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Pig in a poke

SoVaNow.com / September 26, 2018
Surely a few more episodes lie ahead in the soap opera no one asked for — All My Children (Enrolled at Georgetown Prep) — but by now it’s clear to see that Brett Kavanaugh is a very ethically-challenged judge and human being. Put aside the stuff you don’t buy about his supposedly sordid past as would-be high school rapist and stone-cold drunk; focus on what we do know. He grew up a rich kid in an exclusive community that looked after its own, allowing kids to live lives of disdain for social and moral restraints that otherwise hold firm when neighbors are not shy about calling the cops and cops are not shy about throwing little Johnny Basil Jamieson Pembroke IV’s backside in jail. It’s no wonder Donald Trump loves this guy so much: Kavanaugh is the Pay-It-Forward Kid of the Unaccountable Elite.

We have a big problem in this country with horrible elites — people who skirt responsibility when they commit stupid, rotten and dishonest acts, able as always to climb further up the ladder by the sheer force of their putrescence. It’s a big part of how we suffered a Wall Street meltdown rife with fraud yet no big bank executives went to jail. It’s a big part of how the country got conned into starting a war in Iraq. Ever since Vietnam we’ve had a problem as a country trusting our leadership, rightly so, but the long corrosiveness has taken an awful toll: the scrum for wealth and power now mostly rewards those who are most vicious in the pursuit.

But set aside political ideology for a moment and ask yourself: Is Brett Kavanaugh really what you think of when you think about a Supreme Court justice? Does he evince the qualities of judicial temperament, equanimity and sense of fair play that reflect the highest aspirations that America has always set for itself, in principle if not always in practice? No.

In the past week, two allegations have surfaced against Kavanaugh that imperil his nomination to the Supreme Court. First, a California psychology professor, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, offered an account to The Washington Post of how a drunken Kavanaugh, at a suburban Maryland house party they both attended as high school students long ago, pinned her to a bed, muffled her screams and tried to strip off her clothing. (Ford is scheduled to testify before Congress Thursday about the experience.) The second allegation is laid out in a New Yorker article that broke late Sunday night: one of Kavanaugh’s Yale female classmates remembered taking part in a dormitory drinking game in which she ended up on the floor nearly passed out, and Kavanaugh moved in for the taunt, sticking his penis in her face. As you’d expect, there are many uncorroborated parts to both women’s stories and much ambiguity after all these years. These are events (allegedly) from more than three decades ago, involving kids with not yet fully-formed brains. Most adults would probably rather not be judged by what they did as knuckleheaded teens, nor answer for acts they’d prefer to remain secret.

Obviously I don’t have much insight into the present-day college experience, but back in the day kids like me headed off to college with visions of the Animal House frat-boy hijinks dancing in our heads. There wasn’t a college in the country where you couldn’t find your standard Alpha Male or campus Lothario who rated the university experience based on the number of sexual conquests over a four-year period. Animal House is still (to me) a hilarious movie, but its more misogynist bits haven’t aged particularly well, and the fact we may struggle to become better version of ourselves and yet fail much of the time doesn’t mean that we as a country haven’t made progress. We have. Which is why this conversation is happening now.

I know quite a bit about the college environment described in The New Yorker piece on Kavanaugh: reading it brought back many memories, although I was hundreds of miles away when the alleged sexual assault of classmate Deborah Ramirez took place. When Brett Kavanaugh was a freshman at Yale, I was a senior at Princeton. (Kavanaugh’s lawyer today, Beth Wilkinson, is an old classmate of mine who I didn’t know back in the day and do not know now. She’s a mega-dollar superlawyer and you and I are not.) Brett Kavanaugh-types could be found on probably any college campus, but the idea that his alleged actions would have qualified him as just One of the Boys Having a Little Fun is flat wrong. If anyone I knew had committed the actions that Kavanaugh supposedly did, that person would have caught enormous grief, rightly so, from one end of the campus to the other for being an abusive creep.

Oh, people had their moments, but I honestly can’t think of a time when anyone I knew (a group that included plenty of self-styled bad boys, many of them dear friends of mine) would take matters so far as to lose grip of their Get-of-Out-Jail card: the existence of some basic level of consent. I may be (probably am) a bit naïve about some of the stuff that happened in the ‘80s, but it’s not like us kids didn’t understand what rape and sexual assault were. The idea that Kavanaugh’s behavior would be laughed off or forgotten, then or now, by everyone within earshot of the Yale dormitory party is less than zero. Indeed, it was precisely because old Yale classmates were still talking about the incident via e-mail 35 years later that The New Yorker got wind of the story, according to Jane Mayer, The New Yorker’s peerless investigative reporter and co-author of the piece with Ronan Farrow.

