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Kavanaugh hearing a triumph for toxic male anger

On Life

Ruminations and provocations.

Kavanaugh hearing a triumph for toxic male anger

Stephen H. Provost

American hasn’t been made great again. It’s been sucked down into a sinkhole fueled by toxic male rage. The Kavanaugh hearings illustrated that beyond a reasonable doubt.

The problem goes much deeper than partisanship, tribalism or any other “ism.” It rests on one tragic but glaring truth, and one alone: Toxic male anger works.

Viewers, even those on the right, were moved by Christine Blasey Ford’s honest and credible testimony during the September 27 hearing. But when Brett Kavanaugh sat down to testify, it was as if nothing Ford had said mattered. Senators didn’t address the sexual assault Ford said Kavanaugh committed against her. All they cared about was the self-righteous anger he exhibited.

Even some liberal talking heads on cable news spoke favorably of a performance by a man who:

  • Engaged in hyper-partisan accusations unbefitting a nominee to any court.

  • Repeatedly refused to answer questions directly.

  • Sought to excuse drinking and crude behavior based on his immaturity, yet at the same time tried to whitewash it by touting how mature he was for his age (if one can call studying and playing football at an all-male prep school signs of maturity). I’m sorry, but you can’t have it both ways. And you shouldn’t be able to excuse a crime by touting how many good things you’ve done. Bill Cosby, anyone?

“It’s all about me”

But most of all, Kavanaugh made it all about him, just like he probably made it all about him in that upstairs bedroom. (I say “probably” because he hasn’t been convicted in a court of law – which might happen if anyone ever conducted an impartial investigation. It’s no surprise that Kavanaugh refused to even call for an investigation, because he was obviously afraid of what an investigation could uncover. So was the committee. How disingenuous is it to say “I’ll do whatever the committee decides” when you know damn well the committee wants the same thing you do?)

In unleashing an angry, accusation-filled tirade against his enemies, Kavanaugh did exactly what the man who nominated him does in virtually every situation: refused to apologize or even acknowledge any degree of responsibility. This, predictably, earned high praise from the bloviator-in-chief. And it also cued Republican senators to follow his example. They’d appointed a sex-crimes prosecutor as their surrogate to question Professor Ford, not wanting to look like they were bullying a victim of a sexual assault. But when it came time to “question” Kavanaugh, they grabbed the microphone and went off on one tirade after another on his behalf.

Do they care about Brett Kavanaugh? Hardly. Because in their eyes, it’s all about them. Their re-election. Their power. Their egos. Their fear that someone who looks and acts a lot like them might actually be held accountable for doing something they find abhorrent. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s too similar to something they’ve done or wanted to do themselves.

Red herrings

This wasn’t about presumption of innocence – it wasn’t even a court case. It’s not about the fact that it happened a long time ago and that “people can change.” To that latter point, a Slate headline noted that “Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony made it easier than ever to picture him as an aggressive, entitled teen.”

It also made it very easy to picture him acting that way on the bench, making it all about him or about the people who look like him, while focusing his toxic male anger at those who dare to be different or to suggest that he might be wrong.

If Christine Blasey Ford was telling the truth, she had every right to be flame-throwing pissed as hell at Kavanaugh and his apologists. Yet there wasn’t even a hint of anger in her testimony. Instead, she said she was “terrified” to be testifying, repeatedly deferred to the committee’s judgments and used words like “collegial” during her testimony.

Kavanaugh’s self-righteous explosions, which sent emotional shrapnel flying scattershot around the hearing room, provided quite a contrast. And you know what? They’re what won the day, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham’s even more unhinged testimony that left at least this viewer wondering why he seemed to be taking this so personally.

None of Professor Ford’s collegiality, cooperation and civility mattered – not a whit. It was all blown away by the destructive force of Category 5 Hurricane Brett.

Who we are

We were left with one inescapable conclusion: We, as a society, like toxic male anger. Because it works. In the short term. For us. Or at least for enough of us like it to elect a bully to our highest office and repeatedly look the other way when he runs roughshod over our traditions, our ethics and our fellow citizens. Christine Blasey Ford’s collegiality and civility? Signs of weakness - at least in the minds of far too many.

They excuse bullying and assault as “boys being boys” because they don’t dare give it their full-throated endorsement – even though that’s what they really want to do. If you doubt me, just look at how blatant racism, sexism and jingoism has come out of hiding. We thought we were on track to beating it. But like a stubborn and virulent disease, it was just lying dormant. We’d merely sent it underground.

Toxic male anger sends our soldiers off to die on foreign soil. It gives us negative campaigns at election time that make some of us want to turn off the television for a month until it’s all over. It excuses the excesses of drunken frat boys to the extent that it doesn’t matter what they do as long as the person from our side of the aisle gets elected. (A poll found that Republicans, by a 54 to 32 percent margin, thought Kavanaugh should be confirmed even if the accusations against him were true.)

We celebrate anti-heroes and vigilantes in our movies: people who break the rules so our side can prevail. Because our side is “right,” even righteous. We tolerate white supremacists and empower bullies in the hope that they might be on our side.

A 2-year-old’s tantrum

But toxic male anger isn’t on anyone’s side but its own. It’s the same amoral force that fuels the tantrums of 2-year-olds who have yet to learn right from wrong. The 2-year-old has an excuse. We don’t, because we do know right from wrong and we resort to it anyway.  

None of this is to say that all men are toxic or that the solution is merely to elect a bunch of women. Gender stereotyping won’t solve anything, and to suggest that males are a slave to toxic anger is an insult to those who aren’t. (It’s also to ignore the fact that such anger appeals to, and is employed by, any number of women – if it weren’t, the current occupant of the White House would have zero female supporters.)

Nor is it to suggest that anger doesn’t have a place. It’s a human reaction. But if we make it the driving force behind our most important decisions, as we did in the Kavanaugh case, we’ll end up with a country run by 2-year-olds.

If we aren’t already there.