Seeing villains as misunderstood victims

“There was, in this performance, not even a hint of the sagacity one expects from a potential Supreme Court Justice,” Doreen St. Félix writes in The New Yorker.

More than presenting a convincing rebuttal to Ford’s extremely credible account, Kavanaugh—and Hatch, and Lindsey Graham—seemed to be exterminating, live, for an American audience, the faint notion that a massively successful white man could have his birthright questioned or his character held to the most basic type of scrutiny. In the course of Kavanaugh’s hearing, Mitchell basically disappeared. Republican senators apologized to the judge, incessantly, for what he had suffered. There was talk of his reputation being torpedoed and his life being destroyed. This is the nature of the conspiracy against white male power—the forces threatening it will always somehow be thwarted at the last minute.

Many of us who are writers embrace complexity; we impose subtlety on men and women who repel it. Listening to Kavanaugh sound the horn of the forever maudlin when mentioning his kids, mom (a judge), and the number of female clerks whom he’s hired, I thought these things could be true without being exculpatory. Kavanaugh may have assaulted a woman as a teen and years later pick up the newspaper for the old lady who lives across the street.

Then, after Lindsey Graham trampled on the vineyards where the grapes of wrath were stored, I changed my mind: I don’t want to think of Kavanaugh and his conservative enablers as good men. To think they are would ascribe to them a complexity they don’t deserve. Abigail Nussbaum:

It should go without saying, but: a good guy doesn’t lie under oath. A good guy doesn’t brazenly spread falsehoods that he knows everyone can see through, in the arrogant belief that his privilege will protect him from any consequences or loss of public regard. A good guy doesn’t rant and rave about taking revenge on his supposed enemies while interviewing for a job synonymous with impartiality and open-mindedness. And, oh yeah, a good guy would admit to his wrongdoing, apologize for it, and withdraw his name from consideration for the highest court in the land, in recognition of the fact that he doesn’t deserve to be there. If Black believes Ford, as he claims to, then there’s simply no way to categorize Kavanaugh as a good guy, no matter how many carpools he drives or how nice he is to his poker buddies.

…People who blatantly don’t care about the safety and wellbeing of women are bad. But so are people who are so deeply invested in constructing a narrative of redemption for abusers and bad actors (privileged ones, obviously) that they irreparably skew the conversation in that direction, and train the rest of us to see villains as misunderstood victims.

Ford kept her composure as she explained why her life was ruined; Kavanaugh lost his when the possibility briefly arose that he may not join the Supreme Court. Every GOP senator apologized to Kavanaugh for what Democrats had done to him; every one of them hid behind a female sex crimes prosecutor and said nothing to Ford.

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