The new world is no place for this Trumped-up sexist creep
The sex assault case against his right-wing Supreme Court choice harks back to the dark, sexist days of 1991
It seems like a lifetime ago now.
Just more than two years before our new SA was born in 1994, a brilliant black man was about to make history in the United States of America. Clarence Thomas, a lawyer and government official who had overcome racism and hardship in the American south, had been nominated to succeed the legendary Judge Thurgood Marshall as the second African-American to serve on the US Supreme Court.
Then a young, brilliant (she held a Yale law degree) black woman called Anita Hill stepped forward with charges that Thomas had sexually harassed her while she worked with him. A gender and racial firestorm erupted: many said she was trying to “pull a good black man down”; Thomas himself said her allegations were a “hi-tech lynching”; a Republican legislator implied that Hill had merely been fantasising about the whole thing. Others said she was just angry that he had allegedly not paid her any (romantic or sexual) attention.
This was in October 1991. This was before the welcome, liberatory, arrival of today’s #MeToo movement. Anita Hill was, like any woman who stood up against male power at that time and in previous years, the loneliest woman in the world. She was attacked from all sides.
Clarence Thomas was confirmed as a Supreme Court judge. He has since emerged as the most conservative member of the court, routinely ruling against progressives in cases that come before the Supreme Court.
We are back there today in a case that one hopes may yet prove, at least for Anita Hill, that Martin Luther King jnr’s words that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” are indeed true.
Brett Kavanaugh was nominated by President Donald Trump in July to replace the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had retired. Kennedy was frequently the court’s swing vote whereas, for example, Thomas could be relied on to almost always deliver a conservative judgment. What makes Kavanaugh crucial is that if he is confirmed, the Supreme Court will shift considerably to the right.
After Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh, a university professor, Christine Blasey Ford, came forward and accused Kavanaugh of forcing himself on her while the two were at a party in high school. She says he pinned her down on a bed, attempted to remove her clothing and covered her mouth when she tried to scream. As expected, Kavanaugh has unequivocally denied these allegations.
On Sunday, The New Yorker magazine published a story in which a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a drunken party while both were first-year students at Yale University.
“It was kind of a joke,” Ramirez told the magazine. “And now it’s clear to me it wasn’t a joke.”
What does it all matter?
The president of the US, a man who made it into the White House despite being caught on tape saying a woman should be grabbed by her genitalia, has come out in support of Kavanaugh. Last week he tweeted that “Kavanaugh is a fine man, with an impeccable reputation, who is under assault by radical left-wing politicians who don’t want to know the answers, they just want to destroy and delay”.
In another tweet he said “if the attack on Dr Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents”.
Read that again. It sounds exactly like what women who have been beaten, assaulted, murdered and defiled across the world hear every day from men in power (“He is a good man!”; “Why didn’t you report it at the time?”). It sounds like what Anita Hill heard 27 years ago.
That means it is possible that Kavanaugh may be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice despite the serious allegations emerging about him. It is possible that he, together with Thomas, will define US law on abortion, human rights, the environment and other crucial issues for decades to come.
Yet this is not 1991. Then, US legislators barred three witnesses who wanted to corroborate Hill’s story from appearing. Today is another world. It no longer totally belongs to sexist men and the systems that have supported them and allowed them to get away with murder for centuries. One hopes this new world will win this time around.