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Society

In the Fallout of the Kavanaugh Hearings, the Conflicting Chorus of Two Americas

On the first day of Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing to become one of the most powerful judges in the nation, a man from Parkland, Florida tried to shake his hand. Kavanaugh looked blankly at the unfamiliar face for a moment before turning and walking out of the Senate Hall—we learned later that the man was Fred Guttenberg, who lost his 14-year-old daughter in a school shooting last year.

The exchange between Guttenberg and Kavanaugh made for great television even if the talking heads didn’t mention the obvious metaphor: Brett Kavanaugh came face-to-face with the tumultuous America where he will be defining the Constitution and he walked away, followed by a security guard with a suit and a skin-toned earbud.

Throughout the hearing, a stream of protesters were removed from the room; pulled out at such a constant rate that at some moments, the area sanctioned off for the public was nearly empty, framed by a line of Capitol police officers. The dissenters shouted accusations about mockeries and travesties of justice before they were dragged away by the arms. One woman was in a wheelchair, and the arresting officer had to unfasten the brakes before he rolled her into the hall.

But those voices from the back of the room were from a different America, an America where people believe in the absurd notion that Washington is a representation of their values. In the front of the wood-paneled Capitol Hill room, the America of Brett Kavanaugh and of the Senators questioning him transitioned comfortably into another era. After all, Kavanaugh’s confirmation was never in any actual danger. The Democrats of the Senate Judiciary Committee were unanimous in asking that the hearing be delayed, but that was little more than a formality as they didn’t have the numbers to do anything.

For most of us, Kavanaugh’s America is hard to imagine, he grew up in Washington D.C. and attended a prestigious prep school with a golf course on the school grounds. He coasted into Harvard and worked in the White House, where he met his wife. Over the course of his hearing, his answers had one consistent theme, that he interprets America through articles that he reads in the Harvard Law Review or long-winded dissents from other judges.
In the front of the wood-paneled Capitol Hill room, the America of Brett Kavanaugh and of the senators questioning him transitioned comfortably into another era. 

The America of the voices in the back is defined by different issues. One woman screamed “abortion saved my child’s life,” another yelled “my sister has Down syndrome, he is a threat to people with disabilities—he does not believe that people with disabilities have rights.” Before long, the pseudo-drama underway in the front of the room was cleanly separated from the voices in the back, the senators leaned back in their chairs and watched, bored, as their constituents were loudly dragged away.

The idea that the America of Washington is different than the America of abortion clinics and school shootings and union-busting is hardly a novel notion. But when we think of that chasm, we think generally of elected officials in smoky Capitol Hill offices rather than Supreme Court judges. It would almost be laughable if it wasn’t terrifying to chew on the fact that Kavanaugh will soon be dictating laws for the America that rubs elbows at gas stations, complaining about the ever-rising price of medical care.

What was worthy of at least an ominous chuckle was the bizarreness of Kavanaugh’s attempts to prove that he lives under the same confinements and struggles and prides as the America defined in Washington as “out there.”

During the past few months, we have been bludgeoned over the head with Kavanaugh’s role as the basketball coach of his daughter’s youth team. President Trump alluded to it in his announcement of Kavanaugh, a mother wrote an op-ed on it for The Washington Post, and Kavanaugh brought it up again in his opening statement to the assembled senators. In one of the more bizarre bits of political theater in recent memory, he brought the basketball girls to the Senate confirmation hearing—all of them white and some outfitted in plaid school uniforms.

At another point in the trial Kavanaugh told the senators “I grew up in a city plagued by gang and gun and drug violence.” But, of course, he grew up in Bethesda, Maryland—close enough to read in the papers that there were people shooting each other in the streets of Washington but not close enough to ever encounter such “gang and gun and drug violence.”

The political wizards have largely focused on the fact that Kavanaugh is so clearly a Republican and will rule down the line with the values of a Bush-era conservative. For most of America—the nation where he will be defining laws—there is little difference between a Republican and a Democrat. They’re two identical ways to describe the faraway halls of power where Brett Kavanaugh was born, raised and will lead the rest of his life.

But Kavanaugh will be confirmed and in lieu of wasting our time with a collection of soon-to-be-wrong predictions, I suppose it’s only worth closing on a line from the great Allen Ginsberg: "America, this is quite serious."