The G-File

Politics & Policy

The Moral-Panic Phase

Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, September 27, 2018. (Win McNamee/Pool via Reuters)
Why is the Kavanaugh nomination causing people to lose their minds?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Including everybody who’d just like a time-out),

Maybe it’s because I’ve been getting so much grief from left and right for the alleged sin of “both sides-ism” over the last few years, but Thursday (yesterday for me) was both clarifying and cathartic. Oh, don’t get me wrong: It was horrible and possibly tragic for the Court and the country, but it was also oddly — and probably momentarily — liberating, at least for me.

Because, finally, there was a left–right fight about which I am largely un-conflicted. This wasn’t a brouhaha about Trump or any of the usual stuff. The issue here was that the Democrats and their abettors in the media simply behaved atrociously.

For example, on Thursday, nearly every conservative and Republican was respectful towards Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, finding her testimony moving and credible. But when Brett Kavanaugh spoke, also movingly and credibly, the instantaneous response from much of the liberal and Democratic chorus was “Ermahgod! Raaaaaapist!” or “How dare he be angry!” or “You can’t have a partisan madman like this on the Court!”

Look, I actually agree that Kavanaugh’s anger towards Democrats in the hearing — though morally and emotionally justified — isn’t a good thing over the long run if he were to make it on the Court. But this idea that he can’t be a Supreme Court justice because he wasn’t dispassionate in the face of multiple bogus allegations that he’s a rapist is both grotesque and grotesquely dumb.

First of all, is there any doubt in your mind that, if Kavanaugh had been coldly dispassionate, dismissive, and reserved, the Jen Rubins of the world would be screaming, “See! He’s an emotionless monster! He doesn’t even have the basic human decency to take offense at being called a rapist!”?

Second, contrary to the tsunami of smug sorrowful opining, judges are not expected to be cold and dispassionate in the face of charges about themselves. That’s why they recuse themselves from cases in which they have personal interests. Here’s an idea for you: The next time you’re in a court of law, shout at the judge that he’s biased because he’s an alcoholic rapist perv. See what happens.

Dianne Feinstein — who is more to blame for this three-ring-fecal-festival than any other actor — began her questioning of Kavanaugh by raising an allegation that he ran a rape gang. He responded angrily. And now she’s offended by the partisanship? Please. Judicial nominees aren’t supposed to be like the guards at Buckingham Palace: “Let’s see how many absolutely horrible things we can say to his face before he loses his temper — and then when he does, let’s berate him for not doing his job.”

This is what I mean when I say that the hearing was clarifying. It’s no secret that I’m a Trump critic, but I do my best to stay rational and fair about it. I keep hearing from other, even more ardent, Trump critics that people like me should vote for — and endorse — the Democrats because the Republican party has been utterly corrupted by Trump. I get that argument, and I don’t think it’s as insane as some of my friends on the right do — at least on paper. But when you actually look at how the Democrats have behaved . . . Great Odin’s Raven, I don’t want anything to do with any of that.

I’ll stay in my Remnant, thank you very much.

The Blame Game

At a 30,000-foot level, I do think Quin Hillyer has a point.

As I’ve been saying for a long time, when the president violates norms, it creates a permission structure for everybody to violate norms, including in his own administration. Every bad act by one party is over-interpreted by the other party, and the urge to counter-punch twice as hard is indulged.

But here’s the thing: Virtually any other Republican could have or even would have nominated Brett Kavanaugh, and most of the garbage we’ve heard over the last two weeks — he’s evil, he doesn’t deserve the presumption of innocence, he must be guilty because other men or white men or prep-school men are sexual predators, he’s guilty because Mazie Hirono thinks his rulings on abortion are proof of rapey-ness, he floats on water just like wood, etc. — would be spouted by these people all the same. Sure, you can put some of the blame on Trump for the climate in Washington. You can blame him for making it harder to speak credibly about sexual misbehavior since there are so many credible allegations against him.

But you can’t blame him for Democrats believing that Brett Kavanaugh ran a rape gang in high school. Nor can you blame Trump for all of the liberals who know it must be a lie and refuse to say so. That’s on them.

Let’s stay on that, because unlike the Ford question, which I think reasonable people can disagree on, the idea that Brett Kavanaugh helped run a regular rape operation is true witch-hunt groupthink. Why not just accuse him of having turned someone into a newt or moth with his blood magic?

Brett Kavanaugh’s Rape Club

I truly and sincerely don’t want to make light of sexual assault. Rape is evil. Which also means that false accusations of rape are evil. And treating each additional, wholly unverified accusation as if it is more proof is evil.

But it’s worth thinking about the hysterical stupidity of the moment we are in.

In a morally ordered republic loosely bound by the rules of logic, reason, and what was once called common sense, men in white jackets would have escorted Michael Avenatti to a quiet, padded room for observation long ago. This week we should have seen at least one of his television interviews cut short by a tranquilizer blow dart hitting him in the neck.

“I’m telling you! The Fs in Ffffffffoooooourth stands for fffffff…<thud>.”

I want to be open-minded. So I will concede that the allegation is not theoretically impossible, given the depths of depravity that humans in every generation and every civilization and at all strata of class and privilege are capable of.

But it would be highly unlikely, to say the least. I say this having some insight, however imperfect, into the social milieu from which Kavanaugh hails. I didn’t grow up in Washington, but I did technically go to a prep school.

(My school was not as prestigious as Georgetown Prep. There was always a raging debate about my alma mater: Was it the best school on the B-List or the worst school of the A-list? But it was a prep school.)

