the kavanaugh hearings

Kavanaugh: Such a Brett

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

He really is a Brett. In the midst of an endangered job interview for arguably the most prestigious job in America, Kavanaugh seemed — when he wasn’t yelling into the microphone like some kind of Will Ferrell caricature — almost gleeful about the chance to remind everyone about what a sweet bro he’d been, as if the matter under debate wasn’t whether he’d assaulted a woman back then, but just how cool he’d been.

Top in his class, and all those service projects, too — or at least that one, having to do with — he strained to remember — that time he went to a …soup kitchen, was it? Eager to point out what a good Catholic boy he’d been (virgin, even). But still able to make time for ’skis with PJ and Mark, or taking Suzanne to the movies or BEACH WEEK. (Capitalization his, from June 1982.) He liked — still really likes! — beer, beer, beer, BEER, not wine like a wimp or whiskey like some kind of a drunk! But still, he couldn’t have been drinking on a weeknight, because he’d have been lifting weights at Tobin’s house, he sneered at the Judiciary Committee, as if they were totally and uncoolly out of the loop for not knowing that he obviously would have been at Tobin’s house. (Do you even lift, bro?) He’d been to the legendary Five-Star basketball camp, and he’d played not just cornerback but also wide receiver, let’s please make sure that’s entered into the official Senate record. (Conspicuously, that stuff somehow didn’t come up when Cory Booker, an actual Division I football player, cross-examined him.) It must have been the first time in a Supreme Court nomination hearing that the judge used the phrase “busted my butt” — and he used it constantly.  Asked to describe his friend Mark Judge, he offered “popular,” a glimpse at his value system. And while he didn’t remember having ever met Christine Blasey Ford (he only socialized with girls from the Catholic sister schools, he noted, before carefully listing each acceptable institution), he was happy to explain in detail just how he’d tried out for the varsity basketball team at Yale but unfortunately only made the JV.

You perhaps saw glimpses of the teenage Brett in the way he seemed to shame that nerd Senator Whitehouse for not ever having played quarters, or the way that he lied so obviously and calmly about what “Devil’s Triangle” meant gave him the air of someone who knew exactly how to handle a prep-school disciplinary meeting. And the most breathtaking moment was when he bullied Amy Klobuchar, turning her highly relevant question about drinking to blackout around on her, moments after she’d disclosed her father’s alcoholism. It was the kind of belligerent aggression that made you think that a less supposedly mature Brett Kavanaugh might have been a nasty piece of work if you weren’t one of his friends, especially maybe a woman who wasn’t his friend. But if you are his friend, he’s gonna buy the tickets and rent the party bus.

But the most upsetting thing was just how many Bretts there seem to be in the Senate, and in the Republican base. At the risk of sounding like Ben Sasse (who, of course, will vote for Kavanaugh to be confirmed): American maleness seems to be increasingly stuck in adolescence. At least, the version inhabited by men like Kavanaugh, who — maybe by dint of coming of age in a particularly vexed era that was post-sexual-and-drug revolution, but pre–End of Men — are tin soldiers, hollow defenders of a way of life for which they themselves aren’t particularly good examples.

They (and here I am thinking also of our president, though he’s older and certainly less of a self-professed choirboy) have all the superficial trappings of masculinity — the swaggering aggression, the bombast, the interest in sports and the right women — without paying much more than lip service to what their grandfathers might have called manly virtues. The calendar made him cry — an odd thing, until you realized that what he was really doing was crying because he had unresolved feelings about his calendar-keeping father.

I know a little something about Kavanaugh’s broad demographic type. My family includes Jesuit-school athletes turned lawyers; I went to college with a lot of those guys too, including some who’d come from Georgetown Prep. It’s not the biodata itself that damns him in my eyes, since so many men who carry it carry it better, taking far different lessons from the same background. Rather, it’s his inability to see a universe beyond a high-school pecking order.

“Men and women for others” is a phrase you hear a lot during a Jesuit education. Kavanaugh, instead, seemed so narcissistically focused on his own superiority and victimhood.  What was he being robbed of, in his eyes? Well, maybe a Supreme Court appointment, but also his reputation, he stressed. But was it his judicial record he was worried about, or his reputation in his own mind? If he had done something like this, the Brett narrative, the Big Man on Campus story around which he’d built his whole personality, was flawed. And if teenage Brett wasn’t what he’d thought, what kind of man was Kavanaugh, who’d never really outgrown him?

He seemed stuck in the high-school mind-set of women as accessories, and most palatable when they were in a position to adore him, be impressed by him, bossed around by him. His mother he mentioned in his prepared remarks, but not in the live, emotionally fraught questioning. His daughter, his daughter’s basketball team, his wife, his female clerks all were mentioned by Kavanaugh in what felt like an instrumental way.

“They were laughing with each other. Two friends having a really good time with one another,” said Christine Blasey Ford, of Kavanaugh and Judge, who allegedly laughed during the assault. She felt beside the point to them even in the moment of her greatest trauma. When all the world is an elite all-boys school, after all, women — and anyone else outside the club — just don’t rate.

Kavanaugh: Such a Brett