“What goes around, comes around.” Brett Kavanaugh’s indignant warning to Democrats last week may be the defining ethos of this political era. As I write this, the fate of Kavanaugh’s nomination remains undecided, but there is no doubt that the outcome will trigger howls of outrage among tens of millions of people—and vows of vengeance. This is our politics now: No uplifting rhetoric about “hope” or “a shining city on the hill.” No poetry. No norms. No decency. It is grievance, revenge, and identity, all the way down. In arguing that they are the wronged party, irate Republicans point to the “borking” of 1987 Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, to sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas, to Hillary Clinton’s characterization of Donald Trump supporters as “deplorables.” Furious Democrats cite the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton (in which Kavanaugh played a prominent and censorious role), the 2000 Bush v. Gore ruling, and last year’s refusal by Senate Republicans to even consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. The Kavanaugh nomination now goes on the bonfire.
Perversely, whichever party loses the Kavanaugh battle may actually benefit. This year’s congressional elections—and possibly the fate of the Trump presidency—will be largely decided by turnout. Turnout will depend on whose narrative of fear and resentment is stronger: Is it now open season for #MeToo feminists and liberals to destroy conservative, white males with unverified allegations? (“Think of your sons. Think of your husbands,” Trump urged a cheering rally in Mississippi this week, as he gleefully threw more kindling on the fire.) Or have Republicans closed ranks around privileged men who consider it their birthright to harass and assault women amid mocking laughter? Many women are saying the events of recent weeks have left them “incandescent” with rage. What goes around, comes around. Another karmic debt is coming due.