I knew kids at various schools like Kavanaugh’s. They could be, to borrow a term from social science, dicks. I’m not saying he was. But even if he was, that doesn’t mean he was a rapist. Though, to listen to various liberals, you’d think stereotypes about sex, race, and class are always true so long as you’re talking about white preppy Christians.

Still, I will confess I have my own biases. I never took high school too seriously, so I had a certain amount of resentment towards those who did. The kids who constantly worried about their permanent record; the kids who did everything they could to please teachers or gussy-up their college applications; the kids who seemingly without much effort checked boxes as both jocks and academic grinds; the kids who were always worried about getting in trouble for fear of having to go to a state school: These were kids that I didn’t gravitate towards precisely because I couldn’t be one of them. But I will grant them this: They seemed really unlikely to organize rape gangs if for no other reason than that such things look really bad on your application to Yale.

Again, I don’t mean to be unfair to Brett Kavanaugh. I have no doubt that a regular churchgoing kid had other reasons not to do the logistical heavy-lifting of drugging and raping teenage girls on a regular basis. I’m just assuming the worst while still employing Occam’s Razor. And I just have a hard time believing that the Rapey McRapeFace who Avenatti and his fans describe is the real Brett Kavanaugh.

Virgin Territory

Here’s the thing: When Brett Kavanaugh admitted that he’d been a virgin in high school and the mob took it as corroboration that he was a rape-gang impresario, that’s when I knew we were looking at the madness of crowds and figured it was time for me to start cutting myself again.

In fairness, many were simply too excited to check that Kavanaugh was responding to a question specifically about being a part of a rape gang, and instead went to town on a false assumption, “well, actuallying” everyone about how being a virgin doesn’t mean he couldn’t have assaulted Ford. Others suggested that admitting he was a virgin was damning:

Others just lost their damn minds:

As for Avenatti, who is perversely invested in the plausibility of this allegation, both because he could be sued for his role in popularizing slander and because he thinks his metaphysical ass-clownery is his primary qualification for being president of the United States, he insinuated that Kavanaugh’s admission might just be a legalistic evasion. Kavanaugh could have done all sorts of other things, Avenatti insisted in his “oral” presentation, delivered with his usual restraint. After all, only the most profane rapists try to deny the charge of really raping someone by falling back on the — dare I say it? — Clintonian legalism that they never did, you know, that stuff.

One problem with this neck-vein-popping theory is that it makes people want to drink drain cleaner. Another problem is that Kavanaugh would have needed to consider this technicality valuable when he was a teenager. This was nearly two decades before Bill Clinton came up with the novel theory that a woman servicing him could be considered to be engaged in sexual relations with him but that, so long as he stayed very still, he wasn’t having sexual relations with her. Are we to believe that beer-loving Brett maintained this distinction in his own mind while organizing gang rapes at one party after another?

“You guys go ahead — I’m gonna stay a virgin and just do the other stuff to these girls we drugged because I have to make sure this doesn’t go on my permanent record.”

Why?

Why the Hell are people losing their minds? I don’t know. Why did St. Vitus’ Dance sweep Europe? Why did tulips get so expensive during the Tulip Craze? Why did the witches hang?

I suspect what’s happened is a convergence of things. First the #MeToo movement, which mostly has been a force for good, is entering its moral-panic phase. Second, the Internet accelerates groupthink and extremism for all the familiar reasons. Third, a lot of Democrats have concluded that the only way to win the party’s presidential nomination is to prove you can be the most fearless jackass in the herd (See, Cory “Almost Spartacus” Booker) and the presence of Michael Avenatti in the market has put inflationary pressure on everyone’s asininity. Fourth, as I keep writing (even at book length), we are turning politics into a form of tribal entertainment where it’s easy to convince ourselves that our opponents are existential monsters.

And fifth, as politics has become a secular religion, the Supreme Court has become like a Roman Temple and people are terrified that Kavanaugh is a less indulgent priest. If the Supreme Court wasn’t the institution where a single swing justice — not coincidentally the one Kavanaugh is slated to replace — decides how human beings should define themselves in the world, people wouldn’t be freaking out nearly so much.

But here we are.

Various & Sundry

Alas, the Canine Update will have to be truncated. I’ve been on the road all week, and I have to head to AEI to debate nationalism with my friend and colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty. But the beasts are good and had a nice time while I was gone. I got to see them for a few minutes before heading back out. They were almost as happy to see me as I was to see them.

Oh: I’m heading to UCSB in a week. It would be great if folks in the area (or out of it) could come out. I know costs a little money, but I promise to do my best to make it worth it.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

My appearance last Sunday on Meet the Press

The Kavanaugh hearings and the nature of belief

Should the FBI investigate Kavanaugh?

My controversial NPR hit from earlier this week

On Avenatti’s “claims”

My appearance on The Adam Carolla Show

Me on Trump’s “doctrine of patriotism”

The latest Remnant podcast

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Tuesday links

A sign of the end times

Texas shelter puppy finds home

The first animal was . . .

The best picture of 2017’s eclipse

Spider web takes over Greek beach

Behold the fire tornado

What happens when you give octopi ecstasy?

The spice must flow

How coming close to death affected William Shatner’s life

Bees!

82-year-old fights off robbers

Kyle MacLachlan on his most famous roles

The dead beneath London’s streets

Dogs welcoming their owners home

What dogs do when they’re home alone

Dog feeds carrot to three rabbits and a pig

WWII codebreaker buried in Nebraska with U.K. military honors

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!

Not a movie

All right all right all right

Dissecting the dad joke

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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