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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Mize: Vulnerability on Display

Emotions dominate the stand at the Kavanaugh hearing.

While it hasn’t been “business as usual” in American politics, the events of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh this past week are even farther from the norm. Regardless of what one holds at stake here — another conservative on the bench or the very efficacy of American justice (motives at this point abound) — these judicial proceedings have drudged up levels of emotion that transcend personal perspective, motive or party delineation. In the sense that Thursday’s hearing it put unbridled, human feeling on display, America may finally have found itself presented with, at least in its essence, the apolitical. 

Despite the additional allegations of sexual misconduct against Judge Kavanaugh made by additional women since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford first spoke up, the current investigation remains focused on a single night from the summer of 1982. Because this one night experienced by Ford, and allegedly by Kavanaugh, is so individual and personal, the hyperfocus of an entire country is aimed at its minutiae, both immediate and auxiliary. There’s Dr. Ford’s one-piece bathing suit that gave Kavanaugh a “hard time” as he allegedly attempted to remove her clothing. There’s the fact that a 17-year-old Brett Kavanaugh had an English paper due June 2, 1982, as is displayed for the entire country on his now infamous, and for some damning, calendar. There’s the question of Mark Judge’s job at Safeway; an innocuous summer occupation over 30 years ago that could now prove detrimental to the outcome of a detrimental case.

In the face of words like “Deep State” and “the Resistance” — these conspiratorial, impersonal terms that have been hounding the country for the past few years — America is now met with the most minute, intimate details. And regardless of what he claims happened, standing at the top of the pile is the unshakable image of a young, drunk Brett Kavanaugh half-suffocating and forcibly groping Christine Blasey Ford 36 years ago. 

The sterile severity of the political arena now meets the very human. This case does not involve shifting through bureaucratic stacks of paper and dense policy to determine the outcome that will alter the architecture and future of our country. Instead, this case peels apart the layers of a life, allowing anecdotal evidence to wield executive power.  

There is very little precedent for how to go about this, and this lack of a blueprint has brought out a parallel kind of rawness in those abiding over and involved in the proceedings themselves. Minnesotan Democrat Amy Klobuchar asks Kavanaugh whether or not he has ever drunk so much that he “didn’t remember what happened the night before.” Kavanaugh deflects by responding, “I don’t know, have you?” Two high ranking officials question one another on their history of blackouts. With the catch of surprise in Klobuchar’s voice when she then responds with a mention of her 90-year-old father’s Alcoholics Anonymous membership, the probing gets personal. Kavanaugh himself, in an obviously complicated display of tearful emotion, quotes his 10-year-old daughter, in reference to Dr. Ford, as saying, “We should pray for the woman.” Lindsey Graham descends into a kind of enraged hysterics, wide-eyed and asking Kavanaugh, “Would you say you’ve been through hell?,” and then noting, “This is hell.” What is this catharsis unfolding on C-Span? 

At a time when the lines that encircle politics and politicians have become so definitive, the facades required to maintain these rigid definitions seem to be melting away. In the presence of such an unhampered, visceral account, those listening become unhampered themselves. People complain about the absence of decorum in contemporary politics. They see derisive, acerbic name calling and hounding as the unfortunate replacements of propriety. In the hearing of Brett Kavanaugh, the absence of decorum has absolutely conceded to this behavior, but it has also resulted in a virulent kind of emotional authenticity on both sides of the aisle.

It is not my intention to respond dismissively toward the instances of political malpractice and opportunism that have colored these events from the beginning. I am not referring to the questionable authenticity or the truth of the words spoken on that stand, but rather the authentic confusion, heartbreak and profound anger with which they were spoken. Brett Kavanaugh may very well be lying, but there is a certain kind of veracity in his outrage. My mother turned off his testimony halfway through, as the pain and embarrassment in his voice was too much; palpable even through the radio. Revealed in the gesticulating pointing and reddening face of Lindsey Graham, in the shaking voice of Christine Blasey Ford hiding behind her hair and glasses, is real life — raw and unfiltered. Along with Dr. Ford, the leaders of our nation are inadvertently slipping off their masks.