It is no exaggeration to say that the battle over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is the latest and most harrowing episode in a wave of collective psychological trauma the Republican Party under Trump is inflicting on the majority of Americans. It is a form of collective, repetitive and intentional abuse perpetrated by an entitled minority of mostly older white men fearful of losing their long-held privileges and power over young, non-white, female and otherwise marginalized people.
This might seem like hyperbole. But it is not. Watching Trump rallies, hearing from his base and reading the comments of his dedicated supporters online, it obvious that “triggering the libs” and inflicting willful pain on their fellow citizens is the core of the modern conservative movement. Yes, the donors want their tax cuts; yes, the religious interest groups want their pet policies; yes, the hawks want their wars. But the beating heart of Republican politics today is a form of naked aggression: reasserting the dominance of certain racial, classist and patriarchal mores explicitly designed not only to empower some groups over others, but to traumatize and lay low those who had ever had the courage to challenge their social authority. Putting children into cages, for instance, doesn’t really help deter immigration, nor does it protect citizens or their jobs, or even do much to keep the country whiter. It is a torture explicitly designed to immiserate and traumatize entire populations, and to demoralize with anguish the decent and empathetic people they consider their political enemies.
The inexplicable insistence of the entire Republican Party on confirming a man accused of multiple sexual assaults must be viewed in the same light.
In an era where tens of thousands of women (and some men) are telling their heartwrenching stories of predation and abuse through hashtags like #WhyIDidntReport, and attempting to reclaim their stolen dignity and reaffirm their value as human beings through the #MeToo movement, the Republican Party is intent not only on ignoring them, but on tearing open their wounds and revictimizing them for political gain.
Even before the assault allegations started to roll in, Brett Kavanaugh was a nominee designed to cause maximum pain and fury to those outside of the conservative base, both culturally and politically. He is a longtime ultra-conservative Republican operative, darling of the Federalist Society, and privileged party frat boy who belonged to one of the most sexist and debased fraternities in America, one whose chant at one time was “No Means Yes and Yes Means Anal.” His shady background has prompted him to lie and obfuscate throughout his confirmation hearing. Partly because of this, Mitch McConnell knew that confirming him would be difficult and tried to steer Trump to other options. The grandiose rollout of Kavanaugh flanked by supportive women and girls was in part a defensive measure to blunt criticism. But it was also an explicit taunt to liberals and women: we both know who this guy is and how he will rule, and we’re going to inflict this pain on you with an ironic, knowing smile.
And now? As of this writing there are now multiple serious sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh. At least three of them are by sworn, named and highly credible accusers, all of whom tell remarkably similar stories. There is also significant corroborating evidence, both in terms of accounts from others in their social circle and in terms of the accusers having told these stories in the past to friends and loved ones. They have shown incredible courage in coming out with their stories, not only in the re-victimization that often comes just in reliving and retelling their experiences, but more importantly due to the trolling, accusations and abuse laid on them by patriarchal men (and some women) whenever the career of a man of power and influence is threatened. In America, every woman who steps forward to seek justice and tell the truth becomes another Amber Wyatt, another Anita Hill, another victim shunned, exiled and discarded by a society not far removed from the world’s most barbaric “honor” cultures.
It is already happening. Across the country as they watch this unfold again, women are experiencing a collective re-victimization by a minority-majority government pressing forward against their will, a government that does not care about them and over which they have no control. In spite of this, Republicans are belligerently insistent on pushing Kavanaugh through rather than finding another nominee.
Because it’s not in spite of the collective trauma. It’s because of it.
The context here cannot be ignored, either. With respect specifically to gender and sexual assault–ignoring for a moment equivalent acts of racist bigotry and classist economic predation–it is not enough that Republicans nominated and continued to support a man accused of assault by over a dozen women and who bragged on tape about grabbing their private parts without consent. It is not enough that Republicans accepted the help of a hostile power famous for its misogyny to prevent the election of the first woman as president of the United States, waging a shockingly sexist campaign. It is not enough that this president was elected by minority vote, using a quirk of American democratic practice that advantages rural white conservative population. Nor is it enough that this president is using his power to attempt to enshrine an anti-democratic culturally revanchist majority on the Supreme Court with the explicit goal of subverting not only labor and environmental justice, but with the explicit goal of tearing away women’s long-held rights and functionally rendering them second-class citizens and prisoners of their own reproductive biology. Republicans are now actively seeking to place a multiple alleged sexual assailant on the Supreme Court with the explicit goal of taking away women’s reproductive rights.
How much pain is enough? How much “triggering” can a majority of the population receive before the social order begins to collapse in unpredictable ways? Sexual and psychological abuse leave deep scars that can take a lifetime to heal. Subjecting entire populations to collective trauma has consequences that last for generations, and will linger long after the current crop of reprobates are out of office.
The memories of the abused will be long. And there will be consequences for what they are suffering today.