When watching Brett Kavanaugh—a man whose job interview is quite a bit harder than he anticipated it being—break down during Supreme Court confirmation hearings today as he denies the charges levied against him by Christine Blasey Ford, it’s natural to assume that he’s acting, that the tears he’s struggling to hold back is a dance intended to elicit sympathy and remind the Senate that he’s the victim. After all, this is a man who is (probably) either lying or is so used to using his privilege and his power to take advantage of women and girls, that the events Dr. Ford recalled were too mundane for him to even remember. For her, this was the worst day of her life. For him, it was a Tuesday.
But those who have known men like Brett Kavanaugh—who perhaps went to an elite school with them, or perhaps played on a sports team with them, or perhaps belonged to a fraternity with them, or perhaps was invited to a party they were at, or perhaps worked for or with them, or perhaps were also assaulted by them—know that those tears are (probably) real. You’ve seen them before when Brett or Chad or Dustin or Connor got in trouble—maybe a charter was in danger of being revoked or perhaps a cop wasn’t impressed with a resume or maybe even a judge wasn’t taking a plea—and you watched them circle through the cycle of entitlement the tears are connected to.
You’ve seen the incredulousness; the doubt that something like this is happening to them. (“But I’m me!” you see them thinking.) You’ve seen the anger, which can be volcanic and deadly. (Imagine a three-year-old cycling through a temper tantrum. Now imagine that three-year-old is 17 or 37.) You’ve seen the bargaining, the pleading, the brow-beating, the threats, the gaslighting, the disbelief, the questioning, the begging, and the defiance. And sometimes, if you’re lucky enough, you also see the blubbering. You watch them sob and slobber at the possibility that something, maybe, for the first time ever, won’t go exactly the way they wanted it to. You watch them watch themselves losing, and just for a nanosecond, the shield of privilege that has protected and curried and cocooned them like an extra sheen of skin.
Of course, you know that they’ll be fine, that this is a bump in the road, that when privileged white men fall, they somehow fall up as if gravity doesn’t apply. And so you wonder ,“Why the fuck are you fucking crying?” And then it hits you: Oh yeah. He’s never felt this before. He doesn’t know what it feels like. This thing he’s experiencing now—this disappointment, this fear, this shame, this doubt—is new to him.
And then, before the tears dry up, you grab a cup.