On being … a civics lesson

By Ingrid Sapona

When news broke that a woman accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, there was wide-spread speculation about her motivation. I wasn’t concerned about her motivation for coming forward, I just thought she was crazy. After all, though Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s a few years younger than me, she’s old enough to remember how Anita Hill was treated before the same committee. (Talk about déjà vu – though the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing was over a quarter century ago – some of the male senators who were on the committee back then are still on it.)

On Thursday, Dr. Ford testified under oath before the Senate judiciary committee and she addressed the issue of her motivation head on. In her opening statement, Ford said that she came forward because she felt it was her civic duty to make public this information about someone who may be appointed (for life) to the Supreme Court. After noting that she was terrified to be there testifying, Ford then carefully, and in detail, described the sexual assault and the lasting impact it’s had on her life.

Like many watching, I admired Ford’s bravery and poise under stress. Most people would have a hard time talking about such a painful experience in private, to people who aren’t there to judge you. Imagine being willing to tell it to a room full of people who are sceptical, if not outright antagonistic. Despite assurances from people like Senator Dianne Feinstein that Dr. Ford was not on trial, given that she was under oath, had to hire lawyers, and was questioned by a seasoned prosecutor, I’ll bet it felt like it to her.

Dr. Ford’s willingness to put herself (and her family) through the whole thing speaks to her both character and her belief in the importance of the Supreme Court. In coming forward, Dr. Ford may not have swayed members of Congress about whether Kavanaugh’s past behaviour makes him unqualified to sit on the Supreme Court, but she reminded women that victimization is perpetuated, in part, through silence. In an era when ego and self-interest trump everything else (no pun intended), the idea of a civic duty is so rare that it’s remarkable and that it sets an example that I so wish everyone will learn from.

Of course, Ford’s behaviour was not the only lesson delivered on Thursday. Judge Kavanaugh’s and Senator Graham’s bombast, fury, antagonism, and blaming also set an example to men and women around the world. They made it loud and clear to everyone that when a man is called on to answer questions about his behaviour vis-à-vis women, he should come out swinging. And, if he does, odds are that other powerful men will come to their defense to keep women in their place, if not quiet.

But, the clearest lesson of the whole two-day affair was delivered on Friday by two sexual assault victims who stopped Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator. Ana Maria Archila said to Flake, “I have two children. I cannot imagine that for the next 50 years, they will have to have someone in the Supreme Court who has been accused of violating a young girl. What are you doing, sir?” That encounter apparently helped Flake see the light and at least lobby for further investigation, which is better than nothing. (He could have voted against allowing Kavanaugh’s name to go to the full Senate, but he didn’t.)

Regardless of the outcome of the FBI investigation into the questions raised by Ford’s testimony, the underlying civics questions remains: is Kavanaugh suited for the Supreme Court? For the answer to that, we need look no further than to Kavanaugh himself. On Thursday he showed his true colours under pressure. He was belligerent, pompous, and partisan.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford thought it was her civic duty to raise concerns about Kavanaugh’s suitability to become a Supreme Court justice. I guess now we’ll see what the Senators make of their civic duty regarding who they allow to sit on the highest court in the land.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


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