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Is Higher Ed Responsible for Brett Kavanaugh?

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We know Brett Kavanaugh was at the White House days before his hearing on the Dr. Christine Blasey Ford matter. He was prepping for senators’ questions like it was a final exam.

And we all saw how he did. How would you grade him?

He was aggressive, arrogant, entitled — but to what? His good name? His unblemished manhood? His uproarious laughter at the expense of Dr. Blasey Ford?

Emil GuillermoEmil Guillermo

By his answers given under oath,  Kavanaugh showed us what a privileged man under fire looks after cram sessions at the Trump White House. Kavanaugh acted like a slightly toned-down Donald Trump.

But there’s no doubt, that the man who wants to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice was aping the White male playbook and following its cardinal rule: When pressured, hide behind your credentials. Use them as a shield.

So for questions about his teenage lifestyle, and his excessive drinking, Kavanaugh went with what has always worked in the past. His accomplishments.

His answer rarely varied from this: He studied hard at Georgetown Prep, a good Jesuit school. He worked his butt off. He was No.1 in his class. He got into Yale. He worked his butt off. He got into Yale Law school, the top law school as he mentioned to one of his questioners,  Sen. Mazie Hirono, who noted with some levity that she was a Georgetown Law grad.

Kavanaugh also liked beer, of course.

But that was just a set up to play a smarmy version of “Jeopardy,” answering in the form of a question, as in, “You like beer, don’t you?” or “You do have a favorite beverage?”

Just another move from the White male playbook; belittle your questioner by boomeranging it back at them.

Time and again, Kavanaugh avoided answering direct questions about his behavior, and his drinking simply by assuming that being a successful good student excused it all.

How could he do anything wrong? This is America, where hard work and success excuse everything, right?

Coincidentally, it’s a theme that runs through all the high-profile sexual harassment perps of the recent past.

Isn’t success the great deodorant that protected Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer from all their misdeeds for so long? Success made them beyond reproach. They could get away with anything. They were above it all. And not coincidentally, they were rich, White, male and privileged.

And where did they learn that? For Kavanaugh, it’s clear being at elite schools gave him a sense of privilege.

I went to one of those schools, and I remember hearing people, in a moment before doing some mild to major indiscretion, utter the phrase, “You’ll never be president!”

Or governor. Or senator. Or U.S. Supreme Court justice. Unless you’re a Kennedy or just White. Sometimes it was a joke. More likely it wasn’t. People of color I knew tended to mind their p’s and q’s, as they say. Because the opportunity to be at an elite school was not taken lightly. And great things were expected.

But among White male students, there was just the notion that all would be forgiven. “Boys will be boys” was saved for them, not for guys like me. In fact, it’s the reason when I saw the hearings, I related more to Dr. Blasey Ford. And this is the other reason White male privilege has stayed dominant for so long.

Women didn’t speak up.

But at the hearing, Dr. Blasey Ford did.

She had me at “I’m terrified.”

As an Asian American male, I know what it feels like to be belittled, ignored or made to act deferential.

Just like a woman.

I know I have my “man card” somewhere, but as an Asian American male, there’s been an historical pattern in America to face a kind of discrimination that finds you feminized, infantilized and emasculated.

From Chinese Exclusion Act to the 1934 Tydings McDuffie Act, essentially Filipino exclusion, to anti-intermarriage acts, the laws have been stacked against Asian men, and generally, all men of color.

It takes courage to rise up against all that, as my father did.

And that’s a big reason I believed everything Blasey Ford said.

Especially when she was asked how certain she was that Brett Kavanaugh was her assailant.

“100 percent,” Blasey Ford said.

We have now moved into a new unexpected phase of the hearing. After being confronted in an elevator by two outspoken female activists, Sen. Jeff Flake made his yes vote on Kavanaugh contingent on a new, but limited FBI investigation.

So Kavanaugh isn’t finished yet. And who knows if it will be limited to a week, or if the FBI will find even more problems with allegations and Kavanaugh’s sworn testimony.

But  the hearings are lessons for the entire country on the continuing problem of overcoming and correcting racist and sexist behavior in this country. It’s the ongoing diversity lesson society faces.

We all know higher ed is not immune from the issues that arise from the Kavanaugh case. And judging from the answers Kavanaugh gave, higher ed may have inadvertently reinforced ideas that in his mind justified his behavior.

The cynic in me says Flake may have simply given himself and other Republicans cover to vote for Kavanaugh. Hey, we had that FBI “investigation” after all. But we should all see the Kavanaugh nomination process for what it has become: out national gut-check on sexual harassment and abuse throughout every institution in our country.

It’s worth more than a casual conversation on campus.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. You can follow him on Twitter @emilamok.

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