so. You just know that if the world witnesses the two of you, swearing to your white man God together, they’ll say to themselves once and for all, “Oh, these are the good ones. These are the ones who love God and get good grades and go to good schools.” Innocence and guilt are beside the point, ultimately. “Are you willing to play this part?” Senator Kennedy essentially asked. “Yes I can play this part shamelessly, with impunity, for decades to come,” Kavanaugh answered.
That’s what’s so disturbing. This man barely even had to try. He was sweaty and flushed and overwhelmed and pissed off, the way no woman gets to be ever. He was defensive and evasive and arrogant and chippy, the way no person of color gets to be. And he’s still headed for a plum lifetime position, thanks to a weaponized troop of grandstanding cretins in the GOP with no memory of Merrick Garland and no concern whatsoever for anyone outside of their tight little demographic of chuckling good old boys.
They must be right. God really must be an old white man. What else explains this catastrophe? How else did we land here?
Heather Havrilesky is a columnist for the Cut and the author of What If This Were Enough? (October 2, Doubleday).