Brett Kavanaugh’s Failure to Launch

There have been many responses, mostly Conservative but not all, to Dr. Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh that have focused on the idea that people shouldn’t be held responsible for the mistakes they made when they were young. And you know what, they’re not entirely wrong – but they all entirely miss the point.

The issue isn’t that a middle-aged man is being held responsible for the misadventures of youth. The issue is that a young man did a terrible thing, was shielded from the consequences of that thing by the privileges of his gender and his social status, and has remained firmly committed to maintaining the protective envelope that allowed him to get away with that offense, showing no signs of growth or change in the intervening years.

When confronted with his actions, Kavanaugh didn’t say, “Yes, I was young and like many young men, I was driven by terrible impulses and poor judgement which I spent my adult life working to identify, contain, and correct.” Instead, he invoked the same privileges of gender and social status that routinely allow women’s testimony to be dismissed and ignored. (All, btw, terrible qualities in a judge!) 

I, too, was 17 once, and I, too, was full of anger and violence and misogyny. Because I was male in a society that prized anger and violence and misogyny in the presentation of maleness.

While I never tried to force myself on anyone – an innocence I’ll chalk up to lack of opportunity rather than goodness of character, as I never found myself at the kind of parties Kavanaugh attended – I certainly did things I regret and that hurt other people.

As I grew into adulthood, though, I took the reins of that anger and violence and misogyny. I realized that this wasn’t how I wanted to relate to others, wasn’t how I wanted to live in society, and I forced myself to change. I learned. I traveled. I read. I studied. I surrounded myself with people who modeled the kind of lives I wanted to lead.

I’d like to say, “3 years later, I had fixed myself,” but of course that isn’t how it works. I’m a man in a society that teaches men to be pretty awful, that teaches ALL of us to be pretty awful – being a decent human is a lifelong process. I’ve made and make plenty of mistakes and missteps along the way. I carry those regrets and hopefully they inform and direct me as I continue through life.

This is work, it’s the life-long job of being not just an adult but a good person, and Kavanaugh’s response to his accuser betrays not a whiff of it. And THAT’S the issue. Kavanaugh’s public response has shown that, despite the veneer of legal training, he’s still essentially the guy he was at 17 – a privileged prep school kid from Maryland hiding behind his gender and social status.

So it’s not whether or not we should be held responsible for what we did as 17-year-olds, it’s whether we HOLD OURSELVES RESPONSIBLE and what we do in response. It’s whether we choose to grow and change as people or whether we retreat into our own worst selves, protected by our privilege and by a society that gives free reins to our worst impulses.


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