The woes of a Trumpist justice

I’ve been wanting to write something about Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s troubled nominee for the Supreme Court, but now I find that David Brock has saved me much of the trouble. He’s written most of what I wanted to say, with the advantage of having known Kavanaugh himself. You can read his account here at NBC.

Brock started out as a conservative operator in Washington in the 1980s. He participated in the anti-Clinton campaign in the 1990s, but as that campaign become more and more detached from reality he grew disillusioned, and eventually wrote a book about it: Blinded by the Right, published in 2002. It’s an indispensable source for understanding both the politics of the 1990s and the current state of the conservative movement.

Kavanaugh makes only a brief appearance in the book, but now Brock has fleshed out his knowledge of him. He’s writing before the various sexual assault allegations became public, so Kavanaugh’s attitudes towards women aren’t covered; the problem is his attitudes towards law and politics:

A detailed analysis of Kavanaugh’s own notes from the [Ken] Starr Investigation reveals he was cherry-picking random bits of information from the Starr investigation — as well as the multiple previous investigations — attempting vainly to legitimize wild right-wing conspiracies. …

Kavanaugh was not a dispassionate finder of fact but rather an engineer of a political smear campaign. And after decades of that, he expects people to believe he’s changed his stripes. …

I can promise you that any pretense of simply being a fair arbiter of the constitutionality of any policy regardless of politics is simply a pretense.

To me, that is the key reason to reject Kavanaugh’s nomination: that he was – and is – a willing participant in a conspiracy to subvert constitutional government. But I’d add three points on the sexual assault claims.

Firstly, it’s at least arguable that there’s nothing in the claims themselves that should be a permanent disqualification for high office. As a number of people have pointed out, if Kavanaugh had immediately offered a full confession and apology, he would be in a better position.

But that’s not how “movement” conservatives think; apology is alien, and their instinct is to double down on even the most preposterous denials. (And even if the most serious accusations against Kavanaugh are false, he has clearly lied in his denials of incidental matters.) The best thing I’ve read on the subject is by Lili Loofbourow at Slate:

Most good lawyers would advise against locking oneself in quite so firmly. But one thing that might make a guy overconfident in his ability to bluff his way out is faith in the support of his in-group. It’s Omertà. If you deny wrongdoing as a united front, you’ll get away with it.

The second point is that the connection between sexual and judicial misconduct is not coincidental: if you engage someone to do bad things, it’s a fair bet they’ll turn out to be a bad person. The administration’s political imperatives meant, as Paul Krugman put it, that they needed someone “at no risk of developing a conscience,” and that meant “good odds of nasty stuff surfacing.”

A blogger called Mike the Mad Biologist makes the same point: “when you limit yourself to the subset of Federalist Society approved judges who also think the president is essentially unaccountable, the talent pool is rather thin.”

Finally and most importantly, the problem of institutionalised hostility towards women is not confined to Kavanaugh, or to the right more generally. It’s logical that it should show up more often on the right, since these are institutions geared to preserving social hierarchies, but people who have been shaped by them can be found in every (and no) political orientation.

A good start towards understanding the problem, in addition to the Loofbourow piece quoted above, is an article by Brendan Kiely at the Atlantic, which outlines some of the depressingly deep roots of elite misogyny. It’s about America, but there’s a very similar story to be told about Australia.

Let Mike the Mad Biologist have the last word:

Approving Kavanaugh’s nomination sends an awful message to young men. If young men were (hopefully more?) worried that sexual assault could ruin them, some would be less likely to commit assault. How this is a bad thing escapes me.

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