Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” (St. Martin’s Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion articles on CNN.
To many, Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the US Supreme Court is not just a victory for President Donald Trump, but for Trumpism at large. And it is this fact that unsettles so much of the nation.
Trump’s presidency is marked not by political ideology but by personality. As former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican, told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, “We the people” has been replaced by “me the president.” This Trumpian way of operating values winning over decency and power over unity. It is also a force that has proven to be both effective and infectious, and its malevolence is terrifying.
The infectious quality of Trumpism was demonstrated in Kavanaugh’s weepy, indignant and self-righteous response to serious allegations of sexual misconduct in his youth. He railed against liberals and announced that he was the victim of “a calculated and orchestrated political hit.” Kavanaugh even badgered Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar (for which he later apologized) and argued that his troubles were tantamount to a “national disgrace.”
Kavanaugh’s display, unworthy of anyone seeking a seat on the Supreme Court, was fully Trumpian in its emotion and intellectual distortions. He was joined, almost immediately, by a finger-wagging Sen. Lindsey Graham, whose snarling complaints came right out of the Trump playbook. “You’re looking for a fair process?” Graham asked in a fit of pique. “You came to the wrong town at the wrong time, my friend.”
No one personifies the triumph of Trumpism more fully than Graham. Formerly a leader of the more rational faction of the GOP, Graham once said, “You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.” But since the death of his friend and mentor, John McCain, Graham has embraced the Trump style in his rhetoric and approach to politicking.
At the Kavanaugh hearing, Graham led the pity party, telling the teary nominee, “This is not a job interview. … This is hell.” Later he would say that poor Kavanaugh had been turned into a “slut whore drunk” by those who reported that he had been a predatory, out-of-control drinker.
The fight over Kavanaugh was, in large part, a conflict over whether serious allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford, who charged him with sexual and physical assault, would be taken seriously. For a moment, as Republican Sen. Jeff Flake advocated for a week-long pause for an FBI investigation, it seemed that reason would supersede unfiltered emotion.
But Flake soon fell in line, and so did Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Afraid to demand a thorough process, they, too, voted to put Kavanaugh on the court. The distress voiced by women in the Senate gallery, who shouted “Shame!” as the votes were cast for Kavanaugh, was the sound of anguish over how once-reasonable leaders have capitulated to a president who issues lies by the thousands, gleefully divides the citizenry, and makes a mockery of cherished institutions.
The votes by senators who diminished the Supreme Court by adding Kavanaugh affirmed that Trumpism will not be easily pushed back.
Of course, there is no denying Trump played a role in Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Trump’s advocacy for his judicial nominee included his usual mix of bizarre rhetoric and unhinged ideas. He complained that Democrats were out to “destroy” Kavanaugh and that his opponents were “really evil people.”
He even offered an absurd conspiracy theory about billionaire George Soros, a GOP bogeyman, funding protesters who came to Washington to oppose his nominees. (GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley proved the infectious quality of Trumpism by echoing the Soros nonsense when he said, “I tend to believe it.”)
Like Kavanaugh’s complaint about the supposed organized effort against him, the Soros theory was bogus. But no one was penalized for this hysteria. Instead, Grassley, Trump and Kavanaugh were rewarded. And with their victories, the prospect for a return to the goodwill that once marked civic life grows smaller still.
Trumpism is winning, and that’s why so many Americans are terrified.