WASHINGTON (AP) – Could it be, years from now, that you will remember where you were and what you were doing when Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford came to Washington to relive their conflicting high school memories?
Are we on the verge of one of those moments – like, for those old enough, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated? Or when the space shuttle Challenger exploded? Or the twin towers fell?
Do such indelible moments even happen anymore?
For more than two years American political life has been a rough and ugly storm of debate over gender, power, ego and truth. “#MeToo” swept through the culture. “Me,” says President Donald Trump. “Me.”
For a few hours on Thursday, all these crosscurrents will blow into a single, small hearing room on Capitol Hill where the fate of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee – and much more – is at stake. The judge and the professor will endure the gaze of senators, the questions of a prosecutor, and the court of public opinion. Their performances may tilt the outcome of November elections that will determine control of Congress. They could affect the direction of the high court for a generation.
Agonizing history has passed through those hearing rooms. It’s where Richard Nixon’s corrupt manipulations were held up to the light by jowly senators in the unmaking of his presidency. It’s where the trauma of President Lyndon Johnson’s “bitch of a war” – Vietnam – gripped the capital and the nation.
FILE – In this Oct. 11, 1991, file photo, Anita Hill testifies in the Russell Caucus room on Capitol Hill in Washington where the Senate Judiciary Committee was hearing testimony on the nomination of Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson, File)
It’s where Sen. Joe McCarthy in 1954 hunted for communists and got his comeuppance from Army lawyer Joseph Nye Welch in a shocking challenge: “Have you no sense of decency?” ”Sir.”
And it’s where, 27 years ago, Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment on his way to confirmation to the Supreme Court. The country was transfixed. Some people remember even the petty details of their life that day.
Salacious, deeply personal detail spilled into the public square in that episode. Again with President Bill Clinton and sexual encounters that were once quaintly called dalliances, involving women his allies described as bimbos. Again with Trump, years before his presidency, with his vulgar boasts about groping women against their wishes.
Now men fall from the pinnacles of entertainment, politics, the church and journalism. It’s new yet not fully tested ground.
But while millions will watch the judge and his accuser, how many in this era of tribal politics will truly listen?
Democrats largely opposed Kavanaugh even before Ford’s allegations emerged, to be followed by a late-breaking frenzy over the accusations of two more women and Kavanaugh’s denials at every turn. Several Democrats have said flatly that they believe Ford’s allegation that a teenage Kavanaugh pinned her down, tried to remove her clothes and put a hand on her mouth to quiet her at a party when both were in high school. Will Democrats listen?
Republicans, who have found rare unity and focus in their campaign to tilt the courts to the right, in the main support Kavanaugh and do not challenge his denials of doing anything more than boys-will-be-boys drinking. Trump, who has defied expectation by deflecting accusations of sexual misconduct against him, calls Kavanaugh an “absolute gem” in the face of the accusations. Will Republicans listen, or have they made up their minds?
Trump says he wants to listen to both witnesses and decide on the merits. Yet in his news conference Wednesday, he assailed a culture where “you are guilty until proven innocent,” and added: “It’s a very dangerous period in our country and it’s being perpetrated by some very evil people.”
Only a thin sliver in Washington is making the case for a truly open mind.
“I think we need to go into this hearing with the view that we will listen,” said Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She may be among a select few willing to be swayed by what is heard. But it would only take a few to change the course that history is on.
Neither side owns up to the base political calculation behind it all: Republicans want to expedite, the Democrats to delay past the election.
Trump loves drama, though when the plot lines are of his own making, which this one isn’t.
He has come up with counter-programming, however, as he brings his deputy attorney general to the White House on Thursday for what might or might not be his dismissal or even a stage-setter for the unraveling of the special counsel’s Russia investigation. Unless he delays that meeting, as he said he might.
Can you keep up with all of this?
Bill Cosby, once the world’s best father on TV, went to prison for sexual predation. His sentencing, a #MeToo watershed moment, was 2:10 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday.
Do you remember where you were and what you were doing?