On Being Good
And How Brett Kavanaugh Simply Is Not
It is not hard to be good. It’s really not. It does not require intensive preparation. It isn’t a quality limited only to those with sophisticated insight into the nature of the world, or the complexities of statute and common law. All it requires is following two simple rules:
First, remember that other people are real. All the time. Without fail or pause. All people, even people you don’t know or people you don’t particularly like, do — in fact — exist as completely as yourself. That is the foundation of everything.
The second rule is a corollary to the first. Because other people are real, you must tell the truth. To do otherwise indicates a belief that you are somehow worth more — that you are more real — than them.
Consider it as a legal test. If someone does those two things — if they treat other people as if they are real and they tell the truth — then they are good. If they don’t, they are bad.
Simple as that.
This is literally something we learn as children. Those lessons are hard in the first few years because suddenly being granted a consciousness ex nihilo is, to say the least, a bit disorienting. When we are infants and toddlers, lacking even the basics of grammar and fine motor skills, everything is a whirl. What is self? What is the world? What’s the damn difference, and can I have more food, warmth, compassion and tickles, please?! In those early times, even recognizing the principle of object permanence is a bitch, right up until about five months or so. Remember, you too were once fascinated by the mysteries of peek-a-boo. But we all grow out of those early limitations. Hopefully.
Then there’s elementary school and adolescence and the problems of realizing that adult humans — parents, English teachers, the police — are tremendously skilled at using their consciousnesses to discern pattern breaks in concocted stories even without complete and concrete evidence. THAT kind of societal interaction takes years to figure out — evidenced by the countless times we, as pups, screw up our faces and shout, “Prove it!” when we’ve done something terribly wrong, but think we might skate away from punishment if those to whom we are lying feel more ethically bound by the basic rules of society that we are concluding aren’t really for us.
In general, the self-referential universe of childhood doesn’t figure out the whole “other people are real” and “don’t lie” parameters of existence until after the repeated application of external behavioral stimuli such as spankings, stern looks from dad, after-school detention or, in some extreme cases, slap-around rides in the back of a police cruiser. Still, somewhere around fourteen or fifteen years of age, most Homo sapiens start to clock onto the moral and logical imperatives of those two fundamental lessons — and also to recognize their many subtle interrelationships. That’s why, even if not all teenagers obey those rules, they are pros at sussing out which of their peers are kinda assholes, even if they have to play along. Generally, those easily spotted assholes are the ones who get what they want by dint of their size, their will, their parents’ money or a combination of all three. They are the kids in every high school across the country who lie with relative impunity and selectively treat other human beings as if they were garbage. Sadly, many of the male variety of this human subset also play football. Surely not all of them, but the correlation — on a purely observational level — is tough to miss.
Now, I’ll admit that I don’t have a full data set to work from for the man currently being considered for a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States — a position for which one might imagine being flatly good would be the principal job requirement — but he sure seems from multiple reports to have been a pretty awful young man.
There is, I suppose, a snowball’s chance in hell that the stories about him are all part of a coordinated “hit job” by highly placed political operatives, and that Brett Kavanaugh was spot-on when he claimed, in form, that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, Julie Swetnick, James Roche, Chad Ludington, Kenneth G. Appold, and the police who took the report on his fight after a UB-40 concert, are all part of a vast Clintonian conspiracy to derail his nomination and destroy his good name. But, come on, be real. Occam’s razor cuts a different vein far more easily. To wit: Young Brett Kavanaugh was a (self-admitted) drunk, obnoxious asshole who treated other people like they weren’t real because he didn’t have to. And now it seems that he’s someone who can’t stop lying about it.
In the simplified moral universe where our test for human goodness is applied, that’s two-strikes and you're out, pal.
But what just galls me to no end within this whole mishegas of youthful barbarism and adult deceit are the stories of his laughter when victimizing real, human people. Perhaps this comes from some darker memories in my own life, but as our world tends to generate more victims than predators, I’m guessing that about ninety percent of my potential readers can cull similar moments of shame, pain, and disappointment in others from their own pasts.
Writ short: We ALLLLLL remember watching the bully pick on the poor kid, or the fat kid, or the frightened kid, or the foreign kid, or the disabled kid, or the Black kid, or the gay kid. And while, of course, we can’t be certain to a “Prove it!” degree, it sure seems that Brett Kavanaugh tended toward the side of injustice back when he was cruising the halls of Georgetown Prep with his brahs. And he did it, laughingly, because he could. He did it because no one had the power to tell him NO.
Fundamentally, if you laugh at someone, if you make fun of them in a vicious and cruel way — a behavior perfectly modeled by President Trump, the man who nominated Brett Kavanaugh on countless occasions — then you are not only violating the first rule of humanity, but you are doing so with glee. That is, in all ways, utterly despicable. And we have several moments from Brett Kavanaugh’s life on display from which to make our judgement about whether we want him put on the highest court in the land.
The first example was put to the nation with solemn grace by Dr. Ford during her testimony to the Judiciary Committee. The moment came in a colloquy with Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont on the most terrible event of her young life.
Senator Leahy: What is the strongest memory you have, strongest memory of the incident, something that you cannot forget. Take whatever time you need.
Dr. Ford: Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter — the uproarious laughter between the two and they’re having fun at my expense.
Senator Leahy: You have never forgotten that laughter? You have never forgotten them laughing at you?
Dr. Ford: They were laughing with each other.
Senator Leahy: And you were the object of the laughter?
Dr. Ford: I was, you know, underneath one of them while the two laughed. Two friends having a really good time with one another.
