How do you know that white male privilege survives the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in the wrenching Brett Kavanaugh hearings?
Here’s how: It’s when the backlash occurs simultaneously with the frontlash; when, after a moment of worrying about a woman attacked, we’re asked to worry more about a man accused; when the president gives a moment of respect to that woman, Dr. Ford, as “very fine” and “compelling,” but not as much as he gives to that man, Kavanaugh, who is so “very special,” the likes of whom Trump has never encountered.
And when the president, before a wildly approving audience at a rally in Mississippi — in support of a woman candidate, no less — mocks Ford mercilessly, in a mincing, high voice, answering “upstairs, downstairs, I don’t know” to one of many questions he posed rhetorically that Ford couldn’t answer. The raucous laughter of the crowd brought to mind Ford’s most “indelible” memory of the night in question, when Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge laughed at her uproariously.
How fast the backlash against survivors has been, and how far it’s gone since President Trump, when at first held on a short leash by aides, said the right things. That followed the initial promise from top White House aide Kellyanne Conway that Ford would not be ignored or insulted. That was rendered inoperative on Wednesday morning when Conway defended Trump’s performance one night earlier saying he was merely addressing factual inaccuracies in Ford’s story: “She’s been treated like a Fabergé egg by all of us, beginning with me and the president.”
If you think Trump was off on his own just being Trump, as bad a spokesman for respecting women as he is for convincing daddy’s heirs to pay taxes on their billion-dollar inheritance, listen to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) at the Atlantic Festival in Washington the morning after. He often boasts of voting to confirm Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, which gave him cred to come out guns blazing to rally his colleagues taken aback by just how believable Ford was. Fresh off a phone call with Trump backstage, Graham painted himself as a good cop to Trump’s bad one but with the exact same message.
“I would tell him [Trump] knock it off,” Graham said. “You’re not helping.” He hardly improved upon it. Invoking the late Sen. John McCain, who he said was always willing to move on from a slight, Graham’s words may have been more coherent but no less demeaning. Ford was at best confused, without one piece of corroborating testimony, he said, and at worst a pawn of calculating Democrats doing a weak imitation of Republicans stalling Merrick Garland’s consideration. What is happening, he said, is “despicable.” In that sentiment, Graham said he’s “never seen my party so unified.”
With that, Graham removed any possible lingering doubt. Women, be warned, it’s now Republican policy: If you dare to accuse a “good man,” as defined by the GOP, or a powerful one, or both, Republicans will put you on trial.
To women, Ford raised more than enough doubt about Kavanaugh's presumed innocence that he should have to rebut her. Instead, he roared back with partisan jibes and conspiracy theories supplemented by preposterous gray lies that did no such thing.
Still women, both independents and Democrats who have reason to be as “terrified” as Ford, are losing ground to GOP men, and a surprising number of GOP women, as races around the country tighten. The enthusiasm gap held by Democrats for months is closing. Ads aimed at getting overdogs like fierce Trump groupie Kanye West, who can’t bear feeling for one moment like an underdog, out to vote are working.
Listen to this ad in North Dakota, where Rep. Kevin Cramer is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. He’d already said that it’s “tragic” if something like what Dr. Ford described happened — a description that includes pinning her to a bed, trying to remove her clothes, and smothering her screams. Tragic, but not disqualifying for Cramer, who added that Ford’s charges were “more absurd” than Anita Hill’s.
The ad begins: “Judge Kavanaugh fought back, clearing his name, defending his honor. Sen. Heitkamp, stand with President Trump, Judge Kavanaugh, and all who thought this was a national disgrace. Or stand with them,” them being Ford and Democrats. Heitkamp, who’s clomped across most of the prairies in her state hugging not just voters but cattle, has fallen a dangerous 10 points behind Cramer. A Republican-leaning group is spending about $12 million on similar ads.
Substitute Sen. Joe Manchin’s name and an almost identical ad is blanketing the airwaves in West Virginia. Pre-Kavanaugh, Manchin was running comfortably ahead by double digits by wielding like a club his protection of coal miners and others who depend on coverage of pre-existing conditions against opponent Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who’s suing the federal government to end such coverage. In what could be a life-or-death vote for those afflicted by opioid addiction or black lung disease, Manchin has lost four points this month as Republicans increasingly side with the person who would take their health care away. You’d think Kavanaugh, who enjoys a 56-26 approval in the state, were on the ballot.
The elation women felt after seeing Ford tell her story that prompted so many others to tell theirs is dissipating. The FBI investigation is grudging and all too limited, likely to lend the GOP more of a fig leaf than unearth facts that would buttress and jog Ford’s memory. Republicans plowed on through as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised, scheduling a vote even before the FBI sent its findings to Capitol Hill.
Sen. Jeff Flake’s crisis of conscience will end. If Kavanaugh’s writings against the settledness of Roe didn’t move Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), she will have done her bit for women by supporting reopening Kavanaugh’s background check and nothing more. Only Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is in play.
The Beatles sang that we all say we want a revolution, that we want to change the world. But not so much in the face of white male privilege reasserting itself, the automatic assumption that a powerful man is to be believed over any woman.
Hell, it turns out, has no fury like a man accused. That doesn’t mean that in the long struggle for equality, women haven’t moved upward. It just means that if the cultural reckoning we thought would happen with Ford’s remarkable testimony is to be realized, women have to vote in numbers never seen before. It will take a village.
Margaret Carlson is a columnist for the Daily Beast. She was formerly the first woman columnist at Time magazine, a columnist at Bloomberg View, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and managing editor at the New Republic. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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