What if the President of the United States delivered a speech to the United Nations and nobody was listening?
By “nobody” I am not referring to the representatives of almost 200 other countries gathered to hear him in the vast green and gold General Assembly Hall. They are, indeed, important.
What I am talking about is Donald Trump’s domestic audience. To this businessman-turned-reality TV star-turned president, that is all that really matters.
And while his speech to world leaders made headlines abroad — most notably for his lack of vitriol on North Korea and his stepped up verbal assault on Iran —few Americans paid any attention.
Here in the US, on the day Trump addressed the General Assembly, the focus was on his choice to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court — a lifetime job that could affect the judiciary for decades to come.
Candidates for the high court must be confirmed by the Senate, and quite often the proceedings get contentious. But the fight over Brett Kavanaugh clearly has spiraled out of control and has become a symbol of all the divisiveness plaguing this country.
Perhaps the best description of the mess we are in came from William Bennett, a conservative commentator who served in the Reagan administration. He told the Washington Post: “It’s the culture war on steroids.”
This is a nasty, emotional fight on so many levels. Kavanaugh — a federal judge with roots in conservative politics— has been accused of sexual assault by two women that allegedly occurred when he was in high school and college.
In a way, we have been down this road before. And in a way, it is all new and we are in uncharted territory.
In 1991, Clarence Thomas was in the midst of the confirmation process for a seat on the Supreme Court when one of his former subordinates in government service reluctantly came forward and said he had repeatedly sexually harassed her on the job. Anita Hill told her story to the men on the Senate Judiciary Committee at a riveting hearing where Thomas contended the whole thing was a lie designed to block a black conservative from a seat on the court.
Justice Thomas was confirmed anyway.
And here we are again… a nominee… an accuser… and the Judiciary Committee tied up in knots.
But the backdrop for the Kavanaugh confirmation fight is different.
We are in the midst of the #MeToo Movement, when women are finally speaking out about the sexual abuse they have endured and are bringing the perpetrators to account. This stuff is no longer being swept under the rug. Just ask former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, TV anchorman Matt Lauer or former Senator Al Franken.
Yes, there are still those who believe “boys will be boys” and this is all a plot by a group of angry liberal women against all men. And they have chosen the Kavanaugh fight as the place to stand their ground, complaining this is an attempt to smear the reputation of a good man for purely political purposes.
One again, let me quote William Bennett: “You have the anti-Trump resistance, the MeToo Movement, and the Supreme Court making for a perfect storm of controversy.”
And I would add one more ingredient to this witches’ brew.
We have elections coming up in a little over a month that will determine who controls Congress and state governments across the nation.
There is so much at stake in these midterms — as much perhaps as in any presidential election year.
There as so many competitive races that spending on political advertisements for the November 6th midterm elections is on track to just about equal the $3 billion spent during the 2016 race for the White House.
But perhaps an even bigger indicator of where we stand now as a nation today is the fact more women are running for elected office across the country — from local school boards to the U.S. Senate — than ever before. The majority are Democrats who say they are part of the Trump resistance. More than a few were also inspired by the #MeToo Movement.
The 1992 election, held the year after the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, led to a significant increase in the number of women in Congress. So many were elected that it was dubbed “the Year of the Woman.” But as time passed, the percentage of female lawmakers began to level off. Now, it may jump once again.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics and Rutgers University, more women are registered to vote than men (83.8 million in 2016 compared to 73.8). Not only that, women are more active voters, casting ballots at a much higher rate than their male counterparts. This year, they are energized like never before and they may well decide the election.
Mindful of all this, President Trump at first reacted rather diplomatically to the accusations leveled against Brett Kavanaugh, saying he felt these women had a right to be heard. But as time passed, he reverted back to his usual self, blaming the Democrats for the snarled confirmation process.
He also tweeted out to his followers: “REMEMBER THE MIDTERMS!”
But you have to wonder, with a president who appears to be tone deaf to the stories of women who have endured sexual abuse (he has been accused of it himself) is anyone beyond his devoted base listening?
Will the women ultimately have the last word?