What is a judge, if not a teacher?

“American Hero” by Wendy MacNaughton

Let’s say, for just a moment, that it doesn’t matter whether Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. It does. But let’s just say, for a moment, that it doesn’t matter.

Aren’t you horrified that a man of his age, professed intellectual chops, and judiciousness, wouldn’t take this opportunity to reflect searchingly on his own blind spots and missteps, much less the larger national and global crisis of sexual harassment and assault? He has responded as if there is no personal or public value to treating Dr. Blasey Ford’s claims with humility and contextualization, as if this is not a teachable moment.

What is a judge, if not a teacher?

Perhaps you are thinking, “Sure, it’s a teachable moment in the abstract, but if it was you sitting at that table, defending your reputation, you wouldn’t be able to de-personalize.” It’s hard. It is. (Just ask Robin DiAngelo. I did.) But de-personalizing is also core to the work of judges. Having the capacity to look at an issue from a wide range of vantage points, to take the long view, to address the deeper moral and ethical questions — this is a judge’s work. So I would actually expect Judge Kavanaugh to be better at de-personalizing than most people. Instead, he appears to be much, much worse.

What most disturbed me about his testimony, I have to say, was the moment when he invoked the prayer of his 10-year-old daughter. As he broke down, he told us that she had requested that the family pray for “that woman.” Setting aside that it sounds as if his daughter has been socialized to see Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as Hester Prynne — “that woman” — what disturbed me so much was that Judge Kavanaugh sees no danger in reminding you that he is the father of daughters because he has no self-consciousness that he has dramatically failed his daughters in this moment.

Again, setting aside whether he actually assaulted Dr. Blasey Ford, he has failed to make the world a safer place for his daughters to grow up in by virtue of his reaction to these claims. And not even in a long-term, big picture kind of way. His daughters, who are very close to teenage life, are now entering a world where “boys will be boys,” blackout drunkenness, yearbook misogyny and humiliation, are all more normalized because of their own father’s behavior. His apparent lack of sheepishness at invoking his daughters while simultaneously endangering them, further indicates to me that he is unfit for the sort of self-examination that being a Supreme Court justice, not to mention a father, requires.

This is not about politics for Dr. Blasey Ford or the millions of women who are suffering through this moment. It’s about the heartbreak that comes with being reminded that we live in a world that still expects victims of violence to prove their credibility, while empathizing greatly with what men lose when they are held accountable for their past actions. It’s like women can’t win and men can’t lose.

These days, I see women, particularly those with privilege, trying to de-personalize, to contextualize, to look for the teachable moments everywhere I turn. Even self-help gurus who, in another era, would have just been blindly carrying on without paying any mind to how their advice lands on the ears of those who have been systematically discriminated against are actually talking about race and class in huge mainstream platforms and on their personal social media. And yet too many men seem to be either having fits — sputtering and pouting and claiming their innocence through association with women (as if it were a sign of character that you have friends or collaborators that are women when really it is a statistical inevitablity) — or staying silent while watching their brothers flail. The latter, no doubt, are ashamed. I feel the same way while processing just how complicit I am in the structural violence of white supremacy, but I keep pushing through the shame, I keep talking, I keep attempting, however awkwardly, to get my people.

Dr. Blasey Ford, herself, somehow managed to both testify in the highest stakes, least hospitable environment possible about her own assault and resulting trauma, but also use it as a lesson in neuropsychology — referencing the parts of the brain where memory is stored, among other technical details. She was astoundingly competent and calm and comprehensive, almost superhuman. Judge Kavanaugh, in contrast, was a reality TV show meltdown. Which one would you prefer to be making decisions about your life and liberty under a tremendous amount of pressure and scrutiny for the rest of time?

As I rode in a car with my almost 5-year-old daughter this morning, I noticed that she was suddenly listening closely to what NPR was reporting about the testimony given yesterday. As they replayed Dr. Blasey Ford’s powerful words about having her mouth covered and hearing laughter from young Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge as the prior assaulted her, I quickly tried to distract my daughter: “What was your favorite part of the aquarium yesterday?” I asked, my voice jarringly loud. She looked at me quizzically and answered, “Touching the urchins.”

It was hard not to cry.