Thursday was an ugly day in American history. As the Senate hearing into the sexual assault allegations leveled against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh drew to a close, only one thing was clear. There will be a feel-bad ending to the tawdry tale of Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.
There's no real possibility at this point of a happy outcome. Both parties' bases have been galvanized by this episode; at least one will walk away brimming with rage. All fair-minded people will have to acknowledge the real possibility that someone has been deeply wronged. All in all, the hearings have provided a great opportunity for us to reunite with our respective political teams and hate each other just a little bit more.
It's ugly. If there's a silver lining, it's only that America really is better than this (usually). Court battles represent American politics at its absolute worst, and we should try to remember that before condemning the other half of the country to perdition.
Ford's testimony bolstered her credibility. The public already knows her story, but her telling was sympathetic. She was emotional, but still collected and lucid. It seems quite unlikely, though, that we will ever know for certain if what she said was true. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, many Americans will believe that our sexually exploitative president has elevated another predator to the highest court in the land. That's certainly not ideal for the GOP, especially given conservatives' fervent hope that this judge will cast the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Maybe dropping Kavanaugh seems like a no-brainer for the Republicans. It's not, though. His testimony was also compelling. Kavanaugh started out visibly angry, but became unexpectedly emotional as he described the pain these allegations have caused his family and childhood friends. His denials were unequivocal. As the proceedings continued, he became more combative; some people were critical, others found his indignation sympathetic and human. In the end, nothing conclusive was established. If Kavanaugh's name is withdrawn now, many Americans will conclude that a good man's life and reputation were savaged by political opportunists shamelessly weaponizing #MeToo angst.
That's going to be bad for women and bad for the GOP. What are we to think of a party that deems Trump a fitting leader, but walks away from a dedicated husband and father with a decades-long history of befriending and mentoring women? Welcome to 21st-century conservatism, where only chauvinists and demagogues can survive for long.
Kavanaugh's withdrawal would set another unfortunate precedent. It would establish that it only takes one. Kavanaugh has had other accusers over the past week, but these vague-yet-lurid rumors have mostly just served to galvanize both bases, confirming them in their pre-existing views. Ford's story is the one that matters. If she is the reason he never becomes a Supreme Court justice (possibly jeopardizing Republicans' opportunity to nominate another judge), everyone will notice that the single-accuser tactic can be effective. No corroborating witnesses are needed. No confirming details are needed. It's not necessary to establish that accused and accuser knew each other, or that the social event in question ever took place. Even if you're convinced Ford is telling the truth, you should be bothered by the moral hazard this would represent.
One final, nasty detail should be mentioned. Timing was a big factor in Thursday's horror show. If the midterms weren't so close, and if the Kavanaugh nomination hadn't been brewing so long, both parties would have been less adamant and less desperate. For the Democrats, that appears to have been the plan. They wanted to limit the GOP's options, like a football coach who waits until the last second to stop the game clock. As a political calculation it makes perfect sense, but it was a textbook case of putting process over principle, cynically using a woman's traumatic sexual experiences in the manner most likely to gain a tactical advantage. Everything is permissible, it seems, in the war of all-against-all that is a Supreme Court confirmation.
This is where our hyper-aggressive judiciary has taken us. It's the dregs of our political life. Sometimes culture warriors (of all persuasions) speak as though our entire society is like this: locked in a never-ending death match. In general, this is false, or far less true than extremists imagine. Twitter is not a microcosm of our whole society. When it comes to courts, though, total warfare really is the order of the day. There's no room left for principle, civility, or gentlemen's agreements.
It's unfortunate it has to be like this. The founders of our country never intended for black-robed jurists to be the ultimate arbiters of our nation's most fractious culture wars. That, regrettably, is what has happened, as courts have increasingly become the deciding factor in our most divisive social disputes. The Supreme Court dictated our present status quo with respect to abortion and marriage. (Conservatives won't soon forget that both of these cherished causes foundered against that particular rock.) Courts have had an outsized influence as well in fractious disputes over unions, gun legislation, health care, religious freedom, and campaign finance reform. In such a political world, courts become a vital political asset, and politicians will now pay almost any political price in order to control them. But for that reality, it seems exceedingly unlikely that Trump would ever have been elected. But for that reality, liberals wouldn't literally be chasing Republican senators from public restaurants.
As consequential as elections are, though, they seemed like background trivia on Thursday, as we watched two anguished people fighting to defend their credibility and reputations. One way or another, it seemed clear that someone was being dropped into the maw of our hideous political machine, right there before our eyes. As Ford related her story, I could only hope that some people felt ashamed of the justifications they had recently offered for these "teenage-boy shenanigans." As Kavanaugh agonized over the impact this has had on his family, I hoped a few others felt ashamed of their casual assumption that he must have done it, because, you know, that's how privileged white boys behaved in 1982.
We're better than this. Take a moment to feel ashamed that this ugliness ever occurred and then remind yourself that this is as bad as American politics gets. Let's wake up tomorrow and get back to being human.