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Wednesday, September 19, 2018


White, wealthy, and bulletproof

by Tom Sullivan

Cities were still taking down the signs from the water fountains, figuratively, if not literally, when I arrived in the South. There was a considerable amount of culture shock. Southerners had some strange customs and an odd way of speaking. Underlying it all was an unspoken message not to question the status quo.

That's just the way it is. Know your place. Don't rock the boat.

Elsewhere in the South, Americans who questioned the way things were found themselves facing police nightsticks, dogs, and fire hoses. They were beaten, jailed, and blown up for questioning the way things were, for having the nerve to question how unequal, how unjust, how fundamentally un-American — and yet very American — society was (and still is).

The rules are largely unwritten, but the nature of privilege becomes clear once one's eyes adjust to the inner darkness of it.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, writes Jamelle Bouie at Slate, is a lesson in who merits "second chances and absolution" in a society that rations them to an elite few. It is perhaps unfair to judge anyone decades later by their pre-adult selves. Yet when it comes to judging, who is spared and who feels the wrath of the law is closely proscribed, not by judicial precedent as much as by who does the applying to whom.

Bouie recounts the basics of Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court and the recent allegations of his sexual assault as a drunken 17-year-old from an elite boys prep school against a girl, 15, at a house party. Kavanaugh categorically denies the allegation. Republican senators supporting him question the memory and mental stability of the now 51-year-old accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist at Palo Alto University. The defense mustered for Kavanaugh against what seems like a credible accusation sets "broad concerns over accountability and impunity into sharp relief," Bouie writes:

To look beyond individual pundits and politicians is to see a world where responsibility and culpability is structured by race, class, gender, and your overall proximity to disadvantage. In the existing framework, we cannot ask a prospective Supreme Court justice to account for the actions of his youth, but we can hold a 12-year-old black boy responsible for not heeding police commands fast enough, or a 17-year-old black teenager for not deferring to a neighborhood watchman. Some people escape punishment for the crimes of their youth, others lose their right to vote for life. Right-wing pundits who back deportation for young adults brought to the United States as children also think the accusations against Kavanaugh are a disgrace. Somewhere, a man Kavanaugh’s age is sitting in prison for a crime committed as a teenager.

Much of the last decade of American life has been marked by a crisis of accountability that transcends conventional divisions of party and ideology. The leaders who produced the catastrophic failures of the 2000s—from the Iraq War and an illegal torture regime to the financial crisis and the near-collapse of the global economy—remain elites in good standing, with leading roles in political and economic life. Police kill unarmed men and women—many of them from our most marginalized communities—with virtual impunity, immune to criminal punishment or legal sanction in all but the most egregious cases of misconduct. Even after exposing entrenched patterns of sexual abuse and misconduct, women still fight—with limited and provisional success—to hold men accountable for their actions.
Lest we forget, Bouie reminds us, architects of Great Recession still hold elite positions both in government and in business. Those responsible for the failures to save American lives after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and for the Bush torture regime still hold elite positions in government and polite society. Both men and women: Gary Cohn, Kirstjen Nielsen, Gina Haspel. Their failures have disappeared down the memory hole while we bury black men perceived as threatening by skittish whites. Rich white men can wreck the lives of millions and walk free while a black man selling loose cigarettes on the sidewalk can have the life choked out of him on camera by policemen who themselves walk free.

After the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, conservative pundits insisted we drop any discussion of the role of race. The election of a black president meant America was post-racial. (It wasn't.) What Kavanaugh's nomination does is turn up the contrast to 11 on how not only race but class and gender influence one's fate in a country that insists in principle that all its citizens are created equal and no one is above the law while renouncing those principles in practice.

Brett Kavanaugh cannot be held responsible for the failures of society. At issue is whether an allegation of sexual assault at 17, if true, is a valid window into his character as an adult nominated for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court for life.

Long before being elected president for 8 years, George W. Bush spent his boyhood growing up in West Texas. A childhood friend recounted from those days:
"We were terrible to animals," recalled Mr. Throckmorton, laughing. A dip behind the Bush home turned into a small lake after a good rain, and thousands of frogs would come out.

"Everybody would get BB guns and shoot them," Mr. Throckmorton said. "Or we'd put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them and blow them up."
As president decades later, that boy authorized torturing people.

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For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.