Democracy in Peril

The divisions only deepen as the tug-a-war between parties continues to escalate, with democracy as the dangerously fraying rope.

October 7th, 2018 will go down in political history as a blazing warning underlined in red. It was the day when former United States Circuit Judge, Brett Kavanaugh, was finally sworn into the US Supreme Court after a long battle against accusations of sexual assault stemming from three women. Christine Blasey Ford was the first and main accuser.

 

Ford, an American professor in psychology at Palo Alto University, claimed that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a party when they were teenagers. Ford recounted an intoxicated Kavanaugh and some of his friends forcing her into a bedroom, pinning her down, and attempting to remove her clothes one summer night. “I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling. It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.” Terrified, Ford stated that she made her escape when Kavanaugh slipped and fell, and had steered clear of the man afterward.

Until now.

When Kavanaugh announced his nomination as a Supreme Court justice nominee in July, Ford wrote a letter to the Washington Post and her congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, about the incident. Ford begged for her identity not to be revealed, as she was afraid of the consequences and public backlash. Eventually, Eshoo and Ford decided to take the matter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, who later revealed to the public (without revealing Ford’s name) that she was withholding a Kavanaugh-related document. As the media started to track Ford down, Ford decided to go public, causing the matter to spiral into a national issue. And at the peak of all the tension, September 27th, Ford walked into Capitol Hill, raised her right hand, and gave her testimony on how Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her 36 years ago.

In the eyes of the feminist, men and women who had lived and endured the trauma of sexual assault were holding their breath on October 7th, hoping for Ford’s victory in the vicious battle between her and Kavanaugh. Millions were devastated and outraged when Kavanaugh was sworn in as one of the justices of the Supreme Court as the result of the closest vote in the last 137 years: 50 to 48.  

This extremely close margin stemmed from nearly all members of the Senate voting along their party lines—Republican or Democratic. Their motivation? Securing power for their own party in both the Supreme Court in the form of a swing vote and also gaining a slim majority in the Senate. President Trump was exultant that his favored nominee was now a justice—and mocked Ford’s testimony and the voices of her supporters as “phony stuff”. By treating her courageous decision to represent her rights as a woman and the rights of all the other sexual abuse victims in the country to walk into court and testify as a joke, Trump provided the entire nation a wall of hollow laughter and derision to hide behind and deny any blame or wrongdoing. And this cowardly behavior only stirred up more conflict and increased polarisation between parties, as Democrats continued to rally the anger of their liberal and victimized citizens to their side.

The #MeToo movement has been a trending hashtag for many months now. It has exploded into a huge movement for the voices of sexual harassment victims to be heard, as well as an enormous form of courage for those who had previously been afraid of the negative social backlash of telling their stories. It has become a beacon of hope for all victimized citizens in the country.

But Kavanaugh’s nomination became a major obstruction on this path to justice.

The election had placed the country smack in the middle of a tug-of-war between parties for increased political power, pulling and yanking and casting aside people’s worries, doubts, and rights in exchange for the influence both sides so coveted. The victims of sexual abuse were slighted, their testimonies either ignored outright or placed in a glaring spotlight, only to guilt-trip politicians into supporting their party. Citizens were reduced to mere trophies or to nothing at all.

The resulting anger and disappointment were evident on Sunday. Many citizens felt betrayed, their faith in the leaders of their country challenged at the core as their voices were not heard—as there were no ears to listen. Screams of “Shame!” resonated as demonstrators were restrained by the police from mobbing Capitol Hill when the news of Kavanaugh’s nomination was released. “This is a stain on American history,” one woman shouted. “Do you understand that?”

But while Ford became a figure for the support of for the voices of the abused and oppressed, Kavanaugh became a representative for many resentful men—their resent stemming from “smearing,” or cases of women falsely accusing men of sexual assault to cause their fall from power. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell claimed that the real victim is Kavanaugh, suffering “the weaponization of unsubstantiated smears.” Many others also rallied to the same cry on Capitol Hill, clashing with the shouts of Ford’s supporters and creating a discordant sound of chaos and conflict.

In the case of Ford vs. Kavanaugh, it is impossible to truly discern which side is telling the truth. Obtaining evidence for a case like this is extremely difficult. However, the absolute truth should not matter in this situation. The saying “innocent until guilty” has been used over and over by Kavanaugh supporters in order to prove his qualifications as a Supreme Court justice. But the fact that three allegations of this weight were pressed against him, and the fact that one became a nation-wide controversy, should be enough to bar Kavanaugh from becoming a representative of the nation’s values of justice and inclusivity.  

The people instilled their trust into certain individuals in the form of political power with the expectation that they would gain, in return, a platform of reasonable discourse and action regarding their fears and concerns. Yet this has become a situation where the greed for political power has caused these fears and concerns. New York senator and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer expressed these sentiments powerfully: “When the history of the Senate is written, this chapter will be a flashing red warning light of what to avoid.”

By a margin of 2 votes, Kavanaugh managed to slip his way into the position of justice—but whether he managed to slip his way into people’s hearts, the nation is not quite sure. This uncertainty will prove to be poisonous to the U.S. unless the power-blinded politicians of today set their priorities straight once more. And this will not happen without a strong public voice to guide them.

Kavanaugh’s nomination was a failure and a disappointment to democracy. Let’s make sure history does not repeat itself.

– Lauren Cho (’22)

Featured Image: CNN/Clare Foran

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