Now that President Trump’s ostensibly safe and dull Supreme Court pick has been accused of sexual assault — with the accuser, research psychologist Christine Blasey Ford, saying she feared for her life in the attack — it’s worth remembering what the coverage of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination was like back in July. Almost every profile attempted to paint him as average, unremarkable, bland, aggressively square.
In parlance, he was “just a regular guy.” Which supposedly triggered the libs to no end.
He was a “carpool dad,” driving his kids and their friends to sports practices! He put ketchup on his pasta; revolting, but whatever! He had a ton of credit card debt (very relatable) because he couldn’t stop buying baseball tickets! Most importantly, he drank beer! Truly, this was the “regular all-American guy” to look out for the common man in Constitutional inquiries on the highest court in the land for the rest of his natural life.
But who called Kavanaugh a “regular all-American guy”? Oh, you know, just a litigator who worked with alongside him in the presidential administration of George W. Bush, a Yale-educated nepotism case who convinced voters he instead came from a long line of Texan cattle rustlers. Kavanaugh, too, attended Yale, where he belonged to a not-that-secret drinking club, sometimes referred to as “Tit and Clit,” which remained all-male even as the university’s other societies became coed.
It’s nothing new that privileged, connected men present themselves as humble and ordinary when it gains them access to the levers of power — Trump has spent years bashing the “elites” while golfing at his private country clubs and sucking down shrimp cocktail at Mar-a-Lago. It was always in the GOP’s interests to play down Kavanaugh’s preppie, “pure Washington” background, the way he seems lab-designed to write legal opinions protecting or enabling the wealthy establishment that has always been his territory.
But now that built-in defense against charges that Kavanaugh would rule in favor of a corporate and political class that has little regard for the average taxpayer — that he’s really an ordinary man himself, and therefore sympathetic to the masses despite his position or pedigree — must do double duty. It has to be the shield against sexual misconduct allegations as well. It’s not simply a matter of “boys will be boys,” the phrase that excuses a staggering range of toxic male decisions where the behavior should have been corrected. It goes beyond our ideas of men as predisposed to lusty violence and toward an attitude that treats the crime itself as expected, irrelevant and normal, especially given Kavanaugh was 17 years old in the drunken struggle Ford described.
“Normal,” however, rarely is. Republicans certainly have no such forgiveness in their hearts for juvenile sex offenders who aren’t in a place to reshape federal law according to conservative ideology. And how often is normality the mask worn by a dangerous man? The narrative now pushed by Kavanaugh’s allies — that he’s nice, a good person, etc. — are far more vague and less convincing than Ford’s detailed, gut-wrenching story.
It’s only a rehash of the spin that launched the SCOTUS bid, this time weakened by split messaging: Kavanaugh outright denies the allegations, while a few pundits on his side accept them as likely true, yet argue they’re not disqualifying, of course choosing to ignore that this would make him a liar. The attempt to salvage his character by saying, “Whatever happened back then, Kavanaugh is a nebulously pleasant and known quantity in middle age,” also echoes dazed commentary from the neighbors of people who later turned out to be mass murderers. What? Him? No way. Didn’t seem the type.
Kavanaugh’s mild personality isn’t evidence; it proves nothing. That he has a number of friends is equally unrevealing — even the victims may remain friendly with a predator. But his obvious regularness and his white-collar career trajectory make it inconceivable to many in his orbit that he was ever capable of attempting rape. That’s because a culture of silence and suppression around sexual assault has led them to wrongly believe that only outwardly evil, monstrous men commit such acts. That a rapist cannot dissemble or disguise himself as harmless. In fact, he often does, which is why he usually winds up assaulting someone he already knows, not a stranger in a back alley.
Everyone else in the Kavanaugh camp is choosing to insist that their understanding of him as genial and professional overrides any past wickedness on his part. And so the “regular guy” routine is both a cover and a counterweight — it’s the reason that he couldn’t have done it, or the reason he ought to be forgiven if he did. In a law school commencement speech a few years back, Kavanaugh offered “don’t be a jerk” and “have the proper demeanor” as essential rules for a judge to follow — almost as if to say that the right tone supersedes all substance. Were he to end up on the bench despite his troubling defects, just because he’s fairly polite, it might complete that argument.