While the #BelieveWomen vs #BackBrett battle of public opinion has reminded the world of the rampancy and traumatising effects of male sexual assault, it has also cast light upon something equally sinister: the often-ignored fact that the world of the political establishment remains as circumscribed, and profoundly white, as ever.
The accusation, delivered by Professor Christine Blasey Ford, concerns a party that took place in the summer of 1982 in a privileged Washington DC suburb in the Maryland area. Hosting the party was a friend of Ford’s, met through the Columbia Country Club where both their parents dined and socialised. Read her full testimony here.
As she outlined the events that led to her sexual assault, her emotional involvement was genuinely moving and no doubt credible. However, in the process, she unwittingly shed light on a spider’s web of elite interconnection between the institutions of US academia, law, politics and public notability that engulfs the current political establishment.
The main outcome of this nomination fiasco is a blow to male chauvinism and a boost to the credibility of #MeToo, as it should be. Even though Kavanaugh was confirmed on Saturday night, the public outcry has remained resilient and systematic, with thousands of women protesting the senate vote. There was something deeply ironic about Mike Pence continuously asking if the ‘sergeant in arms’ would restore order in the gallery: by order, he means the control of society by privileged white men in an official, governable setting, without any challenge by women or members of the non-elite.
Claims of past sexual misconduct are not new to Supreme Court nominees: the case brought by Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas during his 1991 Supreme Court nomination hearings was rife with speculation about his suitability for the role. While Thomas proceeded to the Supreme Court without lasting difficulty, expansive media coverage, female protest and the political implications of MeToo will prevent Kavanaugh from ever fully rectifying his reputation. He is being subjected to a form of scrutiny that has been hitherto absent from the Supreme Court nomination procedure. Historic and unacceptable oversight — with regards to the character of men awarded positions of power — is being slowly reversed, or at least challenged. We can see this in the #MeToo impeachment of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey: men who were once above accepted standards of behaviour.
However, Dr Ford’s testimony should now also promote another important reflection — why is it that white, privileged individuals are still receiving the top roles in public society? Why are they attending the same elite schools, visiting the same country clubs and rubbing noses with the same yet-to-be establishment figures at top universities, all without question? This testimony made something palpably clear. Education in America is failing those from low-income or disadvantaged/non-privileged backgrounds, as well as those from African-American and Hispanic communities, who have featured so distantly in this entire procedure (in court; in the testimony and witness lists; in the demonstrations and campaigns in support of either Ford or Kavanaugh).
Dr Ford’s assault claims belie a certain inescapable privilege beneath them, making the moment for #MeToo sickly-sweet. The trial was a clear blow to the practice of social mobility in the supposedly progressive American establishment — it outlined the determined curation of a homogenous political elite. Prof Ford is herself an American Professor of Psychology at Palo Alto University, and a research psychologist at the Stanford University of Medicine. While nobody could begrudge her success and hard work, it is frustrating that her testimony seems to demonstrate the frequency with which applicants from elite, US private schools dominate universities such as Yale and Stanford. Before, of course, going on to become high-profile academics, government officials, lawyers, politicians, or even Supreme Court Justices. It is important to remember that Kavanaugh was not on trial: he was not set to lose his rights, as millions of African-American citizens do regularly and arbitrarily, but simply be denied a privilege that only nine individuals can possess at any one time.
Georgetown Preparatory School, an elite Jesuit school in suburban Washington, has already supplied Neil Gorsuch as one Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Now that Kavanaugh is elected, it means 22.3 per cent of America’s highest court in the land was educated at a singular private school based in Washington DC. How can that be right? How can this arrangement ensure non-biased and representative opinion from a Court whose role it is to legislate on the most constitutionally-threatening cases plaguing American society today? Mark Judge is another individual being accused: he lived and operated in the same high-society of this Maryland clique and is a notable journalist and writer. His father, Joseph Judge, edited the National Geographic magazine for nearly three decades. Anecdotal privilege is woven into the fabric of the case at every juncture.
Stanford and Yale admission statistics paint a rather bleak picture regarding undergraduate geographical diversity. Each of the Supreme Court judges attended either Yale, Stanford or Harvard and most were born in the north-eastern region of the USA. In 2018, thirty-eight undergraduates at Yale came from Maryland alone (the wealthiest state in America), while even higher figures attended from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey. This makes the north-eastern region incredibly overrepresented in top universities and the Supreme Court. By contrast, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas sent four, five and four undergraduates to the same institution. At Stanford, meanwhile, forty-seven undergraduates came from Maryland, while Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas — the three poorest states — sent nine, one and four respectively.
Trump’s comments about men having much to fear in present-day America are simply not true — they are in fact an outburst of Trump’s petulance at the idea that Kavanaugh’s promotion could be challenged in any way; that the deep-rooted elitism in American society could be questioned. Trump need not worry, however, because white, privileged men (and women) still heavily dominate the public domain. These testimonies should have abated his concerns, not stoked them.