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High price to pay / September 27, 2018

As matters stood at the time of this writing, on Wednesday afternoon, America was left to ponder the possibility that a credibly-accused assaulter of women whose own claims to integrity have been undone by an incessant need to lie about his past could become the next justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Normally you’d think a scenario like this would send the champions of Judge Brett Kavanaugh fleeing for the exits, but so far, no.

The story up to now: Kavanaugh, a member of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and Donald Trump’s pick to shift the Supreme Court sharply rightward for a generation, has now been accused by three women of sexual misconduct as a high school and college student. The first claim came from a California psychology professor, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who related her story to The Washington Post of a long-ago house party in the wealthy D.C. suburbs in which a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, muffled her screams for help and tried to take off her clothing. He was a student at exclusive, all-boys Georgetown Prep; she attended a nearby all-girls high school in suburban Maryland.

On Sunday night, the New Yorker reported a second alleged episode from Kavanaugh’s days at Yale University, this time involving a classmate, Deborah Ramirez. Ramirez told the magazine that Kavanaugh pushed his penis in her face during a dormitory drinking game. The accounts of both women contain many ambiguities, and neither of their stories has been directly corroborated (yet), but the accusers — especially Ford — can support their claims based on conversations they had with others long before Kavanaugh became a household name with his nomination to the Supreme Court. In other words, there’s no real reason to think either woman is lying, unless you’ve gone off the Deep State Deep End and think everything that stands in Donald Trump’s way must be a left-wing conspiracy gone wild.

On Wednesday, attorney Michael Avenatti, an ambulance chaser with a knack for catching the ambulance (and clients like Stormy Daniels), produced a third accuser: a current-day Washington resident by the name of Julie Swetnick, who was in high school around the same time as Kavanaugh and claims to have witnessed him back then groping girls and taking part, even if only passively, in booze-and-‘Ludes fueled gang rapes of young girls. In fact, Swetnick says she was gang-raped, too, by boys in Kavanaugh’s social circle, although she leaves unanswered the question of whether Kavanaugh joined in. Not to minimize the other accusations against Kavanaugh, which are (or certainly should be) disqualifying for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, but Swetnick’s allegations are in a whole ‘nother matter — if true, a huge caveat, they raise the possibility of criminal charges being brought against the judge even decades after the fact.

Throughout this saga Kavanaugh has had some options for forbearance that he has stubbornly refused to take. The obvious one is the Kids-Will-Be-Kids defense: hey, we all did stupid things when we were young. Who wants to be judged for teen errors of judgment that any normal adult would damn sure want to stay buried? (Not sure this line of reasoning works for a candidate for the federal judiciary, especially at the top rung, however.) Kavanaugh more or less relinquished the option of half-apologizing for his youthful indiscretions when he went on Fox News on Monday night and cast himself as a high school Galahad, pure of heart, thus compounding his parallel problem as someone with a fraught relationship with the truth. Kavanaugh described his high school experience to a Fox News interviewer as a moment “where I was focused on academics and athletics, going to church every Sunday at Little Flower, working on my service projects, and friendship, friendship with my fellow classmates and friendship with girls from the local all-girls Catholic schools … I think all of us have probably done things we look back on in high school and regret or cringe a bit, but that’s not what we’re talking about.”

Sure, judge: that must explain the references in your high school yearbook to “100 Kegs or Bust” and “FFFFFFFourth of July” (go look it up on the internet, we’d lose every last subscriber if we published the verbatim definition) and most horribly, the “Renate Alumni.”

On Monday, The New York Times came out with a devastating article that examined this seemingly minor chapter from Kavanaugh’s high school years. He and a bunch of buddies on the Georgetown Prep football team wrote in their yearbooks about being members of the “Renate Alumni,” a reference, the Times found, to Renate Schroeder (now Renate Schroeder Dolphin), a girl from a nearby high school. The implication is plain: they all slept with her, individually or collectively, and decided to memorialize the sexual conquest with a little old-fashioned yearbook slut-shaming. It’s truly disgusting, repellent stuff.

True to form, Kavanaugh’s lawyer came out with a statement denying the smear meant what it plainly meant: “Judge Kavanaugh and Ms. Dolphin [her present day maiden name] attended one high school event together and shared a brief kiss good night following that event,” the lawyer said in response to the story. “They had no other such encounter. The language from Judge Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook refers to the fact that he and Ms. Dolphin attended that one high school together and nothing else.” Um, whatever you say, judge. (Demonstrating the challenge of effectively coordinating false statements, the Times got hold of Renate Schroeder Dolphin for her version of the story: “I think Brett must have confused me with someone else, because I never kissed him.”)

What do you do with a man such as this? At a minimum, you’d open an investigation into the allegations against him, a job fully consistent with the FBI’s role of performing background checks, and at a maximum (and I do think we’re close to maxing out at this point) one would insist that Kavanaugh withdraw and resign his current seat on the judiciary. Absent a full exoneration via an independent investigation, he has no prospect of carrying any legitimacy with him to the Supreme Court, where the next justice will likely provide the deciding vote on all kinds of hot-topic cases. Can anyone really imagine a judge credibly accused of attempted rape writing an opinion that denies a rape victim the right to an abortion as he succeeds in overturning Roe v. Wade? Such a future is not only possible with a tainted Kavanaugh on the court, it’s almost inevitable.

All that stands between sanity and the next 30 years going down history’s toilet as a period of unprecedented social strife and national disintegration is 51 Republicans in the U.S. Senate. Sure, 47 or 48 of them probably don’t give a damn, but even the hard-core ideologues must know by now that they and their beloved party are walking into the thresher blades if they try to ram Kavanaugh’s nomination through. As for the judge himself, what a perfect choice Brett Kavanaugh has proven to be in the Age of Trump. Everything about his existence screams unabashed, toxic entitlement: the mean frat-boy drunk, falling upward from tony Georgetown Prep to the even tonier Ivy League, who then beat a straight-line path to movement conservatism, becoming a Bush White House adviser, federal judge, and who now finds himself on the cusp of taking the grandest prize of all. In all this time, there have been no moments of accountability to slow Kavanaugh down; he’s had people running interference for him at every turn. (I’m convinced his disintegrating reputation continues to be protected by people who knew him at Georgetown Prep and Yale, in the spirit of the elite self-regard that gave us Wall Street’s 2008 meltdown and other fiascoes. I know a little about the world that Brett Kavanaugh moved in as a Yale freshman, having been a senior at Princeton the same year. #NotAll
Yalies. #NotAllPrincetonians.)

Bottom line, Kavanaugh is a member of the self-anointed master class in the country which believes wealth and power are personal birthrights, because, well, they always have been. All of this would be the case even if Kavanaugh weren’t facing allegations of boorishness, shockingly bad judgment and outright sexual assault, but the kicker is that we stand here not knowing if he’ll yet pay a price for behavior that would be considered intolerable coming from almost any other person. And that’s the part Donald Trump must love most: the possibility that someone as morally damaged as he is could preside on the Supreme Court and, who knows, maybe even rule on whether Trump himself is subject to the restraints of the law. Kavanaugh is the Pay-It-Forward Kid of the Unaccountable Elite, “an absolute gem,” as Trump put it Wednesday. If Senate Republicans believe their own bull hockey to the point of tossing their political careers to put Kavanaugh on the bench without compunction, then heaven help us all and God save America. It’ll be one heavy lift.

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