Shit’s real weird now.
A thing it took, like, the New York Times and Washington Post and CNN and so forth maybe a little too long to figure out, back during the 2016 campaigns, a lapse that has launched innumerable blinkered Cletus Safaris in search of some other, less chillingly sociopathic answer in the aftermath of that hell-moment, is this: What the American right wants, what it’s after, isn’t some abstract pluralist success, like the smooth functioning of government and/or the material improvement of American life. It wants, only and entirely, to defeat its opponents. Those aren’t quite the same thing. The Republican party would not choose the former if it could be accomplished without the latter.
An example: Any number of grub-like Yale jurist-ghouls with diamond-edged ‘80s-dad hair and uniformly right-wing ideas about constitutional law could get confirmed to fill the Supreme Court’s vacant ninth seat, and once in that seat could be counted upon to plagiarize Anton Chigurh dialog into incumbent legal precedence for the next three decades. The earth contains no shortage of these. And so, in the aftermath of the discovery that Brett Kavanaugh, the one Donald Trump happened to nominate for the gig, quite likely attempted to rape a 15-year-old girl in the summer of 1982 (and, perhaps less important though no less relevant, almost certainly lied to the Senate about the use of stolen materials to aid George W. Bush’s judicial nominees) and has been living comfortably with this fact about himself for the ensuing 36 years, it should be easy enough to withdraw his nomination and move along to the next crypto-Nazi cottage cheese sculpture in the pipeline. He’d breeze through confirmation, whoever he was: You could pretty much count on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s terminally third-brained centrist Democrats lining up to play themselves. And that would be a success, theoretically: A new, arch-conservative Supreme Court justice, possibly even one not tainted by a credible accusation that he once tried to rape a child.
But that would not be enough. It has to be this guy. It has to be this guy now more than ever. It has to be this guy, now, because he has been accused, credibly, of attempting to rape a 15-year-old girl in 1982—moreover because people believe this should be considered a disqualifying blight on his record. The thing that must happen is that those people must be defeated. That is the whole point. What must be shown to the whole world is that this, even this, cannot stop him. The bigger the outrage that can be brushed aside, the more thorough the defeat for the people who thought something, anything, might take precedence over this white man being the pick of another white man.
And so, in a single whirlwind week—or maybe less, time moves weird in the hell dimension and it’s easy to lose track—the Republican party and its mouthpieces have been happy bordering on gleeful to shuffle through increasingly absurd and contradictory defenses of Kavanaugh. From He didn’t do it to Okay yeah he did it but that was 36 years ago to Yeah he did what the accuser describes but that’s just rough horseplay between kids to C’mon, who among us hasn’t ever tried to rape a 15-year-old to Actually this other guy is the one who did it to, at its absolute nadir this morning, when the president of the United States, the unrepentant pussy-grabber himself, tweeted the following:
If she did not file a police report, she cannot have been sexually assaulted. So says the President of the United States, where, by the most conservative credible estimates, something like two-thirds of all sexual assaults are never reported to police.
The important thing to note is: Nobody, nobody, believes a single one of these defenses, most likely not even the people offering them. Believing any of them would defeat the point of the exercise, which is to demonstrate that it doesn’t matter, to put this son of a bitch across with a completely unhidden sneer, to say all but explicitly We know he did this, you know he did this, everyone knows he did this, and you couldn’t stop us anyway. The wild variety and complete inconsistency of all these defenses aren’t bugs; they’re features.
It’s a bit late for anyone not to have figured this out yet, but the skeleton key to understanding American conservatism is this: At bottom, it lacks absolutely any moral or ideological underpinning beyond the reactionary protection of moneyed white men—of their station, their wealth and power, and their egos. Its supposed ideas and abstractions are just a framework for spasmodic lashing-out against anything that can be interpreted as a threat to rich white dudes. It likes supply-side economics because the supply side is made of rich white dudes. It likes tax cuts because the taxes are mostly cut for rich white dudes. It likes cops and soldiers because cops and soldiers uphold a social order with rich white dudes at the top. It likes “traditional family values” because social, economic, and sexual dominion over women are the most traditional family values of all. It likes “Make America Great Again” because rich white dudes used to roll through society and over everyone else with even greater impunity than they do now. All of these things are just proxies for reiterating, over and over and over, forever, the power and security and primacy of rich white dudes.
Once upon a time, yeah, some American president might have performed the empty noblesse oblige–ass theater of withdrawing a judicial nominee who’d become as toxic and controversial as Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination had turned into a referendum on the political parties’ respective views on something as grave and awful as sexual assault. So it’s fine to point out that things are different, now, if only on their surface; it’s fine to chart out, if you wish, the moral and intellectual decay whereby the American right eventually dropped all its pretenses and became, straight out, the Neener Neener Neener You Can’t Stop Us movement; it’s fine to observe that this happening subsequent to America’s first non-white president and first non-male major-party presidential nominee is no coincidence at all, but very specifically a vengeful tantrum by a shrinking class of wounded bullies eager to reassert by force and at all costs their hold on society’s controls.
But first, the thing to do is to describe it accurately. When they eventually ram Kavanaugh through, and they will, it won’t be despite all of this. It will be because of it.