Like countless Americans, I was riveted today as I watched the Senate Judiciary Committee testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Cavanaugh. While I clearly had other things to do, I found myself mesmerized by the day-long hearing because of its profound personal drama, its sky-high stakes for both the witnesses involved and the nation-at-large, and the fact that history was unfolding in real time before my eyes. Quite simply, I could not turn away.
It is clear that many aspects of the Senate’s hearing process, especially in these days of hyper-partisanship, are deeply flawed. It is equally clear (as I wrote in last week’s post) that if an FBI investigation had preceded today’s testimony, we may have been able to form judgments beyond the he said-she said allegations of an event from their high school days. But, after several hours of watching, the takeaway for me was not about fact-finding, but rather about the marked difference in temperament displayed by the two witnesses.
Leave aside for a moment, the incredible bravery of Dr. Blasey Ford in coming forward with her accusation, knowing full well that the most powerful forces in this country—including the President of the United States—would be arrayed against her in an attempt to destroy her personal credibility and deny her charge. Dr. Blasey Ford remained calm—despite her own admission of being terrified. Reliving the events of that fateful evening before the entire nation must have been beyond emotionally excruciating. Yet, she answered each question, recounting the moments with a graceful certainty. Yes, some details were not clear, but experts agree that in incidents of violent sexual trauma, victims can recall vivid detail about some aspects of the incident while being unable to remember peripheral details.
Dr. Blasey Ford’s truth included some “gaps” and yet it is precisely in those spaces that she became, for me, the most credible. If you are being traumatized, you don’t take stock of every detail around you, you focus on survival. For her, certain things became indelible—the stairway, the laughter, the hand over her mouth—while other details went unrecalled. She was strong and unwavering about the identity of her perpetrator. Her life experience since coming forward with these allegations validated her fear in hesitating to go public. Through it all, though, she listened to instructions and was measured and calm in her responses.
When Judge Kavanaugh took the witness chair, the change in demeanor was abrupt. He often shouted his testimony, enraged by what he called an orchestrated attempt to smear his name. He was aggressive, even violent in his tone, and hostile in response to Senators’ questions. News accounts over the past few days talked about how disappointed President Trump was with Judge Kavanaugh’s passive performance in an interview earlier this week on Fox News and that the President exhorted him to be more combative. Combative he was, especially when he was repeatedly asked if he would call for an FBI investigation into the allegations. Dr. Blasey Ford (and other women who have come forward with accounts of Judge Kavanaugh’s sexual malfeasance) requested such an investigation. He repeatedly—sometimes angrily—refused.
Judge Kavanaugh is up for confirmation for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Until the facts about this incident from so long ago can be proven beyond doubt, we are left to decide his fitness for this office on other factors. Temperament is one of those factors and, from what today’s testimony revealed, Judge Kavanaugh’s volatile demeanor is, by itself, disqualifying.