Courage, missed opportunities, and path forward

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh offered America an opportunity for healing and reconciliation. Alas, did we miss it!

Ahead of the hearing, death threats were issued to both families. This is not how democracy works. We have better ways to address differences. These death threats, including to innocent bystanders, are a totally unacceptable sign of the intolerance that is becoming pervasive in our society. An intolerance that these hearings could have helped mitigate.

At the hearing, Dr. Ford did far more than anyone should have the right to expect from any victim of sexual assault. She conquered her fears, and showed courage and dignity that stand as a ray of hope in an otherwise disturbing day. There is no doubt in my mind that she was a victim, and that she has endured the associated stress all her life since. What she did Thursday was remarkable and, in the name of human dignity, appreciated beyond what words can express.

Contrary to what Dr. Ford asked for, a clarifying FBI investigation was not conducted to produce key information ahead of the hearing. We thus don’t know for sure whether Judge Kavanaugh was one of the people involved in the assault. Judge Kavanaugh denies the accusation, and it is conceivable (however unlikely) that Dr. Ford has a mistaken memory of the identity of her assaulters. However, we do know that, at least as a teenager, Judge Kavanaugh was prone to heavy drinking, from which (in his own words) he occasionally “fell asleep.”

Were Judge Kavanaugh to acknowledge the credibility of Dr. Ford, and to express heartfelt sorrow for what she has endured. Were he to recognize that, given his past heavy drinking, he cannot categorically deny Dr. Ford’s allegations, but that to his knowledge he has never assaulted her or anyone else. Were he to ask for an FBI investigation to clear his name, or prove his guilt. Were he to forcefully come in defense of the need for cultural change on sexual abuse. Were he to humbly and respectfully have done all that, and perhaps more, we would be a far better country today.

A country where abuse is not acceptable. One where we acknowledge that no one is perfect, but where we actively and responsibly seek to correct and redeem our individual shortcomings. Where human rights are a core value. Where anyone, certainly including women and children, can live free of the fear (and the gruesome reality) of being sexually assaulted.

But Judge Kavanaugh missed the opportunity. Instead, he mounted an aggressive, unbalanced, partisan, seemingly theatrical defense that too often stretched the limits of credibility. He was unacceptably vague in responding to key questions, perhaps the most telling being why he himself did not ask for an FBI investigation. For all this, his testimony disqualified him (in my view) to receive a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court—regardless of his actions as a teenager.

The US president and eleven Republican senators did nothing to restore the opportunity for national healing and reconciliation. Afraid that other ten Senators (all Democrats) were delaying the nomination for political reasons, the senators—with the instigation of the US President—moved the confirmation forward from the Judiciary Committee to a full Senate floor. That human dignity did not prevail over partisanship, is troubling beyond words.

However, Senator Flake, one of those eleven Republicans, did negotiate for an FBI investigation to be conducted before the full Senate vote. That would have been more effective before the hearings, Senator, but it is still the right thing to do. I hope other Republican senators will join you, to help re-establish due process. It matters who is appointed. It also matters how he or she is appointed. This all matters!

But our political system has now failed us too often. It is time for a gradual, yet radical change: Towards a better way to elect presidents and appoint justices, towards a diversity of political forces, towards additional accountability via national referenda, and in general towards more civility in politics and society.

For us, American citizens, the next (and crucial) opportunity is in November. That is when we can terminate the current Republican majorities in Congress, who have shown undue subservience to an unfit president. Being conservative or liberal is not the issue: both perspectives, and others, are valid. The issue is the ethical and effective governance of our nation, which we all need.

Solutions to break the current majorities are different in different districts and states. But they all require that we get informed—and that we vote, as if democracy depended on it. Because it does!

Please vote.

— Antonio Baptista

Related posts: Supreme Court: No, the ends don’t justify the means; Open letters to Senator Flake; Open letter to a Republican congressman.

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