A Toxic Culture

In light of the recent sexual assault allegations against current Supreme Court Justice nominee and Harvard Law School lecturer Brett M. Kavanaugh, there’s been a jarring reaction from many Republicans.

The allegations that the then-high-schooler Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault a woman come at a critical time in the confirmation process for the spot on the high court. With little more than a month until the 2018 midterm elections, such a revelation could turn the November vote into a referendum on Republicans’ and Democrats’ reactions to the multitude of sexual harassment allegations that have become increasingly prevalent.

Keeping with the moving-the-goalposts approach that they’ve used for other scandals and allegations against members of Congress and even the President, Republicans first defended the nominee’s character with testimonials by women who hadn’t been sexually harassed by Kavanaugh.

The first strategy seeming insufficient, senators then began addressing the allegations directly. Made anonymously at the time, the allegations were attacked as hearsay with Senator John Cornyn taking to Twitter to retweet a post likening the allegations to gossip. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell then attacked the timing of the allegations as politically motivated, despite the fact that the allegations were first publicized through The Washington Post and The New Yorker, and not through Democratic senators.


With now-Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford coming forward as the accuser, the attacks have become even more pointed and now include character attacks on the accuser herself. Those attacks have already begun on Twitter, spreading her home address and contact information and attacking her past political contributions. In a more juvenile fashion, Donald Trump Jr. mocked the allegations on Instagram.

Others, like Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley have returned to defending Kavanaugh by citing his youth at the time: “[W]e're talking about 35 years ago. I'd hate to ask, have somebody ask me what I did 35 years ago.” Though it might be noted that 35 years ago, Grassley was a freshman senator.

Desperate to push the nomination through, senators are now calling for Ford to testify before the Senate immediately, denying her the investigation that many like Senator Orrin Hatch had lauded back in 1991 with the Anita Hill allegations. Though back then he called such an investigation “the very right thing to do,” a tweet from his office just this week defended denying Ford a similar investigation, saying that “the FBI does not do investigations like this. The responsibility falls to us.”

There are more and more examples of disheartening reactions by people in power — too many for me to cite — but these reactions show their true character. If this kind of reaction from the majority party in both houses of Congress is acceptable to you, then by all means, vote them back in and confirm Kavanaugh. To me, these are unacceptable.

This country has seen allegations of sexual harassment come up in the nomination of a Supreme Court justice before, but that time the Senate failed in its function. It can’t happen again. With one man credibly accused of sexual harassment on the Supreme Court already, it’s imperative that our representatives in Washington not usher in a second.

Ed Rollins, chairman of a conservative political action committee, was quoted as saying that “if this is the new standard, no one will ever want or be able to serve in government or on the judiciary.” If that is the new standard, this country should take a look into the pasts of other elected and appointed officials, because no one guilty of such sexual harassment should ever be able to serve in government or on the judiciary. Judging by how many allegations have come to light, it’s not hard to believe that more will come.

More than that, though, the greater culture echoed by Grassley, Cornyn, Hatch, McConnell, and others cannot be accepted. It must be changed. Come November, I can only hope that all of these reactions stick in the mind of voters as they enter the polling booths. They stick in mine, and I’m voting for a better culture.

Patrick C. Barham ’21 is a Government concentrator in Pforzheimer House.