Charles Brian Orner
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The Sostenuto Blog

A Matter of Tone


“I love Kavanaugh’s tone.”

This is perhaps the most telling tweet of yesterday’s sordid Senate Judiciary Committee circus. It comes to us from one of the most tone-deaf twaddlers on the national stage, Donald Trump, Jr., whose tempestuous teeth and tongue are graced with hot flatulent bile at a frequency exceeded only by his Dear Old Dad and that pathetic wretch mouthing unmentionables for the NRA. Tone, not content, is what the Trump presidency* is all about, and Brett Kavanagh chose to dispense with the pretense of judicial temperament and fall flat on his forked tongue right into the partisan Trumpian fold. Don, Jr. loved it. The American Bar Association did not.

This was much more than simply a poor choice. This was the childish, petulant, angry belch of conservative white power when confronted with the fact that maybe, just maybe, actions have consequences that are not predestined by the petrified soothsayers at the Federalist Society. This was a tantrum of whitebread entitlement, borne of the belief that pedigree and privilege compensate for the sins of youth—which weren’t really sins at all, by the way, plus I refer you to the redacted testimony provided earlier about the veracity of that lying son-of-a-bitch.

We must grant that Brett Kavanaugh has the right to be angry. We must grant that the process has been highly partisan, and we must acknowledge that his reputation has been irreparably damaged by the confirmation process. But in doing so, we must also acknowledge that unlike the life-long suffering of Dr. Blasey Ford, these wounds are entirely self-inflicted. Kavanaugh chose to come out swinging. He chose to dispense with the rarified attributes of even-tempered judicial restraint in favor of screaming at the referee about the instant replay. He chose to emote, rather than to explain. He chose to become the excruciatingly ordinary tone-deaf partisan that Democrats have long suspected, and he did it exclusively to please Donny-Boy and Dear Old Dad. Justified or not, this choice alone unequivocally disqualifies him from confirmation.

Happily, people are resilient. They recover. They move on. Kavanaugh emerged from his misogynistic, beer-swilled formative years to become a duplicitous partisan power player in Republican Washington, darling of the Scalia school of selective textualism, therein repudiating the tactics he so eagerly sought to inflict on William Jefferson Clinton. Ford eventually emerged from her abuse to become a talented academic, respected by her colleagues, loved by her students, and driven from her twin-doored home by the same school of inarticulate hate and rage that are lately inseparable from Republican politics, and that Kavanaugh chose to place front and center.

Ford will eventually return home, but that extra front door is going nowhere, and her lifelong flight from prep-school privilege to staid west-coast obscurity is over. Today, Dr. Blasey Ford is a national hero, and Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a national disgrace. Ford will be celebrated for the rest of her life for her bravery, her poise, and her resilience. Kavanaugh will be reviled for his juvenile temperament, his conspicuous, calculated mendacity, and like Justice Clarence Thomas before him, for denigrating the most revered institution in the land with his arrogant, partisan mediocrity.

Mediocrity, it must be emphasized, is not a quantitative matter. Human beings are more than the sum of their parts, and more than the summation of their resume. By any standard, Kavanaugh’s resume is perfect. Every box has been ticked, every extracurricular activity highlighted, every athletic, religious, and civic endeavor dutifully recorded in triplicate, all the way back to the crayon calendars of his formative years.

Character, however, is a different matter entirely. Character is qualitative, and cannot be derived from accolades and accomplishments and boxes ticked in triplicate. Character is behavior out of the white-hot glare of the Washington circus. Character is the private sphere of inner calculation. Character is choice. Character is tone.

As a matter of accomplishment, no-one can accuse Brett Kavanaugh of mediocrity. His resume is formidable. But judicial temperament demands the highest and best in us. It demands reserve, and thoughtfulness, and unimpeachable character. Yesterday, Brett Kavanaugh sought to demonstrate that his character is as formidable as his resume. What he demonstrated instead is craven mediocrity. In his heart of hearts, Brett Kavanaugh is as pugnacious and arrogant and tone-deaf as the administration he would serve. He is entirely unworthy of the post—not as a matter of accomplishment, or intelligence, or experience, or party. He is unworthy as a matter of character.

Following the hearing, Donald Trump tweeted: “Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him.”

About this, there is simply no question.


Brian Orner