Dennis Hastert’s legal team filed dozens of letters in federal court in Chicago on Friday from individuals expressing support for the former House speaker in preparation for his sentencing on Wednesday.

Rep. Tom DeLay, the former House majority whip who helped position Hastert for his role as speaker, wrote that he is a man of “strong faith” and “great integrity.”

“I have observed him in many different and difficult situations,” the letter starts. “He has never disappointed me in any way. He is a man of strong faith that guides him. He is a man of great integrity. He loves and respects his fellow man. I have never witnessed a time when he was unkind to anyone. He is always giving to others and helping anyone including me so many times.”

“We held each other accountable and we studied God’s word and applied it to where we were at that moment. Nothing could have been more intimate between us. So I know his heart and have seen it up close and personal.

In addition to DeLay and members of Hastert’s family, Hastert’s former GOP colleagues Reps. Thomas Ewing, David Dreier, Porter Goss and John Doolittle also submitted letters of support. The letters were initially submitted under seal, but Durkin said they had to be filed publicly in order to be considered at Hastert’s sentencing.

“Denny Hastert and I were as close as brothers, sharing our goals, ambitions, and our family life, both the ups and the downs,” Ewing wrote, noting that they lived together in Washington D.C. and Springfield, Illinois, and that he backed Hastert for the speaker position. “I know him as a man of faith, integrity and honesty. He was an extremely hard worker, always willing to extend a helping hand to others.”

Many people have written more eloquently than I can about the crisis of elites and elite accountability in America. The problem, as I see it, is very simple. If you are viewed as part of the same tribe, as a “brother,” as “one of us”, if you attended the right fraternity, or prep school, or college, or if you were inculcated with the same upper-middle-class-to-rich upbringing and “values” – then there will be an almost infinite well of sympathy that can be tapped on your behalf, no matter how much of a scumbag you are. Dennis Hastert sexually abused little boys and then illegally structured almost a million dollars worth of hush money payments to cover up his crimes. But he still deserves a letter attesting to his character written with an almost sociopathic disregard for the truth (“we held each other accountable” — for what, exactly?). Because if we have an America where law and order are used to punish the powerful as well as the powerless, then people like Tom Delay, whose list of “controversies” on Wikipedia stretches out even longer than his “political career” (or, to put it more accurately, his ethics violations and thirst for corruption were his political career) would also have reason to be worried.

I was struck by the word “brothers” in Thomas Ewing’s letter. It reminded me of Jia Tolentino’s recent essay entitled, “Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump, and the Things Men Do for Other Men”. Tolentino writes about the way that men talk when men are the intended audience. This can happen, for instance, when men believe they are alone and their conversation is private, as on the infamous “pussy tape” between Trump and Billy Bush. Or it can happen when men know they are not alone and the conversation is public, but the women in the room are treated not so much as people but as objects fading into the background.

Christine Blasey Ford, who attended the all-girls Holton-Arms School while Kavanaugh attended the all-boys Georgetown Prep, has accused Kavanaugh of drunkenly corralling her into a bedroom at a high-school party, and, while a friend egged him on and both boys laughed, pushing her down onto the bed, trying to pull off her clothes, and covering her mouth to stop her from screaming. Deborah Ramirez, who attended Yale with Kavanaugh, has said that, during a freshman-year drinking game, after one male student pointed a plastic penis at her, Kavanaugh dropped his pants and, laughing, put his penis in her face. (Kavanaugh has said he “never sexually assaulted anyone” and called Ramirez’s accusation “a smear, plain and simple.”) “In each case the other men—not the woman—seem to be Kavanaugh’s true intended audience,” Lili Loofbourow wrote at Slate, noting the jarring presence of laughter in both stories. “If these allegations are true,” Loofbourow went on, “one of the more shocking things about them is the extent to which the woman being mistreated exists in a room where the men are performing for each other—using the woman to firm up their own bond.”

This notion of a performance that uses a woman to strengthen the bonds between men explains a great deal about what happened yesterday at the Kavanaugh hearing. Take, for instance, this exchange between Amy Klobuchar and Kavanaugh:

KLOBUCHAR: OK. Drinking is one thing, but the concern is about truthfulness, and in your written testimony, you said sometimes you had too many drinks. Was there ever a time when you drank so much that you couldn’t remember what happened, or part of what happened the night before?

KAVANAUGH: No, I — no. I remember what happened, and I think you’ve probably had beers, Senator, and — and so I…

KLOBUCHAR: So you’re saying there’s never been a case where you drank so much that you didn’t remember what happened the night before, or part of what happened.

KAVANAUGH: It’s — you’re asking about, you know, blackout. I don’t know. Have you?

KLOBUCHAR: Could you answer the question, Judge? I just — so you — that’s not happened. Is that your answer?

KAVANAUGH: Yeah, and I’m curious if you have.

KLOBUCHAR: I have no drinking problem, Judge.

KAVANAUGH: Yeah, nor do I.

It comes across even worse on tape. Kavanaugh’s disrespect of Klobuchar is practically oozing through his teeth (which, oddly, he bared in a menacing fashion several times during the hearing). I think the exchange makes more sense when you realize that Klobuchar was a mere prop on Kavanaugh’s stage. He wasn’t trying to convince her of his self-control or the integrity of his memories; instead, he was trying to convince his Republican brothers that he embodies the kind of contempt for Democrats and for women that they thrill to.

And, apparently, it worked. After worrying after the morning session that Christine Blasey Ford appeared credible, Trump was reassured by Kavanaugh’s afternoon theatrics

But nearing the end of a more-than-eight-hour hearing stamped by unusually raw displays of human emotion and political drama, the President was telling aides and confidants that he believed his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had successfully acquitted himself from accusations of sexual assault and was one step closer to being installed on the highest bench.

“Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him,” he wrote on Twitter fewer than five minutes after the hearing was gaveled to a close. “His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist.”

Men are frequently pathetic when they perform for other men, like a little kid trying to impress his older brother. Remember the Dignity Wraiths, like Chris Christie, who was reduced to an errand boy for Trump just to get a Cabinet nomination (which, ultimately and hilariously, didn’t end up happening). Or the cabinet meetings where grown men took turns debasing themselves by trying to outdo the previous in their praise for Trump (the worst was Reince Priebus, who called it a “blessing” to work in the Trump administration, as if God gives a shit). Or Lindsey Graham, who went from calling Trump a “race-baiting xenophobic bigot” to singing the praises of his golf courses. (It brings to mind Ted Cruz, who made a similar about-face, or John McCain, who railed against Liberty University-style extremism and then courted the same forces in his presidential run in 2008). Or John Cornyn, who cried during Kavanaugh’s testimony. (Who said that bros were incapable of love?)

But such acts can perhaps be forgiven because they harm only the one being debased. Chris Christie, Reince Priebus, Mike Pence, Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, John McCain, and John Cornyn all look like fools, but they didn’t make anyone else seem foolish (except perhaps the people who voted for them). There is, however, a much darker and crueler strain of performance, where men humiliate women for men. This is, as Tolentino discussed, Trump and Billy Bush talking about Arianne Zucker; Kavanaugh and the rest of the football team lewdly referring to Renate Schroeder Dolphin; Kavanaugh contemptuously dismissing Klobuchar, etc.

I wonder if the best way to view this entire confirmation process, upon which Roe v Wade hinges, is as one of these acts of humiliation on a large scale, as a performance of Republican male politicians for Republican male voters. Chuck Grassley and his ilk have pushed America’s women down onto the bed, pulled off their clothes, and covered their mouths to stop them from screaming. And the response of their supporters — the response that will remain indelible, at least in my hippocampus — is laughter.


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