Dianne Feinstein refers anonymous allegations of sexual misconduct to the FBI for investigation, less than a week before the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. We have to hope her action is the last low point in the #MeToo movement, for we have seen many attacks nearly as low. What began as a movement to protect women from rape and other forms of assault, has become a crude tool to damage other people’s reputations anonymously.
Remember one salient quality of an anonymous accusation. There is no defense against it. That is why Kafka wrote The Trial. You live in a setting where rumors float around, then one settles on you. Officials call you before the bench to answer for yourself. What do you say? “It’s not true.” The officials say, “What is not true?” Already, after one pointed question, your judges ask you to restate the rumor that brought you to trial. Now you become your own accuser.
Remember one salient quality of an anonymous accusation. There is no defense against it.
Anyone is free to make anonymous accusations. We will always have rumors, just as we always have gossip, jokes, pranks, tricks, illusions, tall stories, yarns, legends, and other forms of amusement. Many of these amusements have enough truth built into them to keep them interesting. Obviously, an anonymous accusation aims for more than amusement. It aims to bring someone down. In many settings, an anonymous accusation is enough to have a person executed.
Thus how we treat these accusations matters. Obviously, Brett Kavanaugh’s opponents do not want to place him on trial. They want him to disappear, forever. If we want Kavanaugh to defend himself, the accusation cannot be anonymous. If we want him to disappear, we forward the accusation to the FBI. Feinstein claims the accuser’s right to privacy trumps everything. In fact, the accuser’s desire for privacy places the accusation low on the moral scale. It is like the rumor that floats until it lands on you. None of us ought to take an anonymous accusation seriously. Rumors occupy bored minds with inconsequential thoughts.
Anyone is free to make anonymous accusations. We will always have rumors, just as we always have gossip, jokes, pranks, tricks, illusions, tall stories, yarns, legends, and other forms of amusement.
We have seen the politics of rumor take over Washington. We have seen the politics of #MeToo rumor mongers take over the whole country. Stop it. Anonymous accusations have no standing. Those who promote anonymous accusations, such as Dianne Feinstein, have no standing. Feinstein’s cheering section has no standing. None of these accusers or bandwagon jumpers want Kavanaugh to defend himself. They want to ruin him. We say we want the truth, but rumors have no bearing on truth. If you want privacy, do not accuse. If you want truth, attach your name to it.
Shortly after I wrote this post, Christine Ford revealed herself as Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser. That does not change anything I wrote about anonymous accusations, but it changes everything about this accusation. Read Robby Soave’s article in Reason about this case, in light of Ford’s willingness to identify herself.
I do not care to enter the partisan wars about Kavanaugh’s nomination. I liked the idea of Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court. When the nomination went to Kavanaugh, I did not know anything about him. When evidence indicated Kavanaugh thought John Yoo would be great as a judge for the Ninth Circuit, my automatic up-or-down flag went from neutral to down. No supporter of John Yoo, lead author of the infamous torture memos, ought to sit on any bench, let alone the Supreme Court. Some political judgments are a lot easier to make than others.