Hell hath no fury like a white man scorned. If you take nothing else from the Senate’s confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, take that much. Know that the angry hysterics of Lindsey Graham and Charles Grassley and Orrin Hatch were a continuation of the long, howling tantrum that began when Donald Trump descended from his tower in 2015. It is the same frustrated rage that spews out of Fox News nightly, and that erupted into deadly violence in Charlottesville. It is the frightened cry of power when shocked to find itself suddenly unsure. “I’m a single white male from South Carolina, and I’ve been told I should shut up,” Graham whined the day after the Senate hearings. “But I will not shut up.” No, he will not.
Hopefully, though, this mounting white-male rage will help more of us understand the true political battle we are in. We are not a nation divided by partisanship—not firstly, at least. The Susan Collinses of the world would like us to believe as much, because it’s a safer fight for them. It allows them to remain adjacent to white supremacy without any real cost, to enjoy its privileges without owning its brutality. But the Maine senator, who cast one of the deciding votes in Kavanaugh’s favor, is not alone in this lie.
From the left to the right, we have for decades masked our disagreements with the paralyzing euphemisms of partisanship. We’ve told ourselves that our most bitter conflict is “conservative” versus “liberal,” “free enterprise” versus “big government.” Maybe now we are finally ready to be honest about the real point of contention: We are, as we have always been, a nation divided on the topic of white-male power. It’s easy to get confused by the crosscurrents of misogyny and racism and xenophobia, to think they’re discrete issues rather than the interlocking tools of white men’s minority rule. We don’t have a ready language for the caste system in which we live. But whatever you call it (for me, it’s all in the garbage fire of white supremacy), Kava naugh’s ascendance is a reminder of how it functions. White-male power has long relied on the veneer of democracy and law to preserve its control.
Take the Supreme Court. Many critics have charged that Senate Republicans damaged the Court’s legitimacy by forcing Kavanaugh onto it. Sure, but legitimacy has never been a big concern when white-male power is under threat. Was the Court legitimate when, as far back as the 1870s, it kept the federal government from enforcing the rights of newly free black Southerners? Surely it had lost its credibility by 1896, when it explicitly welcomed Jim Crow with the implausible argument that separate can be equal. There was actually a brief period in the middle of the 20th century when the Court challenged the white-male monopoly on power. But by the 1980s, enraged white men had begun the work of fixing that “hiccup” (to borrow Senator Dean Heller’s characterization of the multiple sexual-assault allegations against our new high-court justice).