Mad Man: Is Kavanaugh’s anger the righteous fury of an innocent man — or the calculated rage of an abuser?

Brett Kavanaugh: He mad

The WHTM PLEDGE DRIVE is almost over! If you haven’t donated yet, and you can afford it, please send a few bucks our way! Thanks!

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 “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.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Buttercup Q. Skullpants
Buttercup Q. Skullpants
3 years ago

@SFHC (and Katamount) – Oh, I know there’s still hope. Thanks for reminding me. I’m not giving up by any means. I’m depressed but I’m also spitting incandescent white-hot bees, if that makes sense. I’ve been calling my senators, donating, filling out postcards to voters (, if anyone is interested – good way to help GOTV if you don’t have the time or the ability to go door to door, and you can exercise your artistic creativity). But every once in awhile the enormity of what we’re up against overwhelms me and I have to stop and hyperventilate. These are evil, vile motherfuckers.

This piece is a good summary of how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go:

From the article: “Thursday’s hearings do not reflect a Senate in decline. They reflect a Senate in crisis. That’s entirely different. The Kavanaugh hearings have thrown the Senate into crisis because women are now powerful enough to disrupt the amicable, male-dominated consensus that in previous eras silenced them altogether. But they are not yet powerful enough to get justice. That’s not just true in the Senate. That’s true in the nation as a whole.”

I think what scares me most is the suddenness and ferocity with which the mask got ripped off. Trump, McConnell, Graham et. al. are behaving with the brazen, callous unconcern of people who are confident they’ll never have to run for office again or face jail time. I hope the overconfidence is because they’re just bluffing, but it worries me.

Impeachment isn’t a realistic option for either Kavanaugh or Trump until at least 2020. Dems might eke out a slim majority this fall, but they’d never get 67 Senators to convict and remove. As for confirming Kavanaugh, we need at least two Repubs to flip to make it 51-49, since Pence is the tiebreaker.

It’s not impossible, it’s not a foregone conclusion, but it is an uphill battle. Every Republican victory along the way is going to be that much harder to undo.

I hope the Kavanaugh and Gorsuch nominations make Dem voters understand that they cannot afford to sit out a single election, ever.

3 years ago


You’ve gotten everything backwards. Sure, he’ll probably be confirmed, but thanks to Harris, Booker, Feinstein and Ford, it doesn’t matter anymore. The moment the midterms are over and the Dems take control, the creepy fucker’ll be impeached ten times over; even the most pro-rape and reality-averse Repubs can’t deny him perjuring himself live on international TV. And that’s before we consider the FBI investigation that’s starting up as I type this (thanks to… Flake? Really? The weirdest timeline strikes again).

I wish I had your optimism. That very limited FBI investigation, in particular, is probably just a fig leaf. But, as for Flake, that’s a useful reminder that activism can have an effect. Would he have called for the investigation if those two women (Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher, heroes in my opinion) hadn’t collared him at that elevator? They appear to have got through to his black and shrivelled heart, so it can be done, at least in some cases.

Xochitl's Booze
Xochitl's Booze
3 years ago

Long time reader, first time commenter… I thought WHTM might appreciate this thoughtful piece by Rebecca Solnit in New Republic about anger, which I found via MetaFilter: “All the Rage: What a literature that embraces female anger can achieve”

Actually published before the hearing, I’m now noticing.

James Hutchings
3 years ago

I think it’s possible that Kavanaugh is both guilty, and feels an unfeigned sense of outrage–in the sense of “I can’t believe they’re going to crucify me for some trivial bullshit I did at a party when I was seventeen”.

Rabid Rabbit
Rabid Rabbit
3 years ago

@James Hutchings

The weird thing is that he doesn’t see that that putting it like that would actually have been a better strategy for him. “Hey, look, I did some stupid stuff when I was young, that’s why we don’t let 17 year olds vote. The thing with my yearbook was stupid, and I apologize. But I definitely didn’t do what Dr. Ford said, though I believe something bad happened to her and I’m really sorry it did.” That would have given the Republicans all the cover they need.

Instead, he just gave a stunning demonstration of what happens when a white guy who hasn’t heard the word “No” in a way he can’t get around in fifty years suddenly finds out he might not get the toy he wanted.

And the worst thing is that apparently a lot of right-wing women were almost brought to tears, not by Dr. Ford, but by Kavanaugh, because his snivelling tantrum was a moving demonstration of how horrible it is to be falsely accused of something. Blech.

%d bloggers like this: