In the run-up to Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, plenty of people tried to compare Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford to Anita Hill.
As it turns out, a far more useful comparison would have been the two U.S. Supreme Court nominees they accused of sexual misconduct — Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas.
It’s not every day that I can point to a black man, put on a national stage, who can do a better job of getting the benefit of the doubt and looking more like a victim than a white man.
But in watching Kavanaugh sniffle and choke back tears on Thursday as he talked about his teenage years of football, beer, parties and pricey schools, it became clear that the sorry display was a prime example of how the concepts of privilege and entitlement are changing in this country, and why the Trump-supporting wing of the Republican Party is so freaked out about it.
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Consider that 27 years ago, Thomas capitalized on the rocky state of race relations in the U.S. in a miraculous bid to look like a victim.
He knew that public anxiety was running high after Rodney King was dragged from his car and beaten on camera by a group of white Los Angeles police officers, eventually sparking riots. And so he boiled down Hill’s credible allegations of sexual harassment, given under the clumsy and cruel questions of an all white male Senate Judiciary Committee, as the “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks” who think for themselves.
“Unless you kowtow to an old order,” Thomas said, “you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.”
It worked. Given the perfect storm of then-current events, he successfully cast himself as a victim of the white political establishment, one worth feeling sorry for by the public, and was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Don’t expect that to happen again anytime soon.
Fast forward to 2018. Kavanaugh, on Thursday, tried to do what Thomas did but largely failed.
Facing credible accusations of sexual assault by Ford and at least two other women, Kavanaugh launched into an angry, indignant, opening tirade of a statement in which he ridiculously painted himself as the target of “character assassination” stemming from a political “conspiracy” led by Democrats and the Clintons.
“My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed by vicious and false additional allegations,” he told the committee.
“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” he added, almost spitting in disgust. “The Constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process, but you have replaced ‘advice and consent’ with ‘search and destroy.’ ”
To the loyal, populist supporters of President Donald Trump, Kavanaugh succeeded in looking like a victim of elitist politicians. But to the rest of us, he just looked like an entitled, privileged white male, whining because he’s unaccustomed to losing anything — much less a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court that he always expected to get.
That Republicans probably will confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court despite what happened on Thursday says something about this country, namely that white male privilege still means a lot. But it also says something that so many Americans saw through his act and were turned off by his defensive and tearful testimony.
The white male victimhood narrative is prevalent in Republican circles these days. But as the demographics of the U.S. begin to look a lot more like those of California, it’s a narrative that clearly won’t last.
Erika D. Smith: 916-321-1185, @Erika_D_Smith.