The date is September 27, 2068. On your neural net’s news feed, you catch a glimpse of an item that says “50th anniversary of Brett Kavanaugh hearings.” You think you vaguely remember something about that from the American history class pills, but the details are vague (you keep confusing the name with Clarence Thomas, for some reason). You fire up the video.
What do you see, through disinterested, utterly neutral future eyes?
You see a woman — quiet, dignified, vulnerable, heartbreakingly so. She is a neurology professor, and speaks in measured academic tones to an intimidating committee of silent men. She details a sexual assault that took place when she was 15. That’s right, you remember — this is the era when women were just starting to dare speak out about this sort of thing.
He will become a timeless meme: Yelling Frat Boy Judge.
Then comes the man she said assaulted her, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and you have to glance at the checkmark in the corner of the screen to assure yourself that this is not a Deep Fake — it is certified genuine archive material.
But this guy looks like a ham actor playing the villain in a bad historical drama. The sneer on his face, the sense of entitlement, his hysterical outbursts, his attempts to deflect questions by attacking his interviewers — surely, even in the age of Trump, nobody actually considered this appropriate behavior for a judge? Could they not see how nearly every woman in the room seemed to look at him?
He repeatedly refutes requests for an FBI investigation. He confirms his love of beer and denies problem drinking, in what any generation that has access to alcohol would recognize as the furiously aggressive manner of someone with a drinking problem.
If he was as innocent as he says, you think, he certainly didn’t act like it.
Back in September 2018, we don’t know how this historical segment will end. Judge Brett Kavanaugh may well become Justice Kavanaugh, confirmed by the Senate by a slim party-line margin, and sit on the Supreme Court for the rest of his natural life.
Or two or more Republican senators may decide to do the right thing and refuse to confirm a man so thoroughly unknown, a political operative whose nomination came with hidden documents and mysteriously-paid debts, whose response to credible accusations was to sneer and bluster and portray himself as a beer-loving choir boy with a calendar.
Either way, this day is it for Kavanaugh. This is how he chose to act in the spotlight of the whole world — petulant and whiny — and this is how history will remember him.
He will become a timeless meme: Yelling Frat Boy Judge. Even if he sits on the Supreme Court and authors a hundred acerbic opinions in the style of his judicial hero Antonin Scalia; even if — especially if — he provides one of the decisive votes to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Well, so much for the phrase “sober as a judge”
— Chris Taylor (@FutureBoy) September 27, 2018
How can we be so sure what history will think? Well, admittedly, it’s possible that America will turn into some nightmare equivalent of Gilead in which Kavanaugh is worshipped by an all-male hierarchy as part of the Trump pantheon of aggrieved white men.
But given prevailing demographic and cultural trends, given the slow but steady increase in society’s ability to come to terms with an undeniable legacy of white male privilege, it seems far more likely that Kavanaugh will play the villain’s role in textbook chapters on the Time’s Up age.
Besides, we’ve seen this movie before. Look at Justice Clarence Thomas. In 1991, despite Anita Hill’s famous Senate committee testimony about his workplace harassment, Thomas was supported by a majority of the American public (Kavanaugh was supported by a minority in recent polling, even before this hearing).
Since then, Thomas has provided decisive votes in a number of cases that will live in infamy (such as Bush v. Gore and Citizens United). We remember those decisions; we barely remember his part in them. What we remember is the judge who allegedly boasted about his porn habit and creepily hit on his co-workers. We may also recall that former Sen. Joe Biden later apologized over his role in Thomas’ confirmation.
Either way, Hill has the mic, not Thomas.
Instead of Thomas, it is Anita Hill in the cultural ascendancy. We remember with justified horror the fact that she was described by a Republican operative as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.” She is the quiet hero of movies and documentaries, portrayed by one of the best-known TV actors of the age. She is the chair of a commission on gender equality in Hollywood. She is the wise old law professor giving interviews to John Oliver, insisting that if another woman has a story like hers to tell, well, this time senators would treat the allegations with more respect.
If Hill’s prediction turns out to be accurate, her historical stock will rise even further. Even if she is being too optimistic, we will remember the tragic irony (and also recall the prediction of Martin Luther King that “the arc of the moral universe is long but bends towards justice;” his successors suffered setbacks, too).
Either way, Hill has the mic, not Thomas. No matter how long he continues to serve on the court, the only thing he could do to change his reputation is to do the one thing he has consistently refused to do: apologize.
Likewise, Kavanaugh’s reputation now seems sealed in amber. His cultural tombstone lies here, in the moment he followed a credible accusation of assault with a whiny rage-fueled protest at his own victimhood.
It may be of small comfort if he is confirmed, but September 27, 2018 is a day that will live in infamy. And its impact on November 6, 2018 remains to be seen.
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