Will we ever see civility in public life again?
I think Dr. Ford is blowing smoke and, further, that Judge Kavanaugh is the moral superior of thousands who discount his word and declare him unfit for the Supreme Court.
But what do I know? What does Sen. Hirono, for that matter, know in spite of all her multiple testimonies to Dr. Ford’s truthfulness? It’s not a case of what we see with actual eyeballs. It’s a case of what our innards tell us. Which is what makes the battle over the Kavanaugh nomination to the court so potentially catastrophic. Not to mention ironic, coming as it does at a moment of growing collective horror over the lynch-mob murders of black Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s OK to revile mobs with nooses. Mobs with microphones and Twitter accounts — not so much.
The world’s leading democracy is heavy into the mob rule ethic. Can’t you hear it? We got all the evidence we need, boys! That feller wouldn’t be settin’ up such a ruckus if he warn’t guilty — y’reckon? No last words for him: he can tell it to Jesus.
Twenty-first century America’s failure to understand itself as a mob-rule society in utero has something to do, probably, with the indifferent or dismissive way U.S. history often gets taught these days. You can’t overlook, at the same time, the tribalism — more first century in nature than 21st — into which the country is descending. As the perceptive Andrew Sullivan, a moderate liberal, writes: “There seem to be just two unalterable categories: the oppressors or the oppressed; elite globalists or decent ‘normal’ people. You are in one camp or the other…”
That is, you’re against the debasement of women — or you’re a debaser yourself. And if the latter, you’re invited to a party different from the kind Dr. Ford claims to remember. There’s no rope — yet — but public disrepute leaves its own mark on the neck.
A mob-rule society, we’re going to figure out one of these days, isn’t a society at all. Such rights as it allows and extends are precisely the rights that obtain to those who dominate or intend to: those with the loudest voices and the most fashionable ideas. To those lacking these attributes go none of democracy’s suppositions, such as the right to be heard, or even the right to an opinion of their own. These folk do as the mob says. They repeat the words and vows the mob tells them to repeat and vow.
And it all ends… where? And how?
Such questions should trouble us mightily, even beyond the question of who gets to sit on the Supreme Court.
Finish off Brett Kavanaugh with the weapons of unmerited public shame and guess what precedent we set. Let’s see: President Mazie Hirono or Cory Booker or Elizabeth Warren, somewhere down the line, names Judge X to the high court. The propaganda machines start to grind. Judge X — why, why, she walked the streets to pay for law school! When she wasn’t drunk. Or a bunch of other stuff. It’s coming. You can smell it.
As with judicial nominations, so with other claims to honor. Proof — who needs proof? The truth isn’t what we seek. Victory is what we seek: victory over those opposed to our ideals and ideas.
Ugliness of spirit is what mob rule breeds, quite apart from the violence of one kind or another that it inflicts on the unpopular and disliked. Judge Kavanaugh’s foes in politics and the media may, we must acknowledge, get away with this escapade. The many-throated mob may lynch him without credible evidence of bad behavior.
So much, if the mob has its way, for due process of law. So much, also, for any restoration of civility in public life. The smoke from the bonfire will darken American skies for a long time to come. We’ll get meaner and meaner, on all sides, and more dangerous to democracy, than we are right now. Dr. Ford, Sen. Feinstein, Sen. Hirono — they won’t be forgotten. They’ll be remembered in the worst way: as symbols of unfairness, of disdain for reason, and, yes, of rule by the mob.
William Murchison is writing a book on moral restoration in the 21st century.
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