Why is Brett Kavanaugh so upset?
It’s a question few ask because so many already think they know the answer.
The most common explanation — the hot take so hot it melted the conventional wisdom and forged a new concrete groupthink — is that Kavanaugh was so angry because he represents White Male Entitlement.
The WME explanation is a form of allegory, not argument. In allegories, the characters aren’t real people so much as metaphors for certain ideas. For instance, in The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), the main character is named Christian, and on his trek he encounters other abstractions in human form, such as Mr. Worldly Wiseman.
Kavanaugh is now Mr. White Male Entitlement, and as such, he is by definition wrong because that is his assigned role.
Over the weekend, Martha Nussbaum penned an essay (inspired by her book The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis) and pigeonholed Kavanaugh into her preconceived theories of what’s wrong with the world. In her telling, Kavanaugh is simply the incarnation of her theory that men are brimming with misogyny driven by fear of, and anger at, “women making demands, speaking up, in general standing in the way of unearned male privilege.”
For Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart, Kavanaugh’s manifest “white entitlement” and his “smug, rude and petulant behavior” were part of “one long ‘but you promised’ tantrum of a grown man denied what he seems to believe is his.”
According to the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd: “It was a cri de coeur custom-made for the age of Trump — and custom-designed to please Trump himself: entitled white men acting like the new minority, howling about things that are being taken away from them, aggrieved at anything that diminishes them or saps their power.”
This is all emblematic of one of the chief problems with our politics today, on the left and the right. We follow politics as if it were a movie or, in this case, an allegory, in which characters are denied human agency and assigned the task of merely personifying an idea or theme. Thus Christine Blasey Ford isn’t a specific human being making specific charges, but an avatar for an idea about all women at a moment when “all women” must be believed.
I do not deny that Kavanaugh believes he is entitled to certain things. He may even at some deep psychological level think some of his entitlement stems from the fact that he is male or even white, though there is no evidence for that explanation. It has simply been asserted over and over until it has become a kind of dogma.
But couldn’t the more plausible explanation be that he feels entitled to the job because, by all accounts, he is one of most qualified judges in America and has spent a dozen years on the second-highest court in the country?
Could he not also feel entitled to some measure of fair play? Before these allegations surfaced, Senator Cory Booker (D., N.J.) insisted that Kavanaugh’s nomination was “evil.” Since then, Kavanaugh has been accused of orchestrating gang rapes.
And yet we’re supposed to believe his anger derives not from such accusations but from some abstract idea of white-male powerlessness?
Kavanaugh’s critics have fallen into an argument built on a narrative of bigotry. Men from his background have done bad things in the past, and since he fits the stereotype, he is a symbol of their collective guilt. Women have been treated horribly when they’ve made allegations, so now we must believe all women.
Never mind that there were times in America when “believe all white women” was the rule. When they made allegations against black men, it led to some unspeakable evils. To Kill a Mockingbird is in many ways a modern allegory about those times.
I am not trying to say that Brett Kavanaugh is a contemporary, real-life Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of rape in that book. I am trying to say that Kavanaugh is an actual human being.
Appeals to historical grievances, highbrow theories of the male psyche, and pent-up resentments — as interesting or as emotionally powerful as they may be — are not all that relevant here. This isn’t an allegory. It’s the real world.
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