“No one is entitled to be on the United States Supreme Court,” Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) declared on Friday, the day after the hearing over Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh may have forgotten that. Throughout his stormy testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee — a job interview of sorts for the open seat on the high court — Kavanaugh wasn’t just interested in trying to clear his name. He wanted the world to know that he is mad because he is not getting what he believes should be his.
But what he, and many other powerful men, might be finding out is that they are not owed money and fame. No one is due a prestigious job. And most especially not if they stand accused of mistreating people.
During his petulant performance on Thursday, Kavanaugh enumerated his “lifetime of high-profile public service.” He reminded the committee that over his 26-year career, he has “served in many high-profile and sensitive government positions.”
Kavanaugh’s pedigree starts with a family who could send him to Georgetown Preparatory School and extends to Yale — where he said he gained admission by “busting my tail” but where he was also a legacy admission. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, worked in the George W. Bush White House, and took his current place on the D.C. Circuit ― which he made sure the committee knew “is often referred to as the second-most-important court in the country” and where he said he “handled some of the most significant and sensitive cases.”
These are the trappings of his privilege, and also what he sees as his ticket to the next level of prestige. Kavanaugh claimed that Democrats surfaced Blasey and other women’s allegations because they “couldn’t take me out on the merits.” On the merits, he is sure, he is owed this honor.
“Kavanaugh wasn’t just interested in trying to clear his name. He wanted the world to know that he is mad because he is not getting what he believes should be his.”
What Kavanaugh has at stake is a very rare and illustrious promotion to a lifetime appointment on the highest court in the country. If his nomination fails, he goes back to being a judge on the country’s second-most powerful court.
Yet this, he wants us to believe, is the same as annihilation. He argued that the delay in his confirmation is meant to “blow me up and take me down.”
“If the mere allegation, the mere assertion of an allegation … is enough to destroy a person’s life and career,” Kavanaugh told the committee, “we will have abandoned the basic principles of fairness and due process that define our legal system and our country.”
This is at the heart of Kavanaugh’s raw fury. Defenses of due process aside ― this is not a trial but, again, a job interview ― he also feels he is entitled to this seat. Such power, such prestige, is his birthright as a white man. Not getting what he wants is the same as losing his very life. It doesn’t matter that three women have publicly accused him of sexual assault and misconduct. When has that ever gotten in a man’s way?
He’s far from alone.
In a self-indulgent essay in Harper’s Magazine, John Hockenberry, the former public radio host whom multiple women accused of sexual harassment, recently wrote he had been given “a life sentence of unemployment without possibility of furlough” after he was let go. “Is my life a reasonable price exacted in the pursuit of justice?” he queried.
Former New York Review of Books editor Ian Buruma published a similar essay by former Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi, whom multiple women have accused of physically and sexually abusing them. Buruma then defended the essay by arguing Ghomeshi had suffered “finding your life ruined.”
Actor Norm Macdonald recently lamented that Louis C.K., who has been accused of exposing himself to women without their consent, and Roseanne Barr, who tweeted racist things about former White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, had seen “all their work in their entire life being wiped out in a single day.” (Never mind that Louis C.K. has already staged a comeback.)
As Trump put it in a February tweet, “There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone.”
By claiming that being outed by Me Too and losing their careers is tantamount to being locked in jail or losing their actual lives, these men are also saying that the accusations have unfairly robbed them of what they have a right to: fame, power, influence and loads of money.
Hockenberry and Ghomeshi still found homes for their writing in two of the country’s most prestigious magazines. Louis C.K. earned $52 million last year and is reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars, even as his latest movie was canceled. And yet, finding that they may no longer be welcome in the halls of power, no longer lifted higher and higher among those ranks, is comparable to incarceration or death.
“Finding that they may no longer be welcome in the halls of power, no longer lifted higher and higher among those ranks, is comparable to incarceration or death.”
Despite what white men may have been led to think for centuries, they don’t have a birthright to positions of power. Alleged abusers like Kavanaugh may finally be facing a reality that has been far too slow to come: their privilege —their gender, race, class and pristine credentials — never should have, and perhaps someday won’t, entitle them to power they haven’t earned.
It’s not just that these men don’t deserve to be handed even more control, even more influence, even more plaudits ― especially when there is no sign they have done anything to reform themselves or make amends with the people they hurt. It’s also that there are scores, hundreds, heaps of people who are talented and qualified and, importantly, haven’t abused anyone, who could occupy these positions instead.
There is absolutely no way the Brett Kavanaughs of the world are the only available people who could adequately fill these roles. We do not suffer from a dearth of talent. We suffer from overlooking talent in favor of privileged men, some of whom have done things that disqualify them.
White men have rocketed to the top of the workplace and the world stage for virtually all of history, some of them deserving, some leapfrogging over others who may have been more deserving. But there is no reason the men being called out as abusive harassers who treat women like objects and playthings should keep plowing forward. It’s only right that their comeuppance includes stepping aside to let the qualified, nonabusive people through.
“We do not suffer from a dearth of talent. We suffer from overlooking talent in favor of privileged men, some of whom have done things that disqualify them.”
Especially when we know this abusive behavior is partly what keeps talented people hidden in the shadows. While Blasey is a well-respected, well-paid psychology professor, she has also detailed the toll Kavanaugh’s alleged assault took on her life, and we don’t know what professional ramifications she may have suffered.
Experiencing sexual harassment of the kind Hockenberry, Gomeshi, Louis C.K., and dozens and dozens of others are accused of inflicting on people makes many victims tune out and even drop out of certain careers.
There are qualified people who don’t abuse others who can step into the void created when exposed harassers and assaulters are no longer promoted or allowed to remain in their roles. That’s how a functioning job market should work: Decent and talented people should rise, and people who damaged others along their career path should fade away. It’s not exactly the world we’ve lived in up until now. But it’s one that we are, perhaps, slowly entering.
So far, President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans don’t seem deterred from putting Kavanaugh on the court. But that doesn’t mean Kavanaugh has proven himself worthy of what he may very well get.
Bryce Covert is an independent journalist writing about the economy. She is a contributing op-ed writer at The New York Times and a contributing writer at The Nation.