Many years ago I was attending a conference where I knew most of the speakers socially. One morning I arrived for breakfast — or perhaps it was lunch or dinner; I remember distinctly that it was a circular booth, and I was the last to arrive. One of my friends asked what I thought about the space station on the moon. I scoffed. “There’s no space station on the moon,” I said.
The others reacted with derision. “Of course there is.” “How do you not know about it? It was a cover story in Time magazine!” Even my husband laughed incredulously at my ignorance. “Don’t you read the news?”
I remember feeling very stressed and very humiliated. I wracked my brain, trying to remember the story. And then I did. It clicked. I said, “Oh yeah, the biosphere experiment. They’ve been there for six months, right?”
The two stories mingled, and the memory felt real. I was certain I had read about a space station on the moon.
And they all began to laugh. “See, everyone lies when they think they’re the only one who doesn’t know something,” one of my friends said to the group.
But I hadn’t lied. Not if a lie is defined as deliberate deception. I thought I was telling the truth. My brain had mixed two stories: the one my friends were telling me now about a space station on the moon, and the articles I had read about a similar event, the biosphere experiment in Arizona. The two stories mingled, and the memory felt real. I was certain I had read about a space station on the moon. I could have passed a polygraph at that moment; that’s how sure I was. Moreover, my “memory” was being confirmed by people I trusted — including my husband, the person I should be able to trust above all others. Yes, I was wrong. But I wasn’t lying.
To them it was just a practical joke in the form of a psychological experiment. And they laughed it off. Maybe, if you asked them today, they wouldn’t remember. But I’ve never forgotten it. How could I have been so certain of something I hadn’t experienced?
In the past week I have been reminded of this repeatedly, as friends, newscasters, and political pundits have used Christine Blasey-Ford’s polygraph as evidence that she is telling the truth.
It is very possible that CBF was pawed and assaulted in the way she described. It’s even possible that it happened more than once.
I recently read of a psychological study demonstrating that under stressful or traumatic circumstances, the brain will scan its memory banks trying to make sense of the unsensible. It might be a protective measure, searching for a way to account for the traumatic event, or find a solution to the problem. In the process, memories can become mixed and details altered.
It is very possible that CBF was pawed and assaulted in the way she described. Based on the culture of partying boasted about in her high school yearbooks (which have been conveniently scrubbed from the school’s website in recent weeks), and confirmed by the fact that two men have come forward to say it might have been them, it’s even possible that it happened more than once, which would intensify her traumatic reaction.
However, there is no corroborating evidence to confirm that Brett Kavanaugh had anything to do with it. Yes, he was a drinker in high school, and yes, he attended parties. But every witness CBF has named has denied seeing any such incident. In fact, more than a hundred women who knew him in high school and college and in their professional lives have said that such an action would be completely out of character for him. No one who has known him since he became an adult has accused him of improprieties, and no one except Senate Democrats has accused him of being an alcoholic — including FBI agents who have conducted extensive background checks.
Now I’m going to say something that can (and probably will) be misconstrued as the “boys will be boys defense.” But that is not what I am about to argue.
No one who has known him since he became an adult has accused him of improprieties, and no one except Senate Democrats has accused him of being an alcoholic.
Events that happened when a person was a minor should expire after the statute of limitations has been reached. (And the assault that CBF described would not have been charged as a felony, even if she had reported it at the time, so yes, the statute has indeed run out on this incident.) There is a reason that minors are not tried as adults. As minors, we’re still malleable, still learning right from wrong and what kind of person we want to be. We’re still heavily influenced by those around us, whether it be teachers, parents, friends, teammates, or siblings. We might be taught to accept and act on values and customs about religion, politics, or gender expectations that, in later years, we will find abhorrent. It’s only in adulthood that we begin to examine the various influences and decide for sure which path we want to follow, which character traits we want to emulate and which values we want to eschew.
No 52-year-old man should be judged by what made him laugh when he was a schoolboy. And that’s what’s happening now. Many people still insist on believing that Judge Kavanaugh did everything he’s been charged with, despite the lack of evidence, despite his vehement denials, despite the emergence of two men who say they did what CBF says Kavanaugh did. Many others who initially opposed him now grudgingly acknowledge the lack of evidence, but still refuse to vindicate him. Instead, I’m hearing and reading that they don’t think someone who could be so “immature” and “emotional” and even “unhinged” should serve on the Supreme Court.
