Assuming the Worst
The ugly spectacle that was the hearing of Christine Ford and Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill on Thursday might not have revealed much about the facts of the accusation. We learned that Ford is a credible witness: she affirmed with 100% certainty, and with great emotion and distress, that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the way she has described. We also saw Kavanaugh deny unequivocally, through anger and tears, that he ever assaulted Ford or anyone. But we are left without much definitive evidence to corroborate one claim or the other. We may never have that evidence.
But the hearing revealed something much deeper about our country: it revealed how quickly we have come to assume the worst about each other, simply because we disagree politically.
It started with Congress. On the Republican side, Sen. Lindsey Graham melted down during the hearing, facing the Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee and calling their party’s behavior “the most despicable thing I’ve seen in my time in politics”. This same senator said, after the hearing, that he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh even if the allegations are true. This same senator joined the Republican blockade of Pres. Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016, which denied Garland even the courtesy of a hearing.
On the Democratic side, the misbehavior was rampant. Before any accusations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh had even been made public, Democrats were already sounding the alarm about the apocalypse that Kavanaugh’s appointment would mean for the country. Sen. Richard Blumenthal exploited the fears and trauma of the survivors of the Parkland school massacre, telling them, “Judge Kavanaugh is your worst nightmare.” Sen. Cory Booker said Kavanaugh’s supporters were complicit in evil.
I don’t know whether you take Ford’s side or Kavanaugh’s side, or any side at all, in this controversy. But based on social media commentary after the hearing, it seems like most people hold the same opinion that they did before the hearing. And that’s a shame, because Ford and Kavanaugh made equally strong claims, with little evidence to back them up. For the most part, it was two people’s testimony against each other’s.
So why are there still so many people who refuse to give any credit to the other side of the debate? This is where we see the ugly truth about what our politics has become. It is no longer enough for Americans to have honest disagreement and debate on political matters like taxes, abortion, or foreign policy. We now view each other as evil, questioning each other’s motives and character.
This trend started many years ago. Opponents of the Iraq War said, “Bush lied, people died.” They didn’t entertain the possibility that Bush was simply mistaken on the intelligence related to the war, or that he made mistakes in judgment—they jumped straight to calling him a liar. During Obama’s presidency, many on the right called him a Muslim or a socialist or claimed he was born in Kenya, none of which was true.
Is it any surprise that in the last many years in Congress we’ve seen so many party-line votes and government shutdowns and divisive hearings? If I believe my opponent is dirty or evil, what incentive do I have to compromise with him or her? If I believe my opponent is a liar, why would I want to listen to her side of the story? If I believe my opponent is stupid, why would I care about his opinion?
Americans have forgotten how to agree to disagree. We must take a step back and let our passions cool. We must remember that Brett Kavanaugh is a husband and a father of two girls, a man who is capable of crying on national TV even though he is supposed to be a stoic judge. We must remember that Christine Ford is a woman who has been through trauma that no one should have to go through, and who bravely came forward to educate the country on these types of experiences.
If our minds are made up that Kavanaugh is an entitled prep-school white man who lashed out at his hearing because he thinks a Supreme Court seat is owed to him, we’ll never give him a fair hearing. If our minds are made up that Ford is a Democratic puppet who’s either making things up or lying, we’ll never sympathize with her story. Now more than ever, we must take the advice of Pres. John F. Kennedy, who once said, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer but the right answer.”
Christine Ford and Brett Kavanaugh cannot both be correct about this allegation: it’s either true or it’s not. But on Thursday, Americans had an opportunity to listen to both sides of a sad story with an open mind. Many did not. And we have to do better. Because assuming the worst about each other is tearing our country apart.
Brad is a national organizer for the New Conservative Movement who currently lives in Grand Rapids, MI. After volunteering with Evan McMullin’s independent campaign for president in 2016, he joined with other McMullin supporters to organize the movement from the grassroots, to raise a new generation of conservative leadership.