On Thursday, I, along with many other Mainers, watched Sen. Susan Collins deliver a 45-minute address outlining her reasoning for supporting the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. She lectured us around the importance of civility and due process, neither of which she believed to be on display during Kavanaugh’s confirmation process.
I argue that the collapse, as she saw it, in civility around his confirmation process was our desperate call for a return to civility through moderation. And the fact that Collins either did not hear us or ignored our voices is deeply upsetting.
Donald Trump’s foundational promise, if elected, was to make America great again. By this he subtly, and not so subtly, implied a return to the supremacy of conservative ideals that place white men at the center of power and decision making in all facets of American life — government, civic, the home. Some have dismissed his words as rhetoric to inflame an estranged white working class, but we no longer have the luxury of dismissing his words.
One need only look at the Trump administration’s efforts and successes over the past two years to know he is dead serious. The travel ban on persons from several Muslim majority countries, the destruction of immigrant families and incarceration of unaccompanied minors, the mocking of persons with disabilities, and presiding over chants of “lock her up,” referring to Hillary Clinton, are part of a larger effort to undermine the safety, security and legitimacy of minorities in America — whether racial, ethnic, religious or otherwise.
To an extent Collins is right — the fear and anger that so frustrated her was never about Kavanaugh, but the fear that through him, Trump’s promise would reach the pillars of an institution thought above the reproach of the hateful politics of the past two years.
In her speech, Collins detailed in great depth Kavanaugh’s impeccable record and her deep frustration that a judge with his record would be subjected to such a confirmation process. On one hand, I agree with her that Kavanaugh has a strong track record as a thoughtful judge, but she has missed the fundamental point of all our letters and calls.
It is not necessarily that I believe Kavanaugh will cast the deciding vote to reverse Roe v. Wade, stripping women of their autonomy over their bodies, but that he now has the power to do so. It is this consolidation of power in the hands of a conservative elite that moves our country one step closer to fulfilling Trump’s promise of an America remade in his vision. Who controls the levers of power in our society was at the heart of the debate over Kavanaugh’s nomination and the confirmation process.
With great care and force, Collins asserted that she believed Christine Blasey Ford had been sexually assaulted. Despite her public sympathies, Collins stated that she did not believe, even though Ford was 100 percent certain, that Kavanaugh was her attacker. Collins’ calculated balancing act felt deeply disingenuous, the type of self-serving politicking that has led the country to this very moment. So many Mainers shared with Collins their own stories of sexual assault, and in a society where our voices matter less, we looked to Collins to elevate and protect us, not to use those stories as coverage to reinforce a power structure that assumes victims are being used as tools to destroy powerful men.
On Thursday, Collins spent 45 minutes explaining to the people of Maine and the country why she would vote to confirm Kavanaugh. She presented herself as speaking from a moral high ground around which the country has devolved. Her tone was frustrated, dismissive and patronizing.
Collins has long presented herself as the voice and protector of moderation. By advancing Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, she has deeply broken that bond for me, creating a chasm between her rhetoric and action that as a longtime supporter I am not sure I can reconcile. Others will need to make their own judgement. Either way, we look toward the midterms where we promise to be even louder in the exercise of our fundamental democratic right — to make our voices heard to and through our elected officials.
Alexis Mann is a researcher at the Institute on Assets and Social Policy where she studies how policy shapes economic opportunities for families and communities. She lives in Maine with her family.
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