9 takeaways from the Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh Senate testimonies
Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, one day before the Senate is set to vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court.
- Ford maintained she's sure it was Kavanaugh who sexually assaulted her, while Kavanaugh vehemently denied the allegations.
- Democrats want an FBI investigation, and even asked Kavanaugh to request one from the president, though Kavanaugh refused to do so.
- As of Thursday afternoon, the Senate is still set to vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation on Friday morning.
Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who says he sexually assaulted her in the early 1980s, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
Ford testified for about four hours starting in the morning. Kavanaugh followed.
In some ways, both of their tearful testimonies came off as credible and sympathetic, and it's not a stretch to suggest that someone who happened to turn on the TV on Thursday, and had no prior knowledge of the political debacle, would come away believing whichever person happened to be testifying at the time.
But the inescapable math, assuming no faults of memory, says one of them is lying.
Ford, wearing eyeglasses and a dark blue suit, remained composed throughout the questioning, despite her voice breaking at times. In asserting that she was absolutely sure it was Kavanaugh who had sexually assaulted her, she was respectful to all members of the committee, including the Republican senators and the outside counsel who asked questions on their behalf, Rachel Mitchell, who leads the special-victims division of the Maricopa County attorney's office in Arizona.
Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee (Photo by Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images)
In his opening statements, Kavanaugh was both angry and tearful as he described how the allegations have impacted him and his family in recent weeks. He then described his high-school days, the era in which the assault allegedly took place, in an imperfect but likely relatable light, painting himself as a work-hard-play-hard kind of student who enjoyed drinking beer with his football friends but also valued school, church and family.
Categorically denying every allegation levied against him, Kavanaugh repeatedly reminded the committee that the four witnesses who were said to be present at the gathering where the alleged sexual assault took place had all denied being there, and he expressed indignation at every turn for having to answer to allegations that he not only considers false, but also part of a Democratic conspiracy.
Here are some of the key moments from Ford's and Kavanaugh's testimony.
'I like beer'
Kavanaugh said that he likes beer, still likes beer, and perhaps had too many beers at times when he was younger. However, he was sure to paint his past drinking habits in a light of moderation, saying he'd never blacked out, passed out from drinking alcohol or woke up in a strange location after drinking.
"There is a bright line between drinking beer, which I gladly do, and which I fully embrace, and sexually assaulting someone, which is a violent crime," he said. "If every American who drinks beer, or every American who drank beer in high school, is suddenly presumed guilty of sexual assault, we'll be in an ugly new place in this country."
Kavanaugh: This is Revenge on behalf of the Clintons
Kavanaugh suggested that the efforts by Democrats to ruin his reputation and block his nomination were part of a cynical political plot–one he suggested is being executed on behalf of the Clintons.
"This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups," Kavanaugh said. "This is a circus. The consequences will extend long past my nomination; the consequences will be with us for decades."
Kavanaugh: The Swetnick allegation is a farce
After Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) mentioned allegations against him by three women–Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick–Kavanaugh became visibly angry, dismissing the Swetnick allegations as a farce.
"The Swetnick thing is a joke, it's a farce."
"Would you like to say more about it?" Feinstein asked.
"No," Kavanaugh said, eliciting a laugh from the audience.
Why not conduct an FBI investigation?
(Photo By Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)
In his five minutes of questioning, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) referenced a quote from Kavanaugh's opening statement in which he said he'd "welcome any kind of investigation. Durbin, after noting that Kavanaugh himself had relied on FBI work during his work on the Starr report in the Clinton era, repeatedly pressed Kavanaugh to request an FBI investigation, and asked him whether he thought an FBI investigation would be the best way to proceed.
"What do you think is best, personally?" Durbin asked.
Kavanaugh was silent, seeming to stumble for the first time of the afternoon, finally suggesting after a few beats that these allegations were sprung on him and are harmful to his family.
“This is hell”
Following Durbin's questioning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) roughly criticized the tact taken by his Democratic colleagues, saying it was the most "unethical sham" he's seen in his political career.
"You're looking for a fair process, you came to the wrong town at the wrong time, my friend," Graham said.
Graham asked Kavanaugh if he's been through hell in the wake of the allegations.
"I've been through hell and then some."
"This is not a job interview, this is hell."
Ford: 100% sure
"With what degree of certainty do you believe Brett Kavanaugh assaulted you?" Durbin asked Ford.
"One hundred percent," she responded.
A fear of flying
(Photo by Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images)
Ford said that she has claustrophobia and a fear of flying. She said that, because of these conditions, she had hoped the committee would come to her in California so she could avoid flying, but during her testimony said she later realized that would have been an "unrealistic" request.
In an apparent attempt to discredit Ford, or to suggest that Democrats had wanted to necessitate a public spectacle in Washington, D.C., Mitchell kept pressing Ford on her phobia of flying. Mitchell asked Ford, who lists "surf travel" as an interest on her C.V., whether she'd ever flown to the French Polynesian islands for leisure.
"I also saw on your CV that you list the following interests of travel, and you, in parentheses put 'Hawaii, Costa Rica, South Pacific islands, and French Polynesia,'" Mitchell said. "Have you been to all this places?"
"Yes," Ford said.
Ford said that the most unforgettable part of her experience was the laughter.
"Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense," Ford said, referring to Brett Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, who she says was in the room.
She added: "I was underneath one of them while the two laughed...Two friends having a really good time with one another."
Two front doors
Ford said that she's developed several neuroses as a result of her sexual assault experience. One of those conditions is claustrophobia, which Ford said led her to install a second front door during a remodeling of her home."I had completed an extensive remodel of our home, and I insisted on a second front door, an idea that he and others disagreed with and could not understand," she said. "In explaining why I wanted to have a second front door, I described the assault in detail. I recall saying that the boy who assaulted me could someday be on the U.S. Supreme Court and spoke a bit about his background. My husband recalls that I named my attacker as Brett Kavanaugh."
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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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