December 11, 2018
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After ‘rock bottom’ with Kavanaugh, how do we move back to ‘common values’?

Senate TV via AP | BDN
Senate TV via AP | BDN
In this image from video provided by Senate TV, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks on the Senate floor about her vote on Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kananaugh on Friday in the Capitol in Washington.

By the slimmest vote in nearly 140 years, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed Saturday to fill a seat on the Supreme Court.

The process that led to his Senate confirmation was rushed, divisive, damaging, partisan and incomplete. As Sen. Susan Collins said in her Friday floor speech announcing her support for Kavanaugh, “One can only hope that the Kavanaugh nomination is where the process has finally hit rock bottom.”

“We live in a time of such great disunity, as the bitter fight over this nomination both in the Senate and among the public clearly demonstrates,” Collins said Friday. “It is not merely a case of different groups having different opinions. It is a case of people bearing extreme ill will toward those who disagree with them. In our intense focus on our differences, we have forgotten the common values that bind us together as Americans.”

We, like Collins, hope that this horrid confirmation process is a turning point. We’re not so naive to think that Americans will simply set aside their heartfelt concerns and suddenly get along — or that political parties will stop their gamesmanship. But we must move beyond vitriol and threats if we hope to have productive conversations to move us back toward our common values.

From our country’s founding, protesting has been part of American history. Harassment has not. For this first time in her more than 20 years in the Senate, Collins now has a security detail that travels with her. This is because of vile threats deemed credible enough to warrant such protection.

Obscenity-laced phone calls and threats to Collins’ staff members are counterproductive and abhorrent. So, too, are the threats against Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they both were in high school, and the threats against Kavanaugh.

Much of the vehemence surrounding Kavanaugh’s nomination comes from a place of fear, about life, health care and civil rights. Threats and an onslaught of fundraising, ads and protests by activist groups, on both sides of the debate, drowned out the legitimate worries of constituents.

Yelling protesters, threats, sit-ins, thoughtful letter writers and peaceful constituents who wanted to share their stories and concerns became wrapped into what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, President Donald Trump and other Republicans have termed “ the angry mob.” With this framing, the final days of debate over Kavanaugh’s nomination became less about his qualifications and temperament and more about preserving “law and order.”

In her speech, Collins opened the door to a better process, to a discussion away from the yelling.

This is especially true of the issue of sexual violence. Collins has repeatedly said that if one positive comes of the Kavanaugh debacle, it should be that Americans take sexual violence and its survivors much more seriously. We agree.

There is a huge opportunity for sexual assault awareness groups, rape crisis counselors, medical professionals and others to contribute to this needed work. It was troubling to hear Collins’ plea for more survivors to report their assaults and to then hear her discount Ford’s account of an alleged assault by Kavanaugh.

Collins is right to be troubled that sexual violence is one of the most underreported crimes. There are good reasons why. Statistics show that 99 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence will not be prosecuted. Beyond math, survivors don’t report because they fear being disbelieved. They fear being punished. They fear being blamed. They fear it doesn’t matter.

And when women do report, the results often add to the trauma of the assault, as was the case of Texas cheerleader Amber Wyatt, who was mocked and driven out of her high school.

It is also important to know there are scientific reasons that survivors of traumatic events don’t remember every detail.

There is much work and healing to do, on this issue and many others. Let’s get to it, calmly and deliberately.

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