Profiles in Cowardice

Supreme Court

Supreme Court building, Washington, DC. Photo by Callen Harty.

On Friday, the remaining holdouts on the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation announced their intentions in the vote that is scheduled for Saturday. For those who are survivors of sexual assault, the likely vote of 51 to 49 to confirm–unless something major changes overnight–brings up all sorts of horrible recollections. Not believing Dr. Christine Blasey Ford feels like none of us are believed. It feels like those who may have believed it did not care, and that is even worse than not believing it. To question why Dr. Ford would wait so long to open up about her abuse is to question why any survivor would wait that long–and there are myriad reasons, including threats of violence, fear, shame, self-hatred, self-blame, and on an on. I was molested repeatedly between the ages of ten and about seventeen and a half. It wasn’t until after I had a heart attack at the age of 51 that I was able to openly confront the horrid details of that abuse. The road to healing is a life-long, ever-winding road upon which the destination is always somehow past the horizon.

There are many reasons not to confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. He clearly lied under oath and that should have denied him this confirmation even if there had never been an assault. He revealed in the hearing–and in his record on the bench–that he is too partisan to be an impartial jurist. He showed a temperament in his opening statement and his petulant responses to legitimate questions that he is the antithesis of a steady and thoughtful justice.

But it is the accusation of Dr. Ford and the responses to it that are the most resonant right now. While both the Democrats and Republicans politicized this appointment from the first day, Dr. Ford’s story should have been beyond politics. While the Democrats used her to try to stop Kavanaugh for their own political reasons, very few of them showed they really cared about her and how the sexual assault impacted her entire life. The story of the extra door in her house rang so true it shook me. For years, I would only take seats in public places where I could see a way to be able to leave (or escape) if necessary, without even realizing that it was a reaction to the abuse I suffered as a child.

Many in the Senate are to blame if Kavanaugh is confirmed, on both sides of the aisle. While a handful of Republicans may have believed from the start that Kavanaugh was a good, legitimate choice for Justice, most of them clearly saw that he would advance their agenda and they decided early on that nothing would stand in the way of that. Their myopia caused them to see every objection to him by the Democrats as some kind of plan to ensure that he wouldn’t be seated (and the Democrats had stated from the beginning that they would do everything they could to prevent him being seated). Because of this, when the Ford story broke, the Republicans immediately perceived it as a Democratic move to derail the nomination instead of understanding it as a woman coming to terms with the horror she experienced as a girl. It caused them to justify standing their ground and to lose sight of any empathy that they may have had.

The Democrats shifted the focus from Dr. Ford to questions of heavy drinking in the judge’s youth, in a country where virtually everyone drinks to excess and does drugs in their youth. They became insistent on a further FBI inquiry while allowing the Republican leadership to set the terms for that investigation. As a result, the supposed investigation turned into a sham. Even those not in law enforcement could see that it was a shoddy attempt.

Aside from these generalizations, though, there were certain Senators whose cowardice about the issue of sexual assault should earn them the scorn of every woman and every sex abuse survivor in the country. Of course, just as there are people of color, LGBT persons, and others who vote against their own self-interest, there are women out there who support the nomination and refuse to believe Dr. Ford’s story. They will vote for rich old white men who do not care about them even when it doesn’t seem logical because other things are more important to them. Hopefully, though, there are enough people who are so upset with this that a good number of the Senators who move this nomination along will be unseated as soon as possible.

Among the guilty in this process there are a handful who stand out as particularly culpable.

Chuck Grassley chaired the hearing in which Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testified. He has repeatedly accused the Democrats and left-wingers of doing everything they could to stall or stop the nomination. He was clearly in the room during Dr. Ford’s testimony but also clearly didn’t allow himself to go past the idea that she was some kind of plant put there by the Democrats.

Lindsey Graham, who once despised Donald Trump, has now become his lap dog. In the middle of the hearing he lashed out like an angry old queen secretly in love with the frat boy who is out of reach. He focused on the timing of the release of information about Dr. Ford, without caring about her request for anonymity or about what may have happened to her as a 15 year-old girl. His compassion was all for Kavanaugh and how the accusations must have hurt him.

As the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell used everything in his power to push Kavanaugh’s nomination through at lightning speed. This is the same man who held up the previous President’s nomination of a Justice for a year, but who insisted that this nomination needed to be voted upon immediately. It was for purely political reasons. He has seen the polling that shows that under Donald Trump’s leadership the Republicans are in danger of losing the House, Senate, or both in just five weeks. His only concern was for cementing a right-wing conservative majority on the Supreme Court so that the Republican agenda is protected. He clearly didn’t care about anyone or anything else that might get in the way of that goal. He is one of the Senators who does not deserve any respect.

Susan Collins and Jeff Flake both acted as if they wanted all the facts to be presented, but did not push for a full investigation when they had the power to do so. Like the Democrats they allowed the Republican leadership to set the terms of that investigation and then both used it as political cover in stating they would vote for Kavanaugh. They know that it was not a complete investigation. They know that Christine Blasey Ford was sexually assaulted in high school and you can read in their body language that they believe her story and believe that Kavanaugh did it, but are hiding behind the cover of the FBI report as it did not corroborate her story. In a legal sense it did not. It could not, because the FBI didn’t speak to numerous witnesses who wanted to corroborate her story.

As a woman, Collins should be ashamed of betraying other women and sexual assault survivors. She must be lucky to be one of the women in this country not abused by men when one in every three or four have been (and those numbers are probably higher because many women–like Dr. Ford–never report their rapes, attempted rapes, assaults, harassment, etc.). If she had been assaulted at some point in her life she could not possibly vote yes for Kavanaugh in good conscience.

Jeff Flake had an opportunity to be like the various Senators in John F. Kennedy’s book, Profiles in Courage, a book which recounts politicians who had to buck their party or their country, even at the expense of their political careers, to do the right thing. In Flake’s case, he is leaving the Senate so he doesn’t even have a seat to lose. He does, however, have some Presidential ambitions, so that may be what he is trying to protect by voting yes. You could see in his face at the hearing with Dr. Ford that he believed her wholeheartedly. Yet, he has said he will vote yes on Kavanaugh. He could be the lead chapter in Profiles in Cowardice.

West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin put his political life before his conscience by announcing that he will vote for Judge Kavanaugh. He is in a state that was won handily by Donald Trump and standing against Trump, even as a Democrat, would be politically risky, even if morally sound.

All of these Senators and more (like Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who blamed false memories for Dr. Ford’s story), deserve to be removed from office. If they don’t have the compassion for a woman who was sexually assaulted, then they don’t have the compassion to do what is right for anyone in the country. To dismiss the assault allegations, which is what each of them who votes yes on this confirmation are doing, is an insult to anyone who has suffered from sexual assault. These are not people who care about issues like rape. They’re not people who care about the poor or elderly, average citizens in the country, or the people who elected them and who have pointedly let them know that confirming Kavanaugh is wrong. They deserve to lose their careers and give up their seats to people who have hearts and souls that have not been corrupted by politics, power, and the money behind it all.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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