- - Wednesday, October 3, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The polarizing atmosphere of the university has now spread to Congress.

During the recent U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, we witnessed how college values have become the norms of the Senate. On campus, constitutional due process vanishes when accusations of sexual harassment arise. America saw that when false charges were lodged against the Duke University lacrosse players and during Rolling Stone magazine’s concocted smear of a University of Virginia fraternity.

Americans may disagree about the relative credibility of either Judge Kavanaugh or his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. But they all witnessed how the asymmetry of the campus governed the hearings.

Mrs. Ford’s veracity hinged on empathy and perceived believability. There was little requirement of corroborating testimonies, witnesses and what used to be called physical evidence. In contrast, Judge Kavanaugh was considered guilty from the start. He had to prove his innocence.

One belief of the university is the postmodern idea of relativist truth.

On campus, all can present equally valid narratives. What privileges one story over another is not necessarily any semblance to reality, at least as established by evidence and facts. Instead, powerful victimizers supposedly “construct” truths based on their own self-interests. As a result, self-described victims of historical biases are under no obligation to play by what they consider to be rigged rules of facts, evidence or testimony.

This dynamic explains why Sen. Cory Booker, New Jersey Democrat, insisted that Mrs. Ford told “her truth.” In other words, evidence was not so relevant. Mrs. Ford’s story of events from 36 years ago inherently would have as much claim on reality as Judge Kavanaugh’s rebuttal — and perhaps more so, given their different genders and asymmetrical access to power.

There was little interest in discovering the ancient idea of the Truth. To do that would have required the messy work of taxing the memories of teenage behavior nearly four decades prior.

Truth-finding would have required difficult, time-honored examinations of physical evidence, the testimony of witnesses, and even unpleasant cross-examinations about the time and place of the allegations. Feelings might have been hurt. Motives might have been questioned, as they are under constitutional norms of due process.

Also on the campus, the race and gender of people now increasingly determine who we are.

Republican senators were repeatedly written off by critics as “old white men,” not unique individuals who might be disinterested or biased, fair or prejudicial.

Judge Kavanaugh was largely assumed guilty, in part for once being a privileged white kid of 17 who had gone to a prep school.

Meanwhile, Mr. Booker, by virtue of not being old and white, was considered a credible senatorial examiner. No one cared that Mr. Booker had once invented stories about an imaginary friend named “T-Bone.”

Such blanket race- and age-based stereotyping was not even consistent. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, is 72 and white. Yet given his progressive politics, no one dismissed him on the basis of gender and age, much less for being a serial fabricator who concocted false stories of serving in Vietnam.

The Senate also adopted the modern university’s doctrine of self-censorship, no-go zones and safe spaces.

Given issues of gender and the university concept that accusations of sexual assault inherently are exempt from constitutional protections of due process, Mrs. Ford was more or less excused from normally tough cross-examination.

In her testimony, Mrs. Ford never explained why despite her self-professed fear of flying she has been a frequent flyer on business and leisure trips.

Mrs. Ford’s privacy and medical status were understandably to be respected and off-limits. Yet Mrs. Ford suggested that her friend, Leland Ingham Keyser, was suffering from “significant health challenges” after Ms. Keyser did not corroborate Mrs. Ford’s allegations.

Mrs. Ford was never really asked why her narratives concerning the number of witnesses to the alleged assault and their genders were not compatible. Her accounts of the location and time of the alleged assault were either inconsistent or nonexistent.

In contrast, Judge Kavanagh was grilled on everything from his high school yearbook to a made-up accusation that he once committed sexual assault on a docked boat in Newport, R.I.

Swarming and shouting down those who hold different views in order to shame and intimidate them is part and parcel of the modern university. Now, we are seeing such campus street theater in Congress. During a break in the hearings, female protesters cornered Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, in an elevator and screamed in his face.

The psychodrama worked — just as it usually does on campus. A shaken and flushed Mr. Flake soon backed down from his stated intention of voting to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.

Campuses are no longer out-of-touch ivory towers. Their creed is now beginning to run the country, which is frightening.

• Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, is the author of “The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won” (Basic Books, 2017).


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