Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D.
The recent hearings for now Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh should have us all trembling in our boots. What should frighten us has nothing to do with Ford, Kavanaugh, Trump, sexual assault or any of the other details that surrounded the circus of hateful rhetoric that this nominating process became.
Back in the 1990s I published an article with a colleague on the pitiful state of public discourse. How naive I was to think that what was happening then was as bad as it would get.
For the past two years the level of contempt and violent speech has degraded to an all-time low. Congressional leaders calling for their constituents to “get up in the face” of those they disagree with has resulted in exactly that behavior. Leaders in the current administration have been badgered not only in the halls of Congress, but by texts, Tweets, emails, and even at dinner with their families to the point they have had to leave.
And beyond that, since the beginning of his confirmation, Kavanaugh had to endure death threats to his wife, a writer for a late-night comic expressing pleasure that "at least we ruined his life," and the apparent expectation of apology from anyone in the public eye who even hinted that Kavanaugh might be a good person. Talk show hosts like Joy Behar carelessly stated, "he's probably guilty" even before any evidence was pursued. These are just a few of the antics of these past few weeks.
When one has no logical rhetoric, he or she resorts to name calling and screaming. This is the behavior of a toddler. Scan the news any day you want for accusations that someone is sexist, racist, Nazi, or misogynist, and you won't have to look far to find them. It frightens me to think that we have grown to accept this kind of hate-filled discourse as normal. And as we approach mid-term elections, I expect things only to get worse. It appears that we can no longer disagree on an issue, state our case, but still respect those who disagree with us.
German pastor Martin Niemoller penned these thought-provoking words circa World War II:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me.
If you think none of the current political acrimony has an effect on you, your children, or your loved ones because you aren't a nominee to the Supreme Court, you are dead wrong. By the time they come for you, when you are accused of something without evidence - when your life and reputation are forever tarnished by accusations - our culture will have accepted guilt by accusation and there won't be anyone left to speak for you and it wouldn't do any good even if someone tried to say a word on your behalf.
Principle, law, and evidence must drive us. Not our feelings, political leanings, or pet issues.
If you think my comments here are about Dr. Ford's truthfulness, Kavanaugh's guilt, Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court, or partisan issues, you have totally missed the point. And THAT, is the point. We have to look beyond the moment and consider the ramifications of what behaviors we will accept.
One's political leanings might make it seem reasonable to consider it acceptable to ruin a man's life and reputation based on an accusation with no evidence. But it leaves us to wonder if we'd feel the same if the accusation was against us, our sons or daughters, or others we know and love.
Lady justice is not blindfolded in order to aid those she likes or agrees with, but rather to dispassionately hear facts about those she may dislike or disagree with. This is the principle on which we must set social policy and intrude on the lives of the citizenry - whether they be nominees to the highest court or everyday individual citizens.
A colleague reminded me that minorities, women, and many other historically oppressed groups have endured the "guilt by accusation" phenomenon for millennia. I could not disagree. But we now know better and, if we allow affect to override principle, eventually we all will lose.