The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Kavanaugh–Blasey Ford hearing perfectly illustrated the conundrum that we find ourselves in today. We teach our children to live by the core values of honesty, civility, respect, and fair play, and we do our best to live up to them ourselves. Yet it is our own adherence to these values that leaves us vulnerable to the campaign by Donald Trump and the Republican Party to destroy what remains of our democracy.
It is no secret that—amid his whining, braggadocio, and staggering displays of self-pity—would-be Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh repeatedly perjured himself. Fact-checking articles in the days after the hearing identified well more than a dozen lies: lies about his high-school years, his college years, his drinking habits, his calendar, his yearbook, his judicial beliefs, the laws of Maryland, the testimony of his friends, and the meaning of words. It’s a wonder he gave his real name.
And yet none of the Democrats on the committee had the nerve to call Kavanaugh a liar to his face; none were even willing to call his lies “lies.” They raised questions; they implied that they did not find him credible; they tried to catch him in contradictions; they rolled their eyes at his protestations of innocence, in both sexual and criminal matters; and they asked him, over and over, to pretty-please ask the president for an FBI investigation. But Kavanaugh simply boasted and yelled, as if auditioning for a frat-boy spin-off of Fox & Friends.
In the upper reaches of American politics, to call a powerful person a “liar” has long been beyond the pale of acceptable behavior. The exploitation of this now-obsolete nicety is what lies behind not only Trump’s success, but that of Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and just about every other successful contemporary “conservative” pundit and politician in America.
But Democrats and most members of the mainstream media are still playing by the old rules. Senators on the Judiciary Committee had to know they were being lied to, since the lies were continuously highlighted on Twitter. Just cataloging them all would take up more than double the space of this column. The New York Times’ fact-check of Kavanaugh’s testimony ran over 2,700 words; The Washington Post’s, more than 2,300. But even here, where his deliberate dishonesty was the actual topic of the articles, we got headlines that described Kavanaugh as having given testimony that “Misleads or Veers Off Point” (the Times) or was “misleading or wrong” (the Post).