Bill Maxwell: Beyond the court

Published October 5 2018

Occasionally, an event arises that goes to the very heart and soul of who are as a nation. This event, in fact, may manifest our national character, capture our esprit de corps and may lay bare our major fissures.

Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court Judiciary Committee hearing is such an event.

The most obvious focus of the hearing has been the perceived veracity of Christine Blasey Ford and her accusation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were in high school and Kavanaugh’s angry denial.

We know the professor’s accusation and Kavanaugh’s denial have profound implications beyond the legal and political world of the hearing room.

A competing focus of the event has been the public performance of Ford, a psychology professor from California, and Republicans’ determination to discredit her. Ford’s behavior and performance defied Republicans’ expectations and destroyed many stereotypes.

The event went to the core of how America perceives women, how women perceive themselves in relation to men, and how women perceive themselves in relation to other women.

Ford was not rattled. She was not the insecure victim who does not know her own identity. From my male perspective, Ford simultaneously showed respect for the process, and she was a model of personal strength.

She did not compromise. There was nothing to compromise.

Wearing those big eyeglasses and speaking softly, she was a stealth disrupter. Like Maria Gallagher, one of the woman who confronted Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake in the elevator, Ford was telling the white men on the Judiciary Committee: “Look at me when I’m talking to you! You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter. That what happened to me doesn’t matter!”

Senators did not know how to handle this alien force. It was too quiet and authentic, the opposite of the snot-throwing performance of Kavanaugh, the committee’s paragon of judicial brilliance.

He came off as his real self: a mean, callous heir of power and privilege. Kavanaugh, accompanied by his wife and daughters, entered the hearing room that first day with an air of invincibility, winking, nodding and grinning.

Just prior to adjournment for an FBI investigation into Ford’s accusation, a shaken Kavanaugh seemed unsure of his fate for the first time.

Whether Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court or not, many women, especially liberals and progressives, are earnestly assessing what it means to be a woman in America. That will forever be a legacy of the event.

Lucinda Coulter, a retired journalism professor and political activist in Tuscaloosa, Ala., suggested that Ford, aided by the impact of #MeToo, became an overnight icon. She “galvanized a century of hurt in many women.” In a formal setting, Ford “showed women they are not alone.”

While acknowledging Ford’s effort, Coulter suggests that other women, especially former Democratic presidential candidate and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “provided the stage for Ford to walk on.”

“Clinton was the most qualified person to ever run for president,” Coulter said. “She would have pushed hard for basic needs in health care, equality in the workplace, working to improve living wages for the middle and working classes,” she said. “And she would not have nominated extremists for the Supreme Court.”

There are competing explanations as to why 52 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump, a man who bragged about grabbing women’s genitals and who was accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women.

Shortly after Trump was elected, I asked a well-known wildlife artist, a white woman from New York, why so many white women, including many young ones, voted for Trump.

Her answer shocked me.

As always, she said, Clinton had to fight an uphill battle within her own sex: Women are reared to not support other women. They are reared to support their men, the family’s main breadwinners.

During a tour promoting her memoir of the 2016 campaign, Clinton said of women voters: “(Women) will be under tremendous pressure — and I’m talking principally about white women. They will be under tremendous pressure from fathers and husbands and boyfriends and male employers not to vote for ‘the girl.’ ”

The research of Amanda Hess, a David Carr fellow at the New York Times, supports Clinton’s claim. Hess writes that woman voters have always disappointed candidates and causes that count on them, going back to 1916, when suffragists did not defeat Woodrow Wilson and to the failure to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. Then came the failure to elect Clinton as the nation’s first female president.

Given the thousands of enthusiastic women still attending Trump’s hate-filled rallies, the divisions among women are as deep as the divisions between the sexes.

Also In This Section