Trump and Kavanaugh: Sexualized Dominance and Executive Power

(Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA via AP Images)

President Trump shakes hands with Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh on July 9, 2018, at the White House.

It should come as no surprise, I suppose, that a man nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States—a man who would be a justice for another 40 years, perhaps—by the pussy-grabber-in-chief now stands accused of sexual assault himself. Both Donald Trump and his nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, share that sense of entitlement that tells men of a certain sort that the world is their oyster, as it were—there for the grabbing.

It’s quite likely that the reason Trump nominated Kavanaugh went beyond the judge’s box-checking right-wing positions on regulation and reproductive rights, and was an obvious calculation regarding the consequential outcome of a particular criminal investigation. The real potential jackpot in having Kavanaugh on the court lay in his expansive view of executive power and privilege. That kind of investment in the dominance of one individual stems from the same impulse, differently expressed, that can lead a man to set himself upon a woman without her consent. It’s all about power and its exercise.

Tomorrow, Christine Blasey Ford, who alleges that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school, is expected to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to tell her story, an exercise the Republican majority seems to regard as a thing simply to get through before the committee votes Friday on whether to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote. If listen they must, they’ll do so with their fingers in their ears.  

There’s no reason that the committee vote must take place less than a day after Blasey Ford tells her story. That’s the prerogative of Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa.

I may be chided, I allow, for being perhaps too willing to “jump to conclusions” about what happened between Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, or Brett Kavanaugh and Deborah Ramirez. (Color me biased; I believe the women.) But there is no equivocation about Brett Kavanaugh and Renate Schroeder Dolphin, a former schoolmate who only last week learned that she had been the butt of a slut-shaming joke circulated among players on Kavanaugh’s high school football team, and one in which Kavanaugh participated in the pages of the Georgetown Prep yearbook for his class of 1983. A group photo in the book of nine football players, The New York Times reports, is captioned, in part, “Renate Alumni.” On Kavanaugh’s own page, he describes himself as a “Renate Alumnius.” That phrase, or a permutation thereof, appears some 14 times in the yearbook, according to the Times, often on the “pages of individuals.”

“I don’t know what ‘Renate Alumnus’ actually means,” Dolphin told the Times. “I can’t begin to comprehend what goes through the minds of 17-year-old boys who write such things, but the insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue.”

She went on to say she prayed that their daughters would never be so mistreated, and said that she would have no further comment. Prior to having learned this week of the references to her on Kavanaugh’s page and those of the others, Dolphin had been signatory to a letter lauding Kavanaugh’s character signed by 65 women who had attended high school with the nominee. She has since retracted her signature.

While this new bit of information does not prove the allegations made by Ford and Ramirez, who, respectively, claim that Kavanaugh assaulted Ford during a high school party, and exposed himself to Ramirez at a college party, it does reveal a predisposition to behave in sexualized contempt for women.

Then there’s the abrupt turn in Kavanaugh’s thinking on executive power and privilege after having served to protect a president who hired him—the Republican George W. Bush—rather than, as part of the highly partisan Starr investigation, to plot to take down one—the Democrat Bill Clinton.

A staff member of the Starr investigation, Kavanaugh suggested tarring his target in a hypersexualized manner—by shaming the young woman with whom Clinton had an affair. In a 1998 memo, among the questions Kavanaugh suggested Clinton be asked: “If Monica Lewinsky says that you ejaculated into her mouth on two occasions in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?” The question was apparently too prurient for even independent counsel Kenneth Starr, whose report on the events that led up to Clinton’s impeachment likely excited many a lad.

It’s no wonder the Republican leaders of the Senate and its Judiciary Committee are so intent on ramming this nomination through to a committee vote on Friday, less than 24 hours after Ford is slated to appear before committee members to tell of the assault she says she endured at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh.

The closer one looks at the threads of this story, and Kavanaugh’s ascent to power, the uglier a tapestry it weaves.

But before you get to examine it too closely, if Republicans have their way, “Renate alumnus” Brett Kavanaugh, who doesn’t believe presidents (at least the Republican ones) should be subjected to much scrutiny, will be on the bench of the highest court in the land. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised a gathering of right-wing Christian evangelicals last weekend, “We going to plow through and do our jobs.” And Job One seems to be getting a new, right-wing justice onto the Supreme Court before November’s midterm elections—one who, coincidentally, may just turn out to be the president’s get-out-of-jail-free card.

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