The details Ford recounts of a long-ago encounter are so haunting and familiar, they have the ring of truth.
You know that party? The one where Christine Blasey Ford said she was assaulted and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said never happened? I’ve been to that party. Well, not that exact one, but parties like it.
I’ll get back to that in a moment. What sticks with me now, after watching one of the most gut-wrenching episodes in American history, are the details.
The hand over her mouth. The “uproarious” laughter that Ford heard between Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, after she said she was pushed into a room and Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed. The moment when Ford looked over at Judge in the hope that he would see her panic and fear and help her. The sound of the two boys “pinballing” down the stairs after she escaped Kavanaugh’s hold that summer day in 1982.
I am required to say here that Kavanaugh has denied Ford’s allegations. So there. I said it.
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But why would someone make up such a story? Why would she go to her congresswoman, The Washington Post, and then take a white-knuckle flight to Washington, D.C., to sit in a Senate hearing room and bare her long-held trauma in front of the country, the world, if it wasn’t true?
Despite the fact that this Supreme Court nomination has taken on the outsized feel of a Super Bowl — CNN had nine commentators on the desk during the hearings — there is something haunting and familiar about Ford’s story. The details that I return to and trust, despite Kavanaugh’s angry, forceful denial; his long list of women friends; his pride over hiring female law clerks and his high school datebook.
For I know this scenario: Summer in the suburbs. Days spent at the pool. Wearing your bathing suit underneath your shorts. Heading straight to a friend’s house from the swim club. Maybe a beer or two. People show up, a few peel off for a while, then show up again. Some drink too much. Some leave quickly.
You don’t ask. You don’t know. And then, decades later, people tell you things. The kinds of things — the sounds and smells — that researchers tell us lodge in the mind of assault victims.
I am also familiar with the kind of details that came later in Ford’s life — namely, how in 2012, during a home renovation, she wanted to have a second front door put on her house. Her husband wanted to know why. Her answer was to finally describe the assault, in which she named Kavanaugh as her attacker.
All these years later, she wanted a second way out. “Another sequela of the assault,” she called it.
I know people who have been traumatized and need space, who can’t be in crowds or tight spaces, who walk into a room and look for the exits before taking off their coats.
For those reasons, I was struck by Ford’s bravery, and noted the moments in her testimony when her voice began to shake.
And there was this: for such an accomplished woman — she is a research psychologist at Stanford University Medical School and a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University — Ford’s voice sounded so tender and small. She answered some questions in the tone of a question; her voice rising at the end, as if she wasn’t sure. Like, say, a 15-year-old girl might. Someone the same age as Ford at the time of the assault.
In contrast, Kavanaugh kicked off his testimony with guns blazing; his voice brimmed with anger as he blamed Ford’s sexual-assault allegations on the Democratic Party, the press, the Clintons. He denied being at the party, in the room.
Whatever happens to Kavanaugh, whether or not he is confirmed, I will think of him as a privileged young man who pinned a girl to a bed and put his hand over her mouth, and who grew up to be a Supreme Court nominee.
Short of an FBI investigation proving Ford wrong, I will look at Kavanaugh just as I look at Clarence Thomas — not as a jurist on the highest court in the land, but as a boss who bragged to Anita Hill about the size of his penis, of watching porn, of his sexual prowess, and who once asked. “Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?”
I don’t feel proud or inspired by Thomas, and I won’t feel that way about Kavanaugh. I will only feel angry that an accomplished woman like Ford, in an attempt to do her “civic duty” was the subject of scorn by a party and a president who have no right to speak about sexual assault or its victims.
Trump reprised his umbrage at the long list of sexual-assault claims against him as he took Kavanaugh’s side in a tweet: “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.”
” … as bad as she says.” Nice.
Kavanaugh was just as dismissive in his testimony.
“I’ve never done this,” he said. “It’s not who I am. It’s not who I was.”
To my ears, this sounded like a man who felt entitled and now found himself questioned, his ever-rising career put on hold. So he raged, he choked back tears, he blamed everyone but himself.
That was familiar, too.
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