Hello, readers of Starr In Dissent — I’m the guest blogger today (thanks, hubby!), with a piece that I finished earlier this week and one that was written in great fury and sadness. All comments are welcome. Thanks, Jan
By Jan B. Warrington
A question for Susan Collins: How will you treat your friends who’ve now confided in you that they, too, have been victims of sexual assault? Will you afford them more credibility than you’ve given Christine Blasey Ford?
In a speech a week ago announcing her support for Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Sen. Collins noted that in the weeks since Dr. Blasey has come forward, friends have told her their own sexual assault stories. We can only hope that Sen. Collins offers these friends more respect than she has shown Dr. Ford. (Imagine this conversation: “Are you sure, Julie, that it was Steve? I mean, you’re sincere, and your story is compelling. But I won’t believe it was Steve unless you can give me more details. Steve is a well-respected lawyer!”)
I have read and heard many adjectives describing Sen. Collins’s speech: disingenuous, mean-spirited, arrogant, naive, condescending. I would add that by dissecting and discounting Dr. Blasey’s story, Sen. Collins contributed to robbing Dr. Blasey — and by extension, all trauma survivors — of their dignity. Her speech revealed a lack of understanding and knowledge — unfortunately, widespread — about the nature of trauma. (Remember: Dr. Blasey testified that she felt as if her life was in danger.) Without this knowledge, how can Sen. Collins — or any of us — feel empathy for victims? How can we adequately assess the information, validate their experiences, or support and help them?
We know by now that public officials can trivialize a survivor’s story of sexual harassment; think Anita Hill. But what became clear to me during the Kavanaugh confirmation process is how many public officials (read senators here) choose — deliberately— to remain oblivious to the stigma and burdens that can accompany sexual assault. Call me cynical, but I didn’t hear any GOP senators clamoring to understand the many complexities of trauma.
I was reminded of how this country, decades ago, turned its collective back on returning Vietnam veterans.
Would you, Sen. Collins, criticize a combat veteran who couldn’t remember who was with them at the time of the trauma, or how they got to safety? Imagine Donald Trump mocking a combat veteran the way he mocked Dr. Blasey last week in Mississippi:
“How did you get home?’ ‘I don’t remember.’
‘How did you get there?’ ‘I don’t remember.’
‘Where is the place?’ ‘I don’t remember.’
Lordy, how would Sarah Huckabee Sanders have responded?
There was nothing in Dr. Blasey’s testimony that suggests she was confabulating or suffering from “false memory” syndrome. When a trauma occurs, episodic memory often is disrupted. Aspects of the event may be seared into the brain, while others may fade or disappear. And let me note that Dr. Blasey was 15 at the time — roughly the age when a teen’s cognitive abilities are considered sufficiently developed to be trusted with learning to drive.
Each of us — politicians included — is called upon to evaluate and make judgments every day. We are bombarded with information that may conflict with long-standing, unquestioned beliefs. We learn new information about a trusted relative, friend, co-worker, and are forced to recalibrate, synthesize. We do our best to assess the facts, and make judgments based on that information. The troubling information that Dr. Blasey provided about Judge Kavanaugh was offered in an emotionally charged setting. But Sen. Collins showed a bias in favor of information that could bolster her argument. Absent from her statement was any mention of the petulant, contemptuous attitude shown by Judge Kavanaugh at the committee hearing.
Dr. Blasey has made no public comments since her testimony. Sen. Collins, on the other hand, spent much of last weekend appearing on television talk shows trying to defend her vote, but succeeding only in seeming more desperate to defend her position. The prominent historian Jon Meacham tactfully suggested that Sen. Collins’ speech was aspirational — that she was describing “a vision” of the justice she hoped Judge Kavanaugh would be.
But, Sen. Collins, let me say this: You’re no Lisa Murkowski. The senator from Alaska was able to tolerate and express two competing thoughts in noting her opposition to Judge Kavanaugh. He is a “good man,” she said, but not the best Supreme Court choice for this country now. I quickly remembered the adage, from Shakespeare, that discretion is the better part of valor — valor defined as courage.