Monday, October 8, 2018

Tribalism and the Defense of Sexual Predators

I don’t really like the word tribalism. For one thing, it is implicitly insulting to actual tribes like the Cheyenne and the Cherokee.

But, that aside, we all know what we mean when we say that American politics has become distressingly tribal. Politicians are fighting for their tribe, i.e., their party, even when such fights are bad for the country.

Democrats are guilty of this, but Republicans are way guiltier.

Okay, that sounds like a tribal defense of the Democrats, but here’s why it is not. Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Whip in the House of Representatives, first got the tribal blood sport going in the early 1990s when he promoted war at all costs against the Democrats. Gingrich, by the way, later became Speaker of the House (his war-to-the-death worked!), but was then forced out of office for being a sleaze. This ouster had nothing to do with his partisan tribalism, however.

The Magna Carta of GOP tribalism was the Gingrich memo of 1990 in which he instructed fellow Republicans to use a specific list of 63 insulting words whenever they talked about the Democrats. Here, as reported in the New York Times, are some of Gingrich’s words for Democrats: “decay, sick, unionized bureaucracy, greed, corruption, radical, permissive, [and] bizarre.”

Gingrich’s fellow Republicans were instructed to memorize the words on his list and to use them whenever they talked about Democrats or any particular Democrat.

When discussing the GOP, Republicans were told to choose words from a flattering list which included “opportunity, challenge, courage, pristine, principle(d), care, caring, common sense, peace, [and] pioneer.”

Now politics ain’t bean-bag, as the philosophical Mr. Dooley once observed, but isn’t routinely and automatically referring to your political opponents as greedy, corrupt, bizarre, etc., going too far? Yes, it is, and doing so was the beginning of the tribalism we see in our politics today. Note that the Democrats, to this day, have not conjured up a list of evil words to throw at the Republicans.

One symptom of the Gingrich-inspired partisan breakdown is the failure of Democrats and Republicans to socialize together in DC. Before Gingrich, it was customary for members of Congress and other officials to get together at local watering holes where bipartisan friendships blossomed. But now our nation’s capital is divided into gathering places that are associated with one party to the exclusion of the other. Bipartisan hanging out is largely a thing of the past.

So, Washington is broken and ruthless tribalism is what broke it. 

Adding to the collapse of cooperative politics was Mitch McConnell’s grossly partisan decision in 2016 to block Merrick Garland's appointment to the Supreme Court. McConnell's excuse was that February 2016, when Justice Scalia’s death gave Obama the opportunity to name Garland, was too close to the election.


See what I mean? The Democrats, whatever partisan fighting they have engaged in, have done nothing like this. Yes, they’ve done other things, but nothing so crass and so grossly un-American as what Gingrich and McConnell have done.

When Senator Al Franken was found to have behaved badly toward women in the past, he was asked by his fellow Democrats to step down from his Senate seat and he did so. Some have argued that his crude behavior toward women was not so unforgivable as to require a resignation. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t as crude or aggressive as the behavior of Justice Brett Kavanaugh as described by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and other women who say he victimized them.

But still, Senator Franken resigned. Democrats did not step forward and demand that Franken fight like hell, accuse the women of lying, portray himself as a victim, etc. But that, of course, is exactly what Brett Kavanaugh and his GOP supporters did – despite the numerous women offering credible descriptions of his predatory behavior. And, I might add, his well-documented tendency to be a frequent and belligerent drunkard in his youth.

So, the Democrats said, “Yes, Al Franken has to go, even though he is an intelligent and effective senator,” while the Republicans are now saying, “We don’t care what those women are saying about Brett Kavanaugh’s assaults, we support him!”

I ask you, who is being more tribal?

Naturally, you can point to past politicians, Democrat and Republican, whose sexual misbehavior is well-known – most notably Donald Trump and Bill Clinton. But the #MeToo Movement is creating an entirely New World - a better world, one in which sexual predators are no longer protected by their “tribe” and are not rewarded with high public office.

Well, Im getting ahead of myself here. Kavanaugh’s appointment shows that we have not built that New World yet. But maybe, after next month’s election? Let’s see. And let's hope.

                                   (Picture from BBC) 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Kavanaugh-Related Letter to Senators

Below is a letter I wrote yesterday referencing a relative of mine who now lives in another city, but with whom I remain very close. I post this with her permission.

October 1, 2018

The Honorable Susan Collins

United States Senate

413 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Collins,

I am writing about a family member who is very near and dear to me. On the evening when President Trump was declared the winner of the 2016 presidential election, she cried. We were both disappointed that Mr. Trump won, but I was surprised at her emotional reaction. She explained to me that it had to do with her having been a victim of rape some 35 years ago. She felt that Mr. Trump’s electoral victory amounted to the whole world telling her that her victimization didn’t matter. Mr. Trump’s inclination to act aggressively toward women even when they resisted him, his “grabbing” of them in a sexually aggressive manner, my relative felt, should have ruled him out as a viable president. But it did not, and she took it very personally and emotionally.