Toxic entitlement, oozing from every pore of the swaggering scions of the very best families, was as odious then as it is now. The Brett Kavanaugh depicted in the pages of The Post and The New Yorker (and a third time in the New York Times, in a piece from Monday night that I’ll get to in a second) comes across as an entitled a creature as you’ll find: a product of the wealthy D.C. suburbs who took a straight-line path from an exclusive prep school education to the Ivy Leagues and then into the world of movement conservatism, an ideological force which has no use for the tender sentiments of the little people. (Kavanaugh is practically a sure bet to overturn or dismantle Roe v. Wade and I’ll bet dimes-to-dollars if ever gets on the court that he’ll vote to lift Virginia’s uranium mining ban, the ruination of Southside Virginia be damned.) I had a wonderful experience at Princeton and made many life-long friends, but the arrogance and privilege of some quarters of the monied elite (especially the guys) was truly something to behold.

The Ivies are full of extremely hard-working, extremely bright kids, but not as many geniuses as the admission offices like to pretend. The overall culture should give pause to anyone eager to accept the denials of Brett Kavanaugh’s friends that he could not have possibly done the things he’s accused of doing. First rule: elites are notorious for circling the wagons and avoiding responsibility for anything and everything they do wrong. I don’t believe for a moment that Brett Kavanaugh could have acted in such a disgusting manner and all of it would have gone unnoticed. But I’ve certainly been exposed to enough oaths of secrecy and related campus nonsense to know that the outside world might be kept in the dark.

Chances are, when Kavanaugh was in college he already had an idea that he wanted to be a federal judge, maybe even a really, really high-up one. Throw a rock and you’ll hit someone like this on any Ivy League campus. This makes it doubly difficult for me to buy into the “boys will be boys” defense for Kavanaugh. He knew what he was doing. He just didn’t care. And the fact he’s now a grown man and denies everything, in the face of considerable credible evidence and contemporaneous accounts, tells me he hasn’t matured much as a person or become wiser with age.

Plus he has a very bad record when it comes to telling the truth. Even before these accusations came up, Kavanaugh offered testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee that not only asked the rational-minded person to suspend disbelief, but stuff it in a lockbox. In particular, his account of how he came in possession of stolen Congressional documents (from the Democratic side, naturally) as a Bush White House aide demands that the listener accept pretty much the maximum amount of nonsense that a single person can muster. The judge lies and lies, which makes his protestations of innocence now all the harder to believe.

On Monday night, The New York Times published another article on Kavanaugh’s time at Georgetown Prep, this one about the personalized page of his high school yearbook. Kavanaugh and his football buddies all wrote in their yearbooks that they were members of “The Renate Alumni.” It’s a clear reference to Renate Schroeder, a student at a nearby Catholic girls’ school at the time. The entire story is just gross: these boys all decided to advertise within their social circle the sexual conquest of a teenage girl, either as a group or individually, and now they’re spinning ridiculous stories about the obvious meaning of “The Renate Alumni,” just as you might expect. “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,” a lawyer for Kavanaugh said in a statement 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, sure, judge, whatever you say. (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 Brett Kavanaugh did as an 18-year-old wouldn’t be so important if the boy weren’t so plainly the father to the man. If only a quarter of what these women are saying is true — and personally I think the percentage is much higher — Brett Kavanaugh has no business sitting on the Supreme Court, and he has even less legitimacy to rule on literal life-and-death matters involving his fellow Americans. Abusive, hollow-hearted preppie isn’t a look that will wear well over time on the Supreme Court, or, for that matter, for the Republican Party if it jams his nomination through without a proper investigation. At a minimum, the Senate should ask the FBI to reopen the background check on Kavanaugh to determine whether there is any credibility to the accusations against him. Unfortunately, Republicans have no interest in finding out the truth about the judge. That should tell you everything right there.

But others know well the quality of Kavanaugh and his boorish friends: “They were very disrespectful, at least verbally, with Renate,” said Sean Hagan, a Georgetown Prep student at the time, in an interview with the Times. “I can’t express how disgusted I am with them, then and now.”

Even from within the inner sanctum, the truth will get out.





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