Can good men do bad things?

The question is whether Republican senators will have the courage to see beyond the ‘good man’ mystique and undertake a real investigation of the facts

It’s an absurd question, you say. Of course, some men who are called “good” have also been known to do bad things from time to time. Nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes.

But what if the man in question is someone we think is really good and the thing he stands accused of is really bad? What if, besides being really good, he also is really powerful and revered? What if he shares my point of view? Am I willing to accept that the “good men” I see on TV – men whom I consider crusaders for my cause – may, in fact, be guilty of bad things?

Watching the testimony of Judge Brett Kavanaugh at the extraordinary hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 27, I was struck by one persistent point in the judge’s heated defense against the sexual assault allegations of Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford. Time and again, he based his assertions of innocence on his claim that he is a “good, good man” with a “good name.”

In his opening statement, Judge Kavanaugh angrily inveighed against what he termed a Democratic plot to “totally and permanently destroy my good name, a good name built up through decades of very hard work and public service at the highest levels of the American government.”

When pressed by a senator on whether he ever drank to excess, as classmates of his maintain, his impassioned response was to turn the tables on her and then remind the watching world that he was a very good student who served meals to homeless people. When the topic of other women came up, he burnished his virgin altar boy image and quoted a text message from a longtime female friend: “You’re a good man. A good man. Good man.”

It is the same line of defense used by his most ardent supporters. In a series of tweets, President Trump expressed his firm conviction that Judge Kavanaugh is innocent, because “he is such an extraordinary man” and “a gentleman.” In an angry outburst at the senate hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham called his political opponents despicable and assured the judge “you’ve got nothing to apologize for.”

I do not doubt that Judge Kavanaugh is, by many measures, a very good man with an impressive record of success. That a great many women who have known him for many years testify to his character is certainly encouraging. That he appears to have raised his daughters well, even to the point that one of them reportedly prayed for his accuser, is admirable. That he promoted women under him and invested in their careers is worthy of celebration.

But these points are simply not the point. 

Indeed, a blind allegiance to the notion that good men we like could not be guilty of bad things, even long ago, is not only problematic from the standpoint of the truth, it is also unjust. In my own life as a white man who, like Judge Kavanaugh, was privileged to attend Yale and other elite institutions, I have many times experienced undeserved assumptions of goodness and esteem accorded men like me by society.

While I would like to think myself a decent man, my faith and my humanity remind me every day of my sinful nature. But for the grace of God, and perhaps my peculiar distaste for alcohol when I was 17, I myself could have committed heinous acts of the kind Dr. Blasey described. 

What’s more, as the husband of a woman of African descent, whose complexion has for centuries been equated with the very opposite of goodness and truth, I am painfully aware that the assumptions people make about me are different to those they often make about my wife, even in 2018. As millions of individual results from the Implicit Association Test reveal, most white Americans (and therefore most Americans in power) subconsciously associate light-skinned faces with words like “good” and “joy” and dark-skinned faces with words like “bad” and “anger.”

The effect appears to be stronger among older male Americans, who constitute nearly all the Republican senators whose votes are expected to send Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Add power and prestige to a white man’s face and the effect is greater still. 

We may never know the truth of what happened that summer night in 1982 with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey. But one thing is certain: For millions of Americans who watched Judge Kavanaugh respond to senators’ measured questions with belligerent contempt and heard him dismiss the credible accusations of a visibly distraught woman as precipitating “a national disgrace,” the notion that good men only do good things cannot stand.

The only question that remains is whether our Republican senators will have the courage to see beyond the “good man” mystique and undertake a real investigation of the facts. I fear for the integrity of the Supreme Court and the U.S. Senate if they do not. 

Dan Weeks serves on the board of directors of the NH Women’s Foundation and lives in Nashua with his wife and kids.

Categories: Opinion