We don’t yet know how Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process will end, but two women getting in Arizona Senate Jeff Flake’s face may ultimately prove to have had a historic impact on the future of the Court.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you,” Maria Gallagher, a 23-year-old activist from New York, told a cowed Flake as he stood, his head bowed, in a Senate elevator. “You’re telling me my assault doesn’t matter. You’re letting people who do these things into power. That’s what you’re telling me when you vote for him. Don’t look away from me!”
Shortly after, Flake surprised everyone by demanding a weeklong halt in Kavanaugh’s confirmation to let the FBI investigate his accusers’ claims. He told reporters that his confrontation with Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila, the co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, didn’t sway his decision to throw a wrench into the works. But depending on how cynical you are, it’s pretty clear that he was either moved at least in part by the passion of the activists, or by the viral impact of the video itself.
It was easy to connect the video to a series of other incidents of citizens confronting public officials with visceral expressions of outrage over what’s happening in this country directly and unavoidably in public spaces across the Washington, DC, area. Five days earlier Senator Ted Cruz was hounded from a fancy restaurant by protesters yelling, “We believe survivors!” White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump adviser Stephen Miller, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen have all faced the wrath of activists while trying to enjoy a nice meal.
The utility and appropriateness of these tactics have become entangled in a larger debate over the importance of maintaining civil discourse—despite the fact that Trump and his party have been blowing up other long-standing political norms with a vengeance.
Condemning this kind of direct action is almost a prerequisite for those wishing to be seen as sober, serious commenters. After the confrontations with Sanders, Miller, and Nielsen, the Washington Post editorial board wrote that, regardless of their complicity in ripping apart families at the border, government officials “should be allowed to eat dinner in peace.”