Well of course he was immature. He was 17 years old when the yearbook photos and jokes about flatulence and vomiting were written. He was not yet the 52-year-old man who has been nominated for the court. He is no longer that immature boy against whom so many people are expressing indignation.
As minors, we might be taught to accept and act on values and customs about religion, politics, or gender expectations that, in later years, we will find abhorrent.
And “unhinged”? “Emotional”? Who wouldn’t be emotional in this situation?
Imagine being accused of something heinous — something you are certain you did not do. At least if you’re guilty you can experience remorse and regret, show contrition, and beg for forgiveness. You can be angry at yourself as you watch your world crumble, knowing it was your own fault. But when you’re innocent? How do you express remorse for something you did not do? And how do you find forgiveness and understanding for those who falsely accuse you, and continue to accuse you even when all the evidence is refuted?
Now imagine bringing this attack into your home as your wife and sweet daughters and the girls you coach in basketball and your church family all have to bear the effects of those accusations. Imagine the pain of watching them suffer. It would take a veritable saint not to exhibit some anger and emotion over this situation. Even Jesus lost his temper during his ministry, when his “home” (the temple) was defiled.
The hypocrisy is obvious: if he had not shown emotion, those same people would now accuse him of being cold and uncaring. Why is it that Dr. Ford is deemed “believable” because she cried during her testimony, but Judge Kavanaugh is considered unhinged because he choked up? Is it because he’s a man? Or is it because they’re so set on not having Brett Kavanaugh seated as a Supreme Court Justice that they will grab at any excuse to discredit him?
Assault does matter. And it’s possible that Ford did experience what she described, although I don’t think Judge Kavanaugh is the one who did it. But there are two kinds of assault in this story: the physical assault CBF described, and the accusation Kavanaugh has endured. Each has its own traumatic consequences. A person who has been physically assaulted bears no blame in the incident; she can hold her head up as a victim or survivor or whatever she wants to call herself and go forward. But a person who has been falsely accused receives no such sympathy or support. Judge Kavanaugh will bear the consequences of this accusation for the rest of his life. Even if he is exonerated, it will stay with him. So in that sense, bearing false witness is a more serious crime than groping a girl at a party. It has ruined his reputation, his family, and his career. It will forever taint him, even if it isn’t true, because so many people will continue to believe he did it.
There are two kinds of assault in this story: the physical assault Ford described, and the accusation Kavanaugh has endured.
It didn’t have to be this way. Senator Feinstein could have brought it up in the private questioning and the other senators could have asked their questions without the public circus. The accusation is so flimsy, the accuser’s memory so hazy, that it should never have become the main issue in Kavanaugh’s nomination. I’m convinced that the Democratic senators expected, once the first accusation was made, that several other women would say “Me too” with more recent stories and stronger evidence. Ford would not even have had to testify, because Kavanaugh would have been forced to withdraw in shame. That, I believe, was the game plan. And it might have worked if Judge Kavanaugh weren’t such an honorable gentleman regarding women.
Because CBF is the “aggrieved plaintiff” in this case, we can’t impugn her character. We can’t examine her own drinking and partying habits, or her high school yearbook’s glorification of drinking and sex, as they did with Kavanaugh. We can’t wonder about her “fear of flying,” which never seems to have kept her from flying, or the fortune she has accrued in her GoFundMe account as a result of her claim. } We can’t bring up her political activism or other possible motivations. We have to treat her with kid gloves, because she is considered the victim.
This is a very unusual case in that the accused is adamant that it never happened. He is one of the few men recently accused of sexual misconduct not to use the excuse that “I thought it was consensual” or “she misunderstood my actions” or “it was a long time ago.” He said it never happened. And then doubled down with “I was a virgin.” That took a lot of confidence, because it meant that even consensual sex with a willing girlfriend would have made him guilty of perjury. I believe him.
None of what I have said here has any bearing on whether Kavanaugh would be a good Supreme Court justice. I like some of what I’ve heard, and I have reservations about other things. But at this point, I don’t care about the reservations. If the minority party — or either party — can get away with this kind of smutty tactic, then no man of character who cares about his reputation will ever be willing to run for office or serve on the court. And that would be a great loss to the goal of freedom and honor in this nation.