A Divided Nation: The Fall-out of the Brett Kavanaugh Appointment to the US Supreme Court

These days, it is a rare sight when an entire nation is glued to the television screen captured by what is considered historic and momentous. While Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh gave their respective testimonies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, almost everyone in the United States understood that that hearing was about more than the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice, which in itself is highly important considering the power the court possesses.

Ford accused Kavanaugh of attempted rape some 36 years ago when they were both teenagers. Kavanaugh disputed the allegations. It was a typical he said she said situation, without any substantial corroborating evidence, which is not unusual in cases of sexual assault allegations. This case had so many minor and major aspects that have already filled pages upon pages in newspapers and hours on cable news networks. Whether Kavanaugh is guilty or not of the accusations made by Ford or Deborah Ramirez, a second accuser, remain unclear. He is innocent until proven guilty, although it does not look like there will be any juridical procedure in the future.

The members of the Republican Party pushed through with their vote to establish a five-to-four majority on the Supreme Court and the outcry on the left was naturally massive. The big news networks stuck to their respective political sides and shots were fired against everyone involved in the process; against every big-wig in Washington that dared to speak out one way or another. However, what is far more troubling than the controversy surrounding Kavanaugh, which in itself is nothing to be disregarded, is the growing divide of the American nation and the unyielding aggressiveness in the political sphere.

Image Courtesy of The White House via Wikimedia Images © 2018, some rights reserved

Both Ford and Kavanaugh had to deal with frightening attacks against themselves and their families, and in the case of the former, had to leave their home due to security concerns. Along with the now-usual smear campaigns online, Senators are abused on the streets. Party headquarters were vandalised. And no, it is not solely Donald Trump’s fault. The current President is, among many other things, a product of the unfolding culture war. He might be one of the best culture warriors any party could find, and he continues to play the game quite well.

But let’s take a step back. The growing partisanship is surely an issue, though the Supreme Court as an example has been partisan for quite some time and so have been other institutions of the judiciary. The divide between the two sides of the aisle in Congress is a political constant and quite typical for two-party systems. That the presidency has usually switched after one or two terms from the Democrats to the Republicans and back shows that there is a fluid voting bloc that has no strong alignment to either side.

In 2018, however, an American cannot just go to the voting booth and cast a vote, or state what party they support and go about their day. Political alignments have an effect on their everyday life. The two sides are so strongly opposed to each other that a commitment to either of them automatically leads to the assumption that the person agrees with a set of moral and political notions or even a form of ideology. That is the kind of divide we usually see in unstable government systems, not in moderate democracies.

To add to the climate, this political divide is accompanied by the struggle of marginalised groups. And marginalisation does not only happen along ethnic lines, as exemplified by the Black Lives Matter movement, but also along the economic lines. President Trump’s voter base heavily consists of Americans in the so-called flyover states between the liberal-dominated coasts where men and women feel left behind, no matter what ethnicity they have. That is why President Trump is adamant about strengthening the dying coal and steel industry—as part of his tokenism.

The political divide is also accompanied by the ‘war on women’ as Hillary Clinton put it, meaning the fight against oppression and for equal opportunity, or in the more collectivistic sense, equality of outcome. The struggle between women’s rights groups, such as the #MeToo movement, and those who oppose the more radical forms of feminism is not only about concrete policy measures but also about narratives. It is about who determines what is right or wrong in a country of 325 million people.

And that brings us back to the Ford-Kavanaugh controversy. Many have an interest in what happened to Ford and, if her allegations are true, want justice for her. Unfortunately, there were parallel narratives such as that privileged white men are the evil of the American society. Of course, these privileged white men (and women) will not go down without a fight, be it in the halls of the Congress, in television studios or on the streets.

Before the Ford-Kavanaugh controversy unfolded, the Republicans saw their hopes for the midterm elections dashed. Their numbers were falling and there was even a one-in-three chance that the Democrats could win the majority in the Senate—something that may be considered a bigger upset than the Trump victory in 2016. However, after weeks of hard jabs from both sides of the aisle and the continuing attacks against Kavanaugh, the Republicans’ voter base seems to be much more mobilised and willing to turn up at the voting booths on 6 November, the day of the midterm elections.

According to a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, the percentage of Republican women who think the midterm elections are ‘very important’ moved from 71 per cent in July to 83 per cent in October which is not only a result of the election drawing closer, but also of what has unfolded as of late. Remember, Trump won the majority of the white female vote in 2016. ‘The result of hearings, at least in the short run, is the Republican base was awakened,’ notes Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, the institute which conducted the mentioned poll.

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, however, opposes that view and thinks it is a cherry-picking of polls, since there are states in which the Republicans’ deficit has grown as it has on FiveThirtyEight’s controversial generic ballot since the time before Kavanaugh was nominated. Silver states, however, that the ‘enthusiasm gap’ between Republicans and Democrats is about to close and that can have to do with a variety of reasons including Judge Kavanaugh.

If there are not any major twists and turns until the election, the midterms are very much a base-vs-base duel where both parties have to mobilise as much of their potential voters as possible. The divide will certainly be not narrowed in such an environment. The past few weeks and especially the highly partisan confirmation battle over Kavanaugh’s nomination have made the stakes even higher. Right now, it does not seem as if there is any coming back from the rift between the two sides, between conservatives and progressives, between all the movements and counter-movements that fight along the battle lines in the United States.

 

 

Banner Image: Stop Kavanaugh March DC, Image Courtesy of Susan Melkisethian via Flickr © 2018, some rights reserved

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