From Salem to the Senate: plus ça change…

Oh Elizabeth, your justice would freeze beer.” Arthur Miller, The Crucible


If this week has shown us anything it is that the polarising dynamics of men (entitlement) against women (the putative new order) are alive and kicking.


In the age of the witchcraft trials - proof in themselves that fake news really is nothing new - crowds turned out to enjoy the sight of the condemned women; the outcome of death was pretty much a foregone conclusion, it was just the question of how that remained to be settled. Of course, the witchcraft myth has long been debunked and we know it for what it was: a useful device deployed by James I  (and others around the world) to disempower women, of whom he seemed particularly afraid.  But it has its modern equivalent as we saw, last week, with spectators tuning into their TVs and live streams around the world to witness the Blasey Ford –v- Kavanaugh head to head.  Yet another woman finding herself in a public and painful double bind, with a conclusion seemingly so foregone that Christine Blasey Ford might have wondered why she bothered to put herself through an ordeal of such magnitude that it frequently reduced her voice to a quiver and where she could only really lose – her reputation, her privacy, along with the multiple death threats she has also received (although nowadays if you haven’t been trolled or received a death threat or two it means you just haven’t spoken up very much about anything).


Generally, though, the powerless are louder and more organised in modern times. So, multiple voices across many social platforms proclaimed their solidarity with Blasey Ford, believing her story before she had even spoken and highlighting how most viewers (and it seemed most of the Senators too) came to the hearing with an opinion that was unlikely to change no matter what unfolded before them.  And what did unfold was baffling:  a room, which was not a court room, full of political appointees, trying to get to the bottom of a potential crime and come up with a verdict in a matter of hours, whilst in the background a tweeting President suggested that in any event the decision is his.  I could write about my opinion, because of course I have one and I believe it is the only reasonable one to hold. Yet there are many who disagree, who did not think that Kavanaugh obfuscated and avoided, and frankly there has been so much opinion expressed that there is little that is new left to be said.


But I find myself wondering where cool-headed justice and due process are in all of this.  Since the #MeToo movement began nearly a year ago there seem to have been few legal consequences. It took a year for Harvey Weinstein even to be arrested and there is little sign of any trial. The most that Brett Kavanaugh will face is likely to be a week-long FBI investigation: it takes months to appeal a parking fine, so it’s hard to imagine what can be achieved over 5 working days in relation to a crime committed more than 30 years ago.  At last week’s hearing/job interview, decisions were made only to be rescinded in the lift, whilst in the chamber itself, men shouted and railed rather than asking (or answering) questions as was their remit, painting an alarming picture of what might go on behind closed doors in the Senate.


Perhaps what we are seeing is the beginning of a rebalancing of power; the anger expressed by the men in the room merely a manifestation of the old order clinging on to the vestiges of their authority and seeking to postpone the inevitable. Or, is it instead the frightening consequence of this new era of the “strong man”, where cronyism and pseudo-dictators preside? In any event, it remains a sorry sight, reminiscent of Miller’s writing on Salem (and McCarthyism):


We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law.”

 (The Crucible)


The Kavanaugh debacle is all about who gets to write the law and control our- and our children’s - futures. The stakes are high and the old order are likely to try to burn a fair few witches at them before they will accept (if they ever do) that change must come.