The words “truth” and “facts” have been ubiquitous in discussions about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the three women who have accused him of sexual assault.
But the reality is that we’ll probably never know the truth.
I don’t expect that irrefutable evidence of what happened will suddenly appear, plucked from a hat by an FBI magician. The number of years that have elapsed since the alleged incidents militate against this. There won’t be cellphone records from 1982. And probably no other forms of physical evidence.
Nor do I expect either Kavanaugh or his accusers to retract their stories.
We have claims from Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick. And we have denials from Kavanaugh.
These are facts, all of them.
But none is indisputable proof of anything. None is truth.
We also have the riveting testimony from both Ford and Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 27.
Both seemed to me compelling witnesses.
And both were believable.
But I have no trouble admitting that after listening to both of their stories I am no closer than I was before to actually knowing what happened in 1982.
Because believable is not the same as belief. Which is to say it is not certainty.
Just as a series of facts does not always give us the truth about a specific incident.
All this is unsatisfying to me.
I understand why people yearn for the comfort of absolute confidence on such an important matter.
I shudder at the prospect of having a man serve on the Supreme Court justice and thus help shape American society for the next three decades who sexually assaulted a woman.
But I don’t know if Kavanaugh is that man.
I wonder, though, whether my ambivalence regarding the allegations against Kavanaugh marks me as a member of a small minority.
When I perused various sources of opinion journalism the day after Kavanaugh and Ford testified before the Judiciary Committee, including syndicators that supply columns and editorials to the Herald, I was struck by the almost unanimous belief among the pundits that Ford was truthful and Kavanaugh was not.
Either a lot of commentators are much more adept than I am at distinguishing between truth and lies based solely on watching a person speaking on TV, or else they believe they possess such an ability, which is not at all the same thing.
Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer, for instance, wrote about the “unflinching directness of Dr. Ford’s account,” which was “delivered with a remarkable, crisp clarity, even as her voice sometimes cracked and tears welled in her eyes as she brushed away a stray hair.”
Bunch’s take on Kavanaugh is rather less complimentary (and lacking any gratuitous references to his hair). Kavanaugh, Bunch wrote, delivered a “loud, forceful — some might dare say belligerent — burn-it-all-down afternoon rebuttal, in which the 53-year-old jurist called both the confirmation process and the mounting allegations against him ‘a national disgrace.’ ”
I’m not sure why Bunch felt it necessary to employ the weasely method of writing “some might dare say” that Kavanaugh was belligerent.
He certainly was belligerent — anybody who watched his testimony would agree, whatever their opinion about his truthfulness, that that adjective is apt.
But this gets us — or at any rate, it gets me — no further toward having confidence in branding Kavanaugh as a liar or a truth-teller.
I expect any normal person who is accused of a heinous crime he says he didn’t commit would be belligerent in defending himself.
I’m fairly certain I would be.
Also “loud” and “forceful,” to borrow two other of Bunch’s words.
And I might well describe the proceedings as a “disgrace.”
But just because Kavanaugh acted the way I would expect an unjustly accused person to act doesn’t mean I know, or even that I think, that he was unjustly accused.
I don’t know.
And I feel the same about Ford’s testimony.
I would expect a person who has been the victim of a terrible crime to have tears well in her eyes while describing the incident.
But though I understand that Ford said she was “100 percent” certain that it was Kavanaugh who assaulted her, Kavanaugh was equally unequivocal in his denial.
I recognize that similar scenarios play out sometimes in courtrooms in criminal cases. Sometimes juries have to decide whether they believe one of two diametrically opposed stories is the truth and which, by necessity, is false.
(Although in many cases the information presented to a jury also includes physical evidence as well as testimony, the former being in short supply in the Kavanaugh hearing.)
But as important as the Supreme Court is, the stakes in Kavanaugh’s confirmation, at least to him individually, don’t compare with, say, a murder trial. If Kavanaugh is not confirmed — if, in effect, his denial fails to overcome Ford’s allegation — he will lose a coveted job. And his reputation, whatever happens, has suffered irreparable damage.
But a murder defendant whose denial fails to persuade a jury might, depending on the state, lose his life.
Ultimately, I think President Trump should have withdrawn Kavanaugh’s nomination, or convinced the judge to do so.
I understand that some of Kavanaugh’s supporters would argue that by ending his nomination based on allegations that have not gone through the adversarial gantlet of a trial the nation would, in effect, make it possible for opponents to defeat any political nominee merely by bringing forward sexual assault claims.
That’s a troubling prospect, to be sure.
But I’m not convinced the risk is so great as to threaten the sanctity of the federal nomination process.
Which is to say I’m not convinced that stopping Kavanaugh’s confirmation would set a precedent or create a template that guarantees future nominations will also turn into spectacles.
Indeed the level of hysteria that surrounded last week’s Judiciary Committee hearing makes me think it’s all but impossible that we’ll see anything like that again.
It seems to me farcical to believe that opponents to every future Supreme Court nominee could find people willing to accuse the nominee of sexual misconduct in the most public arena possible.
That didn’t happen when Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch last year, after all.
This is of course a political issue, which means the usual standards, which is to say anything resembling reasonable, don’t apply.
But I think Trump had an option, and it’s one that ought to have appealed to a man who frequently confounds expectations.
Pulling his support for Kavanaugh’s nomination would in no way constitute an admission that Trump believes Kavanaugh committed any of the acts for which he is accused — something Trump no doubt could have emphasized in his uniquely brazen way.
(Imagine the tweets.)
Rather, it would be a brave act that showed the president recognizes that the Supreme Court is more important than one nominee. Moreover, Trump could have made the point that allowing the confirmation process to devolve into a situation where a possibly innocent man is branded as a rapist, and a possible victim of a heinous crime is ridiculed, benefits neither the people involved, nor the nation as a whole.
There are many qualified judges from which Trump could choose.
And although I reserve the right to concede later that I was naíve, I don’t believe that for every judge on Trump’s list there are accusers waiting to tell their stories.
J ayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.