After eight hours of watching the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh Thursday, I felt exhausted, infuriated, and emotionally depleted.
When Ford delivered her wrenching opening statement, it served as a searing reminder of the permanent scars that come from sexual trauma. When she said her most indelible memory from the night she was almost raped was the “uproarious laughter” from Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge — it felt like a gut punch.
Later, as Kavanaugh delivered a meandering and teary opening statement, dripping with pathos and entitlement, it was almost too uncomfortable to watch. It felt like we were watching an emotional meltdown on national television.
But little of this would matter, because the truly decisive moment on Thursday came when Senator Lindsey Graham took his five minutes for questions. Up to that point, Republicans had deferred to Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor from Arizona, in interrogating the witnesses. But that strategy was clearly not working, particularly when Mitchell began asking Kavanaugh tough questions that risked undercutting his defense.
So Graham reduced the day’s proceedings to the primal ground on which seemingly all the battles of modern American politics are waged — tribalism.
“This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics,” an enraged and animated Graham said in denouncing Democrats. “If you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you’ve done to this guy . . . y’all want power and I hope you don’t get it.”
Then Graham, who earlier had made clear that nothing Ford said would shake his confidence in the president’s Supreme Court pick, laid down a marker for his fellow Republicans. “If you vote no, you are legitimizing the most despicable thing I’ve ever seen in my time in politics.”
Graham’s performance was unhinged, irrational, and nakedly partisan.
It was also quite fitting, because it mimicked the scorched-earth approach of the man sitting in judgment before the committee.
There are lots of good reasons to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court — his serial dishonesty and the fact that he is accused of commiting attempted rape are the two most obvious examples. But what was also evident in Thursday’s hearing is that he lacks the temperament, the character, and, perhaps most important, the ability to be an impartial judge who puts aside his tribalistic devotion to the Republican Party.
He delivered an astonishing and unprecedented attack on Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee. He calling their behavior in his confirmation hearings — which predated Ford’s allegations — an “embarrassment.”
That by itself is a remarkably telling statement from a judge who is supposed to be non-partisan in his views. But then he went a step further. He called Ford’s story and the subsequent allegations of sexual misconduct “a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled by pent-up anger over President Trump in the 2016 election.” He claimed the allegations against him were driven by “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” and the “millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”
In any other political environment, such political attacks would be disqualifying. Instead, combined with Graham’s partisan tirade, it rallied wavering Republicans behind his nomination.
Emboldened by Kavanaugh and Graham, Republican senators — previously too gutless to even ask Ford a question — were falling over themselves to apologize Kavanaugh, as if the highly credible testimony from a witness who appeared before their committee only hours before had never happened.
Earlier this week, I thought Kavanaugh’s nomination was almost certainly done. Even a political party as shameless as the modern Republican Party would not push through a Supreme Court pick so obviously compromised, or so I thought.
Once again, I have fallen victim to my hopeful but misguided optimism that there is some decency left in national politics. Kavanaugh’s confirmation would quite clearly be a death blow to the legitimacy of the court and any decision that he would write or vote on. But Republicans simply don’t care.
A courageous woman comes forward to tell a persuasive and credible tale of sexual assault, and it means nothing, because partisanship and tribalism drive everything in our politics today.
Barring some unexpected reversal after Senator Jeff Flake’s call today for a further FBI investigation, it could hardly be clearer that our nominally democratic institutions are controlled by a political party with no sense of shame, no respect for basic democratic norms, and no interest other than appealing to its minority of fervent supporters. Winning is everything, and the ends seemingly always justify the means.
This week was an opportunity for Americans to come to grips with the reality of sexual violence and misogyny; an opportunity to make the concerns and experiences of half our nation’s populace (women) something other than just another partisan battlefield. Instead, it was a depressing reminder of how unbearably broken our politics have become.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.