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By David Futrelle
So what exactly are we to make of Brett Kavanaugh’s anger? Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee began his testimony this afternoon in something close to a boiling rage, presenting himself as the innocent victim of a vast and improbable conspiracy, angrily denouncing those who, he said, had destroyed his reputation beyond repair.
As the afternoon progressed, he repeatedly interrupted his questioners and defiantly repeated a series of scripted non-answers when the questions cut too deep. His anger seemed contagious; by the end of the day his Republican supporters — most notably South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham — were breaking out in veritable tantrums in the Senate chambers.
So what is going on here? Is Kavanaugh’s rage a conscious strategy, or simply a reflection of who he is?
Let’s consider four possible explanations — starting with what I think is the least likely one.
Kavanaugh is displaying the righteous rage of the falsely accused
As Jeet Heer noted in The New Republic, Kavanaugh’s sometimes furious, sometimes tearful “performance won plaudits from conservatives and right-wingers, who see him as an injured party,” including such, er, luminaries as Donald Trump Jr., the National Review’s Rich Lowry and even (reportedly) the president himself. An op-ed in the right-wing Washington Examiner declared Kavanaugh’s anger to be “clear and righteous.”
Of course, if you believe Christine Blasey Ford and/or Kavanaugh’s other accusers, as I do, you have to conclude that this interpretations is utter bullshit. So let’s move on to what I think are the more plausible explanations:
Kavenaugh is pretending to be angry in order to convince people that he’s innocent
If a display of “clear and righteous” anger is enough to convince many that you really are innocent, what’s to stop a guilty person from pantomiming righteous rage? Guilty criminals do it all the time. “[I]f Kavanaugh is telling the truth … he has every right to be thunderously angry,” wrote Robby Soave on Reason.com. “If Kavanaugh is guilty, his goal is to appear innocent, and thus it would not be out of place for him to sound angry. ”
Kavanaugh has deep anger issues and cannot help himself
In this interpretation, there is nothing strategic about Kavanaugh’s fury; it’s just who he is. A deeply entitled white man from a wealthy background who is used to getting his way, he cannot help lashing out at anyone who challenges him or stands in his path. If this is indeed the root of his rage today, it not only adds credence to what his accusers have said about his behavior; it also suggests he’s temperamentally unsuited to serve as a judge on any level, much less on the Supreme Court.
But there is another possible interpretation that seems to me even more likely than these last two.
Kavanaugh, adopting a strategy of many domestic abusers, has learned how to use his anger to get his way — and is now using it to try to bulldoze himself onto the highest court in the land
In Why Does He Do That (Amazon affiliate link), his invaluable guidebook to abusive men, domestic violence expert Lundy Bancroft notes that abusers’ angry outbursts are often far more strategic than they appear on the surface — even violent tantrums. (Bancroft notes that abusers tend to smash things that belong to partners but rarely their own property.)
As Bancroft sees it, abusers don’t abuse because they have an anger problem; they are angry because they are abusive and entitled. In this interpretation, Kavanaugh isn’t angry because he’s innocent; he’s angry because he believes he should be able to get away with the sort of things that in a just world would have sent him to jail.
He may be so used to using anger as a way to control and intimidate those around him that he has no idea how what it looks like when he throws a tantrum in public. Or maybe he thinks he can get away with it. Because he very well might.
Even Kavanaugh’s longstanding habit of telling blatant, easily disprovable lies may be in part an abusive strategy of gaslighting, an attempt to force his “reality” onto others. In testimony today, Kavanaugh asserted that he hadn’t even bothered to watch Ford’s appearance before the Senate this morning; reporting from the Wall Street Journal seemed to suggest that he had. On Twitter, Slate senior editor Sam Adams said he thought that Kavanaugh’s gaslighting on this issue was more an “assertion of power [than] an attempt to be believed.”
It’s all very Trumpian. Which is probably why Trump was apparently so pleased with his performance today.
Whatever the explanation for Kavanaugh’s behavior today, it’s not a good one. He’s manifestly unfit for the job, so much so that a Supreme Court with him on it would instantly lose all legitimacy. Putting this belligerent, abusive narcissist on the court will throw this country into a constitutional crisis, and one that will be damned near impossible to resolve.