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The New Political Currency Is Anger

There are women crying outside Sen. Joe Manchin’s office on Capitol Hill, and after they go in, you can hear the cuts of shortened breaths through the glass doors. Outside of Sen. Mitch McConnell's office, a group of men drink cheap booze from red Solo cups and chant “I love beer.” Near Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office, a circle of women in white “Women for Kavanaugh” shirts have bowed their heads in prayer asking God to “bless those women who are so broken and so angry.” At Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office, a crowd of Alaskans have assembled, and a man is directing network cameras to the group, now holding the state flag and demanding their elected official vote against Kavanaugh.

I’ve been on Capitol Hill for the last month watching the hearings of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. I have been trying to figure out what it all means and studying these scenes as the scattered images that might point to the face behind the curtain.

But I’m not sure I’ve gotten any closer.

Just after Sen. Susan Collins announced that she would vote for Brett Kavanaugh, I rode the Senate subway with Sen. Blumenthal—who was one of four Democrats on the floor when Sen. Collins made her speech. The Connecticut lawmaker watched the ground in silence until I asked him how he felt. He shrugged and said “I’ve had better days.”

Better days sound like the final words of an unanswerable prayer if you spent the past few weeks in Washington. Even those supporting Kavanaugh seem exhausted. On Friday evening, after the cards were on the table, a group of the “Women for Kavanaugh” leaned against the wall in one of the Senate buildings, offering only one or two-word clips of conversation.

I’m never one for horse races, but I think that as a rarity, we should allow ourselves to indulge in the horse race of the last week—the week preceding the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. It began when the Senate Judiciary Committee pushed the Kavanaugh vote onto the floor, following an FBI investigation.
Blind party loyalty and anger are the new political currencies, and they are worsening with each political fiasco we force ourselves to stomach.
Nearly every outlet reporting on that investigation concluded that it was mostly a sham—an investigation in name only. The faux findings were delivered to the Senate in the middle of the night, and they didn’t change any minds because that’s exactly what nonsense investigations are supposed to do.

On Friday, the bets were called when Susan Collins told her colleagues that she would be voting to confirm Kavanaugh in a speech on the Senate floor. Two Republican women senators sat behind her, a carefully orchestrated camera shot meant to project the message to those watching that it was possible to be a woman and still support Sen. Collins. A website funding Collins’ eventual opponent raised $2 million then crashed under the surge of traffic. After her speech, the crowd of Republicans stood and applauded.

On Saturday, Playboy and a few dozen other outlets in the Senate press gallery watched the final vote. The only senator to vote against his party was Joe Manchin—after he voted, a woman in the gallery jumped to her feet and shouted “shame” a number of times, and Manchin looked into the crowd and watched as she was dragged away by the police. White House counsel Don McGahn sat in the balcony, out of reach of the C-SPAN cameras. An hour later, the bars off Capitol Hill were crowded with reporters and Senate staff members.

In Washington, things will soon return to the pseudo-normal of the Trump presidency, and the democracy, fractured as it may be, will be righted. The president will eventually do something stupendously unpresidential, and the outrage surrounding Brett Kavanaugh will be added to the cache of stories we no longer write about. Meanwhile, Judge Kavanaugh will rule with an asterisk next to his name. In his eventual obituaries, there will be mentions of this past month—of the hurricane in which he has been the eye.
The president will eventually do something stupendously unpresidential, and the outrage surrounding Brett Kavanaugh will be added to the cache of stories we no longer write about.
I’m tempted to write that none of this matters and that none of it ever did. After the bombshell news reports chronicling Kavanaugh’s history as a drunk with a tendency to treat women like the butt of a joke and the impassioned floor speeches by senators and the FBI investigation and the protesters screaming at every step, we ended in the same place we expected when Trump appointed Kavanaugh in July—with the judge set to rule on the Supreme Court.

But these past few weeks did have some lasting consequences. The court is now politicized. In his testimony before the Senate, Brett Kavanaugh blamed the scrutiny surrounding him on “the Clintons” and was openly rude to some of the Democratic senators. People on both sides of the aisle seem angrier than ever. If those better days are actually ahead of us, they are only “better” because the fight over Brett Kavanaugh has reached its bitter conclusion, and it’s onto the next crisis.

I asked a dozen senators over the past week if they thought Washington could return to normal. Most of them offered some dry answer about legislative progress, and the Republicans blamed the Democrats for the bedlam of the last month and vice versa. But all of them looked confused at the notion of Washington as normal. And if there was a meaning to this last month, I’m going to point to that: blind party loyalty and anger are the new political currencies, and they are worsening with each political fiasco we force ourselves to stomach in this new age.