I missed the Salem witch trials, but I well remember Anita Hill at the Clarence Thomas hearings. How could I forget the fire in her eyes or the cool precision of her responses to that phalanx of old white men so titillated by her answers as they pressed her for more salacious details? I remember, too, how the proceedings climaxed in Thomas’s intimidating rant, the one in which he cast himself as the righteous victim of a “high-tech lynching.” After that, women standing by to back up Hill’s testimony with charges of their own were told to go home.
I remembered it all as I watched the recent immolation of Christine Blasey Ford by another pack of old white men jumping out of their shorts to replace their hired gun — a “femaleprosecutor”– with top-volume tantrums of their own. Brett Kavanaugh himself whipped up that hysteria further with his prolonged self-pitying reprise, by turns tearful and threatening, of Thomas’s historic tongue-lashing. (Alas, such male posturing always reminds me of Joel Steinberg, a New York lawyer who, having beaten and tortured his partner into oblivion and killed a child, voiced this anguished, belligerent courtroom lament: “I’m the victim here!”)
Such staged public spectacles are now called “teachable moments.” But what exactly is being taught? And to whom? If the proceedings are not transparent as advertised, the takeaways surely are. Big white men (financed by bigger white men) who scramble to positions of power are not to be called to account. Especially not by their inferiors. Especially not by women.
Some women, like Christine Blasey Ford, still believe in older lessons that taught us to do our civic duty, to tell the truth for the sake of the common good. Most women stand with the truth-tellers, even knowing that President Trump smacks down truth every day. Most of us also know that we live in a dystopia and, believe me, it’s on our minds. If you want proof, go to the bookstore and pick up Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God, Naomi Alderman’s The Power, Sophie Macintosh’s The Water Cure, Joyce Carol Oates’s Hazards of Time Travel, Leni Zumas’s Red Clocks, Christina Dalcher’s Vox, Idra Novey’s Those Who Knew, Maggie Shen King’s An Excess Male, Bina Shah’s Before She Sleeps. Then sit back and rerun the video of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale before plunging into Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad. That last one is not fiction.
Such Kavanaugh moments raise big problems for the teachers among us. What’s a teacher to do with a teachable moment that runs counter to all that American youngsters have customarily been taught to believe? TomDispatch regular Belle Chesler and her students faced the most recent such moment together in a high school classroom in Oregon. Her moving account of what they made of it could teach the rest of us something, too.