The US (along with the rest of the west) likes to believe itself a virtuous defender of women’s rights. There is no doubt that a woman’s lot on the whole is likely to be better if she is born in the United States as opposed to, say, Afghanistan. But the relative advances made mask the many ways in which women are second-class citizens. The Ford-Kavanaugh affair spelled them all out in plain view: a culture of violence towards women in schools and universities; the cultural disdain towards women’s pain, evidenced in the public mockery of Ford’s experience by President Trump and the grotesque laughing faces lined up behind him at a Mississippi rally; the obdurate patriarchy underpinning the state and mobilising its machinery to ensure that Kavanaugh was shepherded to confirmation.
This dirty business was all conducted in language and ritual designed to vaunt the liberal greatness of the US, even while liberal values were undermined. We saw the self-conscious show of “respect for due process”, the charade of “moderate” Republicans in solemn deliberation, and the pantomime of supposed bipartisanship. Those at the sharp end of US foreign policy are familiar with this con, which advances cynical interests and atrocities abroad, but always with a supposedly heavy heart as it accepts the burden of living up to its values. The con has now been perpetrated on American women, told in tortured rhetoric by their representatives that a difficult moral decision has been made in the best interests of the nation. The language of aspiration, of hope in a better future, has been hijacked.