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MATTHEW BOOSE: At the Kavanaugh hearing, America unravels
The bitter, emotional hearing over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination on Thursday threw a stark light on just how far America has declined into social and civic collapse.
Regardless of whether Kavanaugh is confirmed, there is still no agreement on what is true, false, credible, not credible, just, or unjust. Whether he makes it or not, millions and millions of people will be furious.
There may not be a geographical front dividing the country into North and South, but the culture war has entered a new and dark stage of viciousness and division.
In the absence of unifying principles of truth and justice, pathos, charisma, and “credibility,” mostly predetermined by partisan prejudices, reigned supreme at the hearing. Nothing new was learned. Rather than revealing the truth through a fair process, the hearing was a performance for exorcising personal and tribal emotions and signaling partisan solidarity.
The hearing, and the bitter nomination process as a whole, point the way to an America of zero-sum conflict where nothing is off the table, nothing is true or false, and every institution and authority is a political weapon, above all the Supreme Court itself.
The gulf has grown so large, and the stakes of controlling the high court so great, that there is no room left for civility and due process. Names, lives, and reputations are just pieces in the chess game.
As divisions grow, civility is desperately invoked to keep the peace. But civility itself flows from a shared sense of community that America has lost.
The values of liberals and conservatives have diverged so far that they have become two distinct political tribes that see one another as existential threats. Progressives rightfully see the prospect of a conservative court as a threat to Roe V. Wade and their entire utopian project. Conservatives correctly fear that losing this opportunity to solidify a conservative court will hasten the country’s descent into nihilism, perhaps permanently.
Without a base level of commonality to keep the peace, calls for civility are a post-hoc attempt to paper over unbridgeable divides. When one side is willing to destroy lives and reputations for the sake of abortion, what compromise can there possibly be?
Even before the allegations surfaced, the fight over Kavanaugh was bracing to be a bitter referendum on abortion. Kavanaugh was seen as illegitimate by wide swaths of the electorate even despite his moderate views for the sole reason that he posed a potential threat to Roe V. Wade. If the allegations did not surface, the Democrats would have contrived something else to destroy him.
To his enemies, Brett Kavanaugh is not a person with a family but a symbol of a system of entitlement and privilege that must be destroyed by any means necessary. This process has been dehumanizing for Christine Blasey Ford, too.
With the stakes being what they are, every institution and source of authority has been leveraged to score partisan points. Whatever the Democrats actually think about the allegations, their calls for an investigation by the FBI — another institution that has been compromised by partisanship — are an obvious delay tactic. For their part, the media has abandoned all pretenses of fairness and fact-finding to join in their smear campaign.
Meanwhile, as calls for civility grow, its absence in American life only becomes more palpable. Invocations of “bipartisanship” sound more and more desperate and cynical, perhaps because of a creeping awareness that bipartisanship is a thing of the past.
This was no less clear at the hearing, where senators invoked bipartisanship even as they simultaneously took partisan snipes.
While it highlights existing divisions, the battle over Kavanaugh is also deepening them. The viciousness displayed by the Democrats and the media over the last couple weeks has radicalized many conservatives into staunch partisans practically overnight. Even moderate conservatives are appalled and alarmed at the depravity.
Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator who is often praised by liberals for his “bipartisanship,” became one of their strongest critics on Thursday. And whether Kavanaugh is confirmed or not, Republican voters will go to the polls in November seeking revenge.
The fall of the Supreme Court to the mob is ironic because it is one of the few explicitly elitist, non-democratic institutions in the republic. But it’s also an apt reflection of the fading away of a republic built on norms of civility and constitutionalism.
The sad reality is that even if Kavanaugh is confirmed, he will almost certainly face calls for impeachment. So will any future appointees.
While some liberals argued that Justice Neil Gorsuch’s peaceful nomination proves they have no partisan ill-will, that was a different scenario. Gorsuch was not replacing a swing judge. Kavanaugh is. The Democrats sank to the depths they did because the stakes were higher this time.
There’s no reason to suppose the trajectory will change going forward. If the credibility of future nominees hinges on their partisan affiliation, then future justices will presumably be obstructed, confirmed, and impeached in an endless cycle as the parties exchange control of the Senate. The future looks bleak.
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