The tortured republic to the south of us is currently in the throes of an ugly struggle to confirm the next appointee to the Supreme Court of the United States. In the bitterly-partisan bog in which the country finds itself mired, the approval or denial of the conservative candidate nominated by the incumbent president has become a political war unto the death.
As part of the effort to block his appointment, earnest liberal voices have claimed that the man, while drunk to the point of blacking out, sexually assaulted women during his high school and university years. As of this writing, three women have come forth to tell their stories.
The nominee and his supporters have vehemently and emotionally denied all charges.
The great unwashed masses—at least, those of them who care a whit—have no way of knowing what really happened those many years ago, so they make common side with whichever political party they already favour.
And the quest for truth takes a back seat.
The accusations could be investigated, of course, thoroughly and without bias, in order to bring more clarity. Both the man and his accusers could then speak to the facts and evidence such an investigation might unearth. But, anything other than a cursory look would take time, which would delay the appointment until, perhaps, after the impending mid-term election, when the opposing political party might seize control of the confirmation process. Politically speaking, it is in the interests of the current majority party in the US Senate to move forward with all due haste, to swing the balance of the nine-member court to the conservative side while still they can.
So, the search for justice is set aside.
I, as you might imagine, have no idea where the truth lies in the matter. The women, to me, sound credible; the man comes across as defensive and dismissive of their claims. But, that is only my opinion, and differing opinions are in vast supply.
Sadly, facts and evidence are, so far, virtually non-existent.
There seem to be two fulcrums around which the question might be decided. The first is an examination of the man’s judicial record over the past thirty years—the one preferred by his backers, who believe the record to be impeccable.
The second is an exposé of the moral character of a man who might have committed such vile acts, even as a youth—the favoured option of his opponents, who believe he is deeply flawed.
Is the one more important than the other in making such a crucial decision? Given the majority of his supporters in the Senate, it is the first, not the second, that is likely to win the day.
More than sixty years ago, as a boy of eleven, I and my classmates took to chasing the girls in our neighbourhood. When we caught them, we held them until we could force a kiss upon them. They struggled and squealed, naturally enough, but we thought they probably enjoyed the sport as much as we did. We didn’t ask them, of course; we simply made that assumption.
Looking back, I think I knew it was wrong at the time, but I set that aside because it was fun. It never occurred to me that pursuing, forcibly restraining, and imposing unwanted attentions of that sort upon someone could be defined as sexual assault—not at my age, and not in the mid-1950’s. We ragamuffin boys would have had no idea of what that term even meant; none of us was yet embarked upon puberty with all the changes it would bring.
I do remember my mother’s reaction, however, after receiving a phone call from the mother of one of the girls. Corporal punishment (administered sparingly and in measured doses when necessary) was a part of her parenting repertoire, and she left no doubt in my mind (and on my buttocks) as to how she felt about my behaviour. More than the pain from the narrow leather strop, though, I remember the anger in her voice.
And I have never forgotten the disappointment in her eyes.
Why is this relevant to the US Supreme Court nomination, you might well ask; why do I even bring up such long-ago events? Well, perhaps they aren’t particularly germane to the deliberations of the tall foreheads who will make their decision very soon, for better or worse.
But, I wonder what trouble I might have got into in high school and university if I had not been brought up short by a caring parent at the first sign of potentially-abusive behaviour—even if no harm was ever intended. It is the effect upon the victim, after all, that matters most in such circumstances, not the intention of the perpetrator.
And I wonder if the nominee for this lifetime position on the US Supreme Court would ever have engaged in the sort of behaviour that might subsequently lead to accusations of sexual misconduct if he had learned those lessons at an earlier age. Did his parents turn a blind eye to his sense of entitlement, I wonder?
As a society, we need to do more to ensure that young boys learn that respectful behaviour towards everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, is what is expected of them.