As a history student and, let’s face it, a bit of a history nerd ( read: constantly annoying everyone around me by what I consider hilarious quotes from John Adams or Benjamin Franklin) I often cannot help but wonder what it was like for people during certain parts of history, be it the 100 years war, the American Revolution or the Velvet Revolution. Did those people know they are living through moments that the following generations will learn about because it helps to make sense of their present? We often think about these moments as milestones, but what was it like to actually live through them?
Already as a kid, I’ve been fascinated by this, I loved listening to my granny for hours and hours telling me stories about my family, about her life. How her grandparents were tailors for the Russian tzar and then moved to France to have a hat workshop. About my grand-grandfather who was a photographer working with Jan Werich carefully coloring pictures by hand in the time of black-white photos. And of course, there is my granny, whose life witnessed all the presidents since the first republic, World War II., socialism and its fall in 1989. All of it and I’ve always loved when she was telling me about it.
No wonder I ended up where I am now, with a hope of making this my career. For me it’s not just about liking history courses ( although I do), it is more about the belief that there is so much more to history than just memorizing dates and facts. There are stories and real people (most of the time) behind these. And it is the hunt for these stories and what they tell us about all the monumental historical events what I love the most about it. Wondering what it was like to actually live through them. Now I know. And I don’t like it. Not one bit.
I’ve had the feeling like I’m living history more or less since the one sleepless night in November 2016 when I was watching the American presidential election. If living history feels like a state of permanent motion sickness that is. And my decision to subscribe to NY times and therefore to completely abandon any illusions I could have had did not help (although it’s still one of the best decision I’ve made in a long time). But it wasn’t until about a month or two ago, that it really hit me. I’m living through a historical moment and it sucks.
I don’t think anyone, at least a little interested in what’s going on around, has missed the incredibly painful confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. What started as a routine procedure turned into one of the most controversial moments of Trump’s administration and that says a lot. A LOT. Here’s a thing, we all know things were bad since 2016, no doubt about it, but as long as the US has a rule of law that was above this whole charade, one could still sleep at night. Restlessly, but still. Now I’m not so sure.
One could argue (and they do), why do I care about a Supreme Court of a country I don’t even live in. Good point. But I believe what was at stake was so much more than just a seat on the Supreme Court. It says something about people in general, about the state of Western society, about its vulnerabilities and how easy it is to exploit them. This process had the potential to show the best or the worst in us. Granted, it did show both, but the latter won.
I’ve followed this confirmation process from the very beginning, I’ve watched Kavanaugh’s hearings, the way he dodged simple yes/no questions, the inconsistencies of his answers and I was astonished by the fact that even though 90% of his record were never released, Republicans simply didn’t care. I know, silly me for thinking there is a streak of decency left in the Republican party. All of this was alarming but little did I know that the real blow to my illusions is yet to come.
Apart from Kavanaugh, this process has written another name into history: Dr. Blasey Ford. I watched both her testimony and that of Kavanaugh. Dr. Blasey Ford presented herself as composed, convincing, willing to help in every way she can including calling for an FBI investigation that she was aware could end up working to her disadvantage. In a sharp contrast to hers was Kavanaugh’s testimony. He started with a fiercely partisan claim that all is a part of Democratic revenge on behalf of Clintons, that he is a ‘good man’, when he was questioned, instead of answering he verbally attacked Democratic senators and kept refusing any FBI investigation, which, if he really is such a good man he claims he is, would serve the best for clearing his name. What we saw was another petulant white man of temper, whose small fraction of privileges stemming from the simple fact that he is a white man was endangered. No shortage of these in Washington.
Personally, I do believe Dr. Ford. She had nothing to gain and everything to lose when she went public with her experience. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you believe her or not. Even if her claims were false, the way Kavanaugh behaved during the hearings should be disqualifying by itself. But apparently at this time of polarisation, partisanship is the only requirement Republicans have, even for such an important position as the Justice of the Supreme Court and, man, does he excel in that. Despite the striking contrast of those testimonies, once again it is the arrogant privileged white man who, despite his obvious unfitness for the office, will get what he wants, while the woman’s account will be disregarded and even mocked by ( and I cannot believe I say this) the President of the United States.
So, I might not be a citizen of the United States and therefore not being directly influenced by the consequences of this, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t concern me. What I can tell you is that it is truly scary to be a young woman nowadays. What this entire charade demonstrated is that you can be brilliant, you can be trustworthy, composed, calm and yet your word as a woman still means less than the word of a guy who is the exact opposite of these things. Over an over again they will get what they want. It sort of makes one question whether we have moved somewhere in the last 50 years or so, or whether our rights and equality is just an illusion to appease us.
But to end up on a slightly optimistic note, this process also showed us that there are a lot of people who care. There are some ‘stars’ in the Democratic party, which is very important coming to the election of 2020 and although the Republican Party as a whole is increasingly distancing itself from the republican ideals, two names should be noted: Senator Flake, who despite voting yes at the end, at least had enough decency to call for an FBI investigation ( although only because he is not running for a re-election as a Senator) and Senator Murkowski who ‘voted’ no. But more importantly, it energized ordinary people to move away from the screens and practice corporeal politics. Hopefully, this spirit will last through the election. Only that way something can be changed.