Kavanaugh and Ford might both be telling the truth. And that says something profoundly troubling about our world.
Brett Kavanaugh claims he has no memory of Christine Blasey Ford. Furthermore, he “never did anything remotely resembling what Dr. Ford describes.” To her. Or to anyone.
Either he is lying. Or he is telling the truth.
Throughout today’s hearing, I noted Dr. Ford’s repeated attempts to rein in emotion (she didn’t always succeed.) Judge Kavanaugh, on the other hand, with his fiery pulpit delivery – broken only by sniffs and warbles – unleashed his emotion with abandon. I have little doubt their feelings are sincere. But it’s important to note Dr. Ford’s attempt to control hers versus Kavanaugh’s propensity to let’em rip.
There’s a widely accepted explanation for this: emotional displays threaten to undermine a woman’s credibility — they make them seem “irrational”– a phenomenon of which Dr. Ford, like all women, is already aware.
But her efforts to conceal her feelings are about more than defeating gender stereotype and maintaining credibility.
People – both men and women – don’t necessarily strive to hide all emotions. We mostly focus our efforts on concealing emotional pain: those feelings that threaten to engulf and destroy, because they reveal our most vulnerable selves. Emotional pain is difficult to express anywhere, let alone in public, let alone on a media-frenzied global stage.
I believe Dr. Ford visibly struggles to hide her feelings because she needs to protect herself: she is, at heart, a person in pain.
In contrast, Judge Kavanaugh, has little trouble blubbering on the stand. He is not someone defined by pain, but rather someone who’s had a bad couple weeks. His primary emotion, revealed through gritted teeth and mottled cheeks, is anger. Not pain. Rage. That classic defense against shame.
So, is Kavanaugh’s huff and bluster masking a guilty conscience? I hope so. Because much more terrifying is the alternative: Brett Kavanaugh is being totally straight with us. He really has no memory of Christine Blasey Ford. Just as he has no memory of committing an act of sexual violence – against her, against anyone.
How that’s possible comes directly from Dr. Ford herself, prompted by a Senator’s question: “Three people at the party besides yourself and Brett Kavanaugh have given statements under penalty of felony to the committee,” she began. “Are you aware that they say that they have no memory or knowledge of such a party?”
Dr. Ford replied:
“I don’t expect that P.J. and Leland would remember this evening. It was a very unremarkable party. It was not one of their more notorious parties. Nothing remarkable happened to them that evening. They were downstairs. Mr. Judge [the friend alleged to be in the room with her and Kavanaugh during the assault] is a different story. I would expect that he would remember.”
Her remarks bring to mind a poignant painting by Pieter Breugel, The Fall of Icarus.
The painting depicts a tranquil day by the sea. In the foreground, a farmer plods after his horse and plow, and a humble shepherd herds his sheep. Ships drift by in the shining bay, sails taut with wind. It’s a picturesque scene, and it’s not until after some scrutiny that the viewer finally spots Icarus, plunging headfirst into the sea, legs flailing in a spray of foam.
Now, imagine, if instead of drowning, Icarus had survived. No doubt he would remember that day – the trauma of plummeting thousands of feet into an abyss indelibly seared into his hippocampus (to borrow Dr. Ford’s appropriately Greek word). But what about the shepherd? The farmer with his plow? Or, the sailors manning the ships? Would they remember this day? Would they remember it 40 years later? No. Because, “nothing remarkable happened to them.”
Far worse than a scenario in which one person is lying, and the other telling the truth, is the scenario in which both are telling the truth.
The scenario in which Kavanaugh truly doesn’t remember this night, or this party, or having ever met Christine Blasey Ford, and is truly astounded to find himself accused. How could he forget something so horrible?
Maybe because, for him, to Mark Judge, “the night was unremarkable.” The incident didn’t sear into his brain. It didn’t eat away at his conscience – what he did was normal. He, like so many entitled, carelessly brutal men before him, assaulted a young woman. It was just a regular party. A regular day with his horse and plow.
It was ordinary – and he forgot.