In light of the recent chaos and turmoil in Washington during the Kavanaugh hearings, I asked one of our own to share her thoughts on the matter. Elise Tollefson Johnson is a Lisbon-Lion-hearted-and-Newark-Norsemen-graduate. She now works in Washington D.C. as a Legislative Director in the U.S. House of Representatives. She knows and loves our country, our God, and us. I particularly think the Kavanaugh situation speaks not only to “the state of the Union” but also to the state of adolescence in the harvest of the sexual revolution in America. Elise has kindly provided her perspective on these two matters in her following contribution to the West Lisbon blog:
The Kavanaugh confirmation process has been messy, it’s triggered visceral, emotional, partisan responses from participants and spectators, and it’s shed a lot of light on the political and cultural challenges the United States is facing right now.
Partisanship in American politics – when both sides refuse to compromise or empathize with an opponent they consider an enemy – is causing gridlock in government at best and rot in our political institutions on a global stage at worst. Brett Kavanaugh, a D.C. Circuit Court judge and nominee for a lifetime appointment to the United States Supreme Court, is in the midst of his confirmation process, a responsibility given to the Senate by the U.S. Constitution. The process begins with a pretty grueling vetting process that includes questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee and culminates in a debate and vote in the full Senate. In the midst of his Judiciary Committee hearings, it was revealed that a woman wrote a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, detailing an attempted sexual assault perpetrated by Kavanaugh at a party when they were in high school. Other women came forward. Allegations range from shoving a woman against a wall after a party to participating in a group that drugged and assaulted high school girls. Republicans blame Democrats for waiting too long to release the information about the accusations, Democrats blame Republicans for rushing through the confirmation process despite the accusations. All allegations of sexual harassment and assault should be taken seriously. But, it’s undeniable that given the context of these allegations, Dr. Ford, one of the accusers, was thrown with Kavanaugh into a politically charged hearing and investigation to 1) allow Republicans to get to clear Kavanaugh’s name and confirm him, and 2) allow Democrats to completely derail Kavanaugh’s confirmation and keep a Supreme Court seat open for a less conservative judge. Ultimately, Republicans want the position of the federal government to be pro-life, Democrats want to uphold federal abortion rights, and their success or failure depends on whether Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court. They’ll do whatever it takes.
No one trusts anyone. No one knows who is telling the truth. And instead of an honest pursuit of the truth where the stakes are extremely high, Democrats are simply trying to tear down the accused and Republicans are simply trying to tear down the accuser to get the Supreme Court to uphold liberal or conservative laws, respectively. The end (partisan Supreme Court) justifies the means (making your opposing party look as out of touch, dishonest, and nasty as possible). Not surprisingly, this has serious and lasting implications for America’s “deliberative body,” a Senate that was intended to make reasoned decisions about everything from whether the United States goes to war to whom sits on the United States Supreme Court. When the Senate is full of men and women who are motivated solely by winning a majority and robbing their opponents of any success or good reputation in the process, the body doesn’t work. And when the Senate doesn’t work, its brokenness ripples across the rest of the Republic.
The United States was intended to cultivate pluralism – not a blind acceptance of all ideas but in general a peaceful tolerance of them and the people who hold them, a willingness in government to compromise or at least to walk in the shoes of a member of another party. Americans are historically divided right now, and the people they nominate and elect to the White House and Congress reflect that. There is no incentive to work together when people are motivated by the desire to tear each other apart. That’s not just bad for America, it’s lethal.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation process also shines a spotlight on America’s cultural and spiritual problems today, and both conservatives and liberals are at fault.
Again, no one knows where the truth is in all this. But Republicans’ insistence on doing whatever it takes to confirm President Trump’s nominee, even if an investigation turns up truth to his alleged past indiscretions, means that past indiscretions will continue to be unimportant and unpunishable. The behavior of Kavanaugh and his high school buddies was horribly irresponsible. They were teenagers who made drinking beer a sport often without any kind of parental supervision, and it’s completely believable that young women were disrespected in these circumstances, potentially criminally. Aside from being terribly bad for developing brains, drugs and alcohol and this culture of partying among high school kids create a breeding ground for bad decisions and hurt people. Because this behavior is so common in American high schools, it’s often met with ambivalence, “kids will be kids” and “boys will be boys.” Speaking from personal experience, sexual harassment is worse in high school hallways than it is in most workplaces, and it goes on because kids get a pass. But if young men are saying inappropriate things to their female classmates, if they’re violating them without punishment, where do they unlearn that behavior? At what point in their lives do they realize it’s wrong? Schools and parents need to shut down this sexualized, alcohol-fueled party culture among teens that produces nothing but regret, hurt, and, as we’re seeing in the Kavanaugh case, a lifetime of consequences.
On the left, we’ve had a “sexual revolution” that’s begotten all kinds of really painful problems and insufficient Band-Aid fixes. When intimacy is already okay, when it’s encouraged, outside a life-long covenant, and that worldview is lit ablaze by drugs and alcohol that rid young people of their inhibitions, it’s inevitable that people will get hurt and they’ll usually be women. Outside the intended trust and the oneness and the promise to respect your spouse’s body, the sexual revolution needed to rely on consent. No one is really sure what consent means, and there’s disagreement about how it’s given. This confusion leads to sexual assault. Its upshot is men who aren’t sure what it means to respect a woman and her body, and women who say no and aren’t taken seriously or who apprehensively engage in behavior they later regret. The left wants to make the Kavanaugh confirmation process about consent, the only remaining rule in our post-sexual revolution world. But it’s a “solution” that elicits confusion, disagreement, bad choices, and hurt that can last decades. We’re missing the mark by using Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford to have a conversation about consent. America needs to have a conversation about morality, how the best way to prevent teenagers today from making Kavanaugh- and Ford-esque decisions they’ll have to answer for later is to be really honest about the sexual revolution that created a slew of problems its supporters are trying and failing to address.
Politically and culturally, the Kavanaugh confirmation process highlights the need for young people who respect their brothers and sisters and live above the chaos our secular society has created for itself. We need teenagers who can already talk to and demonstrate why Jesus’s moral rules regarding sexuality and how we treat our neighbors is far better for the country and its health than the fast-and-loose rules we’re playing by now. We’re learning these days that decisions as big as who gets to be president or sit on the Supreme Court are profoundly affected by young people and what they believe and how they act.