If the cultural script for pushing back against sexual assault allegations has become depressingly familiar, it makes for especially grim viewing when the swing vote of the US Supreme Court hangs in the balance.The women who have accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault have been subjected to degrading smears and outright dismissal. Christine Blasey Ford — who alleges that Kavanaugh drunkenly attempted to rape her in high school — was forced to flee her home after receiving a barrage of threats. Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh nonconsensually thrust his genitals in her face while at Yale, was widely mocked for being drunk and having a spotty memory of the incident. After Julie Swetnick issued a sworn affidavit describing a series of prep school gang rapes, Kavanaugh himself dismissed the account as “ridiculous and from the twilight zone.” And while Ford is set to testify about the alleged incidents before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, the committee vote is still scheduled for tomorrow — hardly the behavior of a party that takes sexual assault seriously. (Uncomfortable with the optics of interrogating the women themselves, the all-male Republican contingent has tapped a female lawyer to handle the questioning.)The seat Kavanaugh stands to inherit is widely regarded as the decisive vote on the Supreme Court. His confirmation would hand the Right control of the nation’s highest court for a generation. Given the stakes — and the looming midterm elections that could reverse Republicans’ slim majority — the GOP is clearly desperate to confirm Kavanaugh, no matter how painful or credible the testimonies of his accusers might be.Even before allegations of sexual violence came to light, the battle over Kavanaugh’s confirmation centered on gender justice. Much coverage rightfully focused on the fate of Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion and whose reversal would almost certainly result in untold numbers of compulsory pregnancies. But the Right’s contempt for women goes far beyond indifference toward sexual assault and reproductive rights — it’s an inherent, defining characteristic of Kavanaugh’s ideology, and that of the political movement that groomed him.The assumption that Kavanaugh would enthusiastically strike down Roe is based on the fact that he was plucked directly from a list furnished by the Federalist Society — an ultraconservative, billionaire-backed network of lawyers dedicated to shoving legal thought rightward and serving as a pipeline for clerkships and judicial appointments. Beyond the organization’s alignment with social conservative causes like the anti-choice movement, its chief goal is to entrench property rights as inviolable. As Michael Avery, author of The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back from Liberals, put it in a radio interview, “[They] oppose anything that would interfere with rich people’s God-given right to do whatever they want with their property.”One thing that interferes with rich people’s dominion over their wealth is women’s autonomy: for women to have freedom, the unpaid care roles they disproportionately perform (and which sustain society) must be equitably distributed across it. This means socializing basic needs and building rich social support systems in common — which requires redistributing large amounts of the property the Federalist Society was invented to protect. Without a robust welfare state, the burden of care and survival falls squarely on individuals and families, forcing anyone who isn’t wealthy to balance the simultaneous need to generate wages with the other necessary tasks of life.In the Federalist Society’s ideal world, capitalists would have no obligation to chip in for healthcare or childbirth costs, maternity leave or childcare — constraining women’s life choices while at the same time making them poorer. Shouldering such challenges is clearly easier with a spouse or larger family network, but this can also force dependence on a romantic partner and facilitate abuse. In short, the Federalist Society’s ideology subordinates women by imposing staggering personal costs simply for being one — and even favors striking down the ruling that mandates pregnancy be voluntary.The Federalist Society’s agenda has made inroads in recent years. Its judges were instrumental in blocking Medicaid expansion in Republican-controlled states, leaving millions of poor women without critical health care. Kavanaugh himself has ruled repeatedly in lower courts against workers rights, consumer protections, and government oversight — all of which empower business and the people who grow rich from it at the expense of everyone else. And whenever workers are structurally forced to incur more suffering for the benefit of their bosses, that trauma is thrust onto women, who disproportionately step up to mitigate the social consequences.And so it happens that there are no good conservatives — and certainly no feminist ones. It is quite literally impossible to engineer a world where private property is sacrosanct — its spoils monopolized, the institutions that could protect everyone else’s livelihoods destroyed — without also generating mass pain. Conservative ideology handles this problem by individualizing its cause: if you’re struggling to pay for a tough-to-access abortion or take care of your kids, it’s your fault. And if pain happens to be unevenly distributed by class, race, or sex, it’s your fault too. Is it any wonder that Brett Kavanaugh and his ilk revile women as much as they do?So as jarring and upsetting as it is to watch the GOP attempt to ram through the lifetime appointment of a probable sex criminal to the highest court, the things Kavanaugh stands accused of are hardly at odds with his judicial philosophy. Protecting ruling class interests amid widespread precarity requires an inverted semblance of justice. It’s victim-blaming, and it’s anti-feminist — no matter how many girls’ basketball teams you coach in your free time.Natalie Shure is a TV producer and writer whose work has appeared in the Atlantic, Slate, Pacific Standard and elsewhere.The new issue of Jacobin is out now. Buy a copy, or a special discounted subscription today.If you like this article, please subscribe or donate.By Adam SerwerOctober 3, 2018
Trump mocks Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony and Me Too movement, speaking to the crowd during a campaign rally at Freedom Hall in Johnson City, Tennessee. President Trump held the rally to support Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn.
Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images // Associated Press/WKRNThe Museum of African-American History and Culture is in part a catalog of cruelty. Amid all the stories of perseverance, tragedy, and unlikely triumph are the artifacts of inhumanity and barbarism: the child-size slave shackles, the bright red robes of the wizards of the Ku Klux Klan, the recordings of civil-rights protesters being brutalized by police.The artifacts that persist in my memory, the way a bright flash does when you close your eyes, are the photographs of lynchings. But it’s not the burned, mutilated bodies that stick with me. It’s the faces of the white men in the crowd. There’s the photo of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Indiana in 1930, in which a white man can be seen grinning at the camera as he tenderly holds the hand of his wife or girlfriend. There’s the undated photo from Duluth, Minnesota, in which grinning white men stand next to the mutilated, half-naked bodies of two men lashed to a post in the street—one of the white men is straining to get into the picture, his smile cutting from ear to ear. There’s the photo of a crowd of white men huddled behind the smoldering corpse of a man burned to death; one of them is wearing a smart suit, a fedora hat, and a bright smile.Read Adam Serwer on why the Supreme Court is headed back to the 19th centuryThe Trump era is such a whirlwind of cruelty that it can be hard to keep track. This week alone, the news broke that the Trump administration was seeking to ethnically cleanse more than 193,000 American children of immigrants whose temporary protected status had been revoked by the administration, that the Department of Homeland Security had lied about creating a database of children that would make it possible to unite them with the families the Trump administration had arbitrarily destroyed, that the White House was considering a blanket ban on visas for Chinese students, and that it would deny visas to the same-sex partners of foreign officials. At a rally in Mississippi, a crowd of Trump supporters cheered as the president mocked Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who has said that Brett Kavanaugh, whom Trump has nominated to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, attempted to rape her when she was a teenager. “Lock her up!” they shouted.Ford testified to the Senate, utilizing her professional expertise to describe the encounter, that one of the parts of the incident she remembered most was Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge laughing at her as Kavanaugh fumbled at her clothing. “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” Ford said, referring to the part of the brain that processes emotion and memory, “the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.” And then at Tuesday’s rally, the president made his supporters laugh at her.Further reading: The most striking thing about Trump’s mockery of Christine Blasey FordEven those who believe that Ford fabricated her account, or was mistaken in its details, can see that the president’s mocking of her testimony renders all sexual-assault survivors collateral damage. Anyone afraid of coming forward, afraid that she would not be believed, can now look to the president to see her fears realized. Once malice is embraced as a virtue, it is impossible to contain.The cruelty of the Trump administration’s policies, and the ritual rhetorical flaying of his targets before his supporters, are intimately connected. As Lili Loofbourow wrote of the Kavanaugh incident in Slate, adolescent male cruelty toward women is a bonding mechanism, a vehicle for intimacy through contempt. The white men in the lynching photos are smiling not merely because of what they have done, but because they have done it together.We can hear the spectacle of cruel laughter throughout the Trump era. There were the border-patrol agents cracking up at the crying immigrant childrenseparated from their families, and the Trump adviser who delighted white supremacists when he mocked a child with Down syndrome who was separated from her mother. There were the police who laughed uproariously when the president encouraged them to abuse suspects, and the Fox News hosts mocking a survivor of the Pulse Nightclub massacre (and in the process inundating him with threats), the survivors of sexual assault protesting to Senator Jeff Flake, the women who said the president had sexually assaulted them, and the teen survivors of the Parkland school shooting. There was the president mocking Puerto Rican accents shortly after thousands were killed and tens of thousands displaced by Hurricane Maria, the black athletes protesting unjustified killings by the police, the women of the #MeToo movement who have come forward with stories of sexual abuse, and the disabled reporter whose crime was reporting on Trump truthfully. It is not just that the perpetrators of this cruelty enjoy it; it is that they enjoy it with one another. Their shared laughter at the suffering of others is an adhesive that binds them to one another, and to Trump.Read Adam Serwer on the realization of TrumpismTaking joy in that suffering is more human than most would like to admit. Somewhere on the wide spectrum between adolescent teasing and the smiling white men in the lynching photographs are the Trump supporters whose community is built by rejoicing in the anguish of those they see as unlike them, who have found in their shared cruelty an answer to the loneliness and atomization of modern life.The laughter undergirds the daily spectacle of insincerity, as the president and his aides pledge fealty to bedrock democratic principles they have no intention of respecting. The president who demanded the execution of five black and Latino teenagers for a crime they didn’t commit decrying “false accusations,” when his Supreme Court nominee stands accused; his supporters who fancy themselves champions of free speech meet references to Hillary Clinton or a woman whose only crime was coming forward to offer her own story of abuse with screams of “Lock her up!” The political movement that elected a president who wanted to ban immigration by adherents of an entire religion, who encourages police to brutalize suspects, and who has destroyed thousands of immigrant families for violations of the law less serious than those of which he and his coterie stand accused, now laments the state of due process.This isn’t incoherent. It reflects a clear principle: Only the president and his allies, his supporters, and their anointed are entitled to the rights and protections of the law, and if necessary, immunity from it. The rest of us are entitled only to cruelty, by their whim. This is how the powerful have ever kept the powerless divided and in their place, and enriched themselves in the process.Further reading: The logical fallacy of Christine Blasey Ford’s “choice”A blockbuster New York Times investigation on Tuesday reported that President Trump’s wealth was largely inherited through fraudulent schemes, that he became a millionaire while still a child, and that his fortune persists in spite of his fumbling entrepreneurship, not because of it. The stories are not unconnected. The president and his advisers have sought to enrich themselves at taxpayer expense; they have attempted to corrupt federal law-enforcement agencies to protect themselves and their cohorts, and they have exploited the nation’s darkest impulses in the pursuit of profit. But their ability to get away with this fraud is tied to cruelty.Trump’s only true skill is the con; his only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything, no matter what it costs them.Adam Serwer is a staff writer at The Atlantic, covering politics.