Now a similar situation appears about to occur with Judge Kavanaugh. Certainly Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony last Thursday was utterly convincing and included no evasiveness. The same cannot be said for Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony.

I fear we, the American people, are going to a very dark and troubling place should he gain a seat on the Supreme Court, a place in which the Court itself will suffer a severe blow to its reputation – but also a place also in which millions of Americans, victimized women and those who care about them, will feel very personally disenfranchised. The vulnerability this engenders will breed resentment and rage which will do our country (not to mention the Republican Party) no good. Please use the power of your vote to prevent this from happening. Please say no to Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.


Robert L. Moore

Professor Emeritus of Anthropology

Winter Park, Florida 32792

Monday, September 17, 2018

Balancing Act

How many credibly accused sexual predators does the Supreme Court need before it can be considered appropriately “balanced?” 

 We already have Justice Clarence Thomas, famous for his angry yet unconvincing denial about using inappropriate sexual language against Anita Hill while she worked for him. Of course, Republicans continue to imagine that Professor Hill made up her accusations about Thomas, even though David Brock, the author of the attack-book, The Real Anita Hill, eventually admitted that he had lied in order to trash Ms. Hill’s reputation and to protect Clarence Thomas.

 One example of Brock’s (and Thomas’s) brutal attacks against Hill is revealed in a New York Times article that describes the intimidation of a witness who had spoken in support of Hill: “Justice Thomas used an intermediary to provide Mr. Brock with damaging information about a woman who had come forward to provide support for Ms. Hill's accusations of harassment by Justice Thomas.”

 With this material at his disposal, Brock “then used the information to force the woman to retract her statements about Justice Thomas.”

 In other words, a woman who had been willing to offer support for Anita Hill’s accusations against Clarence Thomas was then, with the help of the Justice himself, intimidated into withdrawing her support. Brock also admitted to engineering attacks against Democrats and feminists who supported Hill.

 All of this is reported in Brock’s later confessional book, Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex Conservative.

 Given the vicious onslaught against Anita Hill that Brock spearheaded, and Clarence Thomas abetted, it’s no surprise that Professor Christine Blasey Ford was reluctant to come forward with her accusations against Brett Kavanaugh.

 I believe that Blasey Ford is telling the truth when she says she was held down and groped by Kavanaugh as he held her mouth shut and tried to take her clothes off. This incident happened at a party in the early 1980s when she and Kavanaugh were both high school students.

 Here’s why I find Blasey Ford convincing: She only revealed her concerns about Kavanaugh’s character to her senator, Diane Feinstein, last July before he was designated to be President Trump’s pick for the Court. Furthermore, she was clearly deeply traumatized by the experience, which she regards as attempted rape. She brought it up in at least two therapy sessions that she underwent about six years ago, which is to say, decades after the incident occurred. This assault changed her life very much for the worse. Notes from those therapy sessions confirm this point.

 Finally, in accordance with her attorney’s advice, she took a lie detector test administered by a former FBI agent and passed.

 How can she not be telling the truth?

 Kavanaugh, she says, was stumbling drunk at the 1980s party and this point, along with the fact that he was then only 17, has led some people to argue that even if true, the incident shouldn’t be counted as significant since he was a mere adolescent. But I disagree. For one thing, if, when I was a high school student, I had found out that one of my classmates had done such a thing to a young woman, I would have considered him a nasty character and I would not pass it off with the thought that, after all, he’s just a teenager. In fact, one of my friends in college acted abusively toward a young woman at a drunken fraternity party when he was about 20. The points that redeemed my friend in my eyes were that he admitted to what he had done and, most importantly, he clearly felt terrible about it.

 This is what’s most troubling about Brett Kavanaugh. He is unwilling to express remorse for this incident.

 Of course, like Clarence Thomas, he denies everything. But…

 It is worth adding that Blasey Ford says there was another young man in the room along with Brett Kavanaugh, Mark Judge. Mr. Judge, who today is a writer, strongly denies that the incident took place. However, Mr. Judge has written extensively about the drunken parties which he and fellow Georgetown Prep students engaged in during the 1980s. In his fictionalized account of this scene, he refers at one point to a fellow prep student named Bart O’Kavanaugh who pukes and passes out in someone’s car after leaving a party.

 I sincerely hope we do not put another accused sexual predator on the Supreme Court. But if the Republicans do decide to go ahead with Kavanaugh’s appointment, shouldn’t they at least expect a little remorse from him? Shouldn’t he be expected, at a minimum, to express heartfelt sympathy for the woman who says he traumatized her with his sexual aggression? If, as he claims, he has no memory of this incident (possible, given the drunken atmosphere surrounding Georgetown Prep parties) shouldn’t he at the very least be empathetic and apologetic about Ms. Basely Ford’s suffering? Is that too much to ask that of a man who presents himself as worthy of sitting on the highest court in the land?

 And, by the way, what is in those hundreds of documents from Kavanaugh’s past that the White House refuses to release?

                             From The New Republic