I find it truly terrifying that someone could hear Dr. Ford speak these words and not recoil at the thought of two teenage boys so very cavalierly showing through actions that the girl on the bed was an object of sport and frivolity. Their laughter says so very loudly that they didn’t see her as a real person. She was a thing, an amusement. I become physically nauseated at the thought.
And now, only one day before the Senate will vote on judge Kavanaugh’s future, another story about young Brett breaks that is beyond heartrending.
But first a preface:
During his rebuttal of Ford’s testimony, Judge Kavanaugh lied — he absolutely lied in the most absurdist way — about another young woman he knew in his high school years. Her name was Renate Schroeder, and she attended an all-girls school nearby to Georgetown Prep. In a report just published in the New Yorker under the byline of Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, a classmate of Kavanaugh’s recalls a song young Brett would mirthfully sing about that young woman as he walked to class. As he did so, many other boys would laugh.
As you’ll recall, young Brett claimed in his yearbook to be one of THIRTEEN boys who were “Renate Alumni,” an obvious reference to supposed sexual conquest by a bunch of spoiled, terrible, self-centered young men who had forgotten the first rule of decency — that Renate Schroeder, whose married name is Renate Dolphin, was a real person.
When questioned about it by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Kavanaugh offered the mind-bendingly obvious lie that the young woman was, “a great friend of ours,” and that he was sorry that his reference to “Renate Alumni” had been “misinterpreted.” He used as a defense the fact that he never actually had sex with her — but that wasn’t the sin. His moral violation was publicly slut-shaming her by claiming that he and twelve of his lughead, entitled, socially powerful classmates had. And he put it in his yearbook to make those same boys laugh. At her.
Sit with that for a moment. It is just awful.
The sheer audacity of Kavanaugh’s lie that Renate Schroeder was a respected friend is, to me, utterly revolting. But even more so now that Mayer and Farrow have found a witness — one who submitted a sworn affidavit to the FBI on this matter — who claimed:
. . . that he heard Kavanaugh “talk about Renate many times,” and that “the impression I formed at the time from listening to these conversations where Brett Kavanaugh was present was that Renate was the girl that everyone passed around for sex.” The classmate said that “Brett Kavanaugh had made up a rhyme using the REE NATE pronunciation of Renate’s name” and sang it in the hallways on the way to class. He recalled the rhyme going, “REE NATE, REE NATE, if you want a date, can’t get one until late, and you wanna get laid, you can make it with REE NATE.” He said that, while he might not be remembering the rhyme word-for-word, “the substance is 100 percent accurate.” He added, “I thought that this was sickening at the time I heard it, and it left an indelible mark in my memory.”
This witness goes further, with the New Yorker reporting that Kavanaugh was:
. . . part of a clique of high-school athletes, most of whom were on the football team, who “routinely picked on” less physically fit or popular students. He said that he never witnessed Kavanaugh physically attacking another student, but he recalled him doing “nothing to stop the physical and verbal abuse.” Instead, he said, Kavanaugh “stood by and laughed at the victims.” Both Ford and Ramirez have said they remembered Kavanaugh laughing during their ordeals. “It was so wrenching for me when I heard Dr. Ford mention how they were laughing,” the Georgetown Prep classmate said, in a phone interview. “That really, really struck a chord. I can hear him laughing when someone was picked on right now.”
To anyone who was on the outskirts of social power in high school, that statement rings more true than any aphorism carved into the marble of our national temples of justice. It just makes sense. We all know these kids. Many of us feared them in high school and we shouldn’t — we just shouldn’t — reward one of them with the greatest honor our nation can bestow to the wise and morally good amongst us.
We — like Dr. Ford — simply cannot forget the laughter.
If this argument required a third nail for the coffin lid, Deborah Ramirez tells a similar story. You’ll recall that Ms. Ramirez is a former friend of Kavanaugh’s from Yale University who once stirred to awareness at a party only to find drunk Brett’s penis in her face. She also recalls the future judge’s laughter as he humiliated, embarrassed and assaulted her. Other witnesses have come forward to support her claim. The FBI spoke to none of them.
And now when asked about any of this, Brett Kavanaugh lies or evades. He lies because he wants the power to which he feels that he is entitled. And so, by grasping forward for that brass ring while eliding the harm he’s done in the past, Kavanaugh indicates that he still doesn’t get it. He still doesn’t understand the two simple rules of humanity.
Thus, he is not, in this most basic formulation, a good man.
I don’t know if any this will slow down the horrible machine of human indecency masquerading in the Senate as a quest for wizened jurisprudence, but I do know this — a young man who doesn’t have the capacity to recognize the simplest moral truism of society, that other people are always real, is a bad young man. And a grown man who can’t stop lying about it is worse.
I can only pray that wavering Senators feel the same. And I hope that they themselves will reflect on the basic rules of society and remember that Dr. Ford, Ms. Ramirez, Ms. Swetnick, and every kid that a young, handsome, powerful, rich, drunk, amoral man once picked on because he could are human beings and constituents, too.
To do otherwise is to lie to the nation, and to themselves. And, yes, Senators Flake, Manchin, Collins, and Murkowski, I’m looking directly at you.
We simply have to be better than this. If we hope to be a moral and a just nation, we need to respect the two foundational truths of all society. And in the end, we must, we just absolutely must, face down the gleeful laughter and the easy dishonesty of boys who never grew up.
Michael Tallon is an independent writer from Upstate New York who lives in Antigua, Guatemala. He is currently working on a nonfiction book detailing his experiences with a rare genetic disorder than nearly cost him his life in 2015. Follow him at Twitter.com/MichaelXTallon.