The Strange Case of Dr. Brett and Mr. Kavanaugh


On Monday, September 24, 2018, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Michael Kavanaugh sat for an interview with Martha MacCallum of Fox News with his wife Ashley beside him. In response to the interviewer’s question, Mrs. Kavanaugh told Ms. MacCallum, “I know Brett. I’ve know him for seventeen years. And this is not at all [his] character; it’s really hard to believe. He’s decent, he’s kind, he’s good. I know his heart. This is not consistent with — with Brett.” Did the brief hesitation betray an inner doubt? Ashley Kavanaugh could not allow herself to conceive of her “good” husband capable of any “bad” behavior. Even Dino Ewing, Kavanaugh’s Yale classmate who had withdrawn his signed support from him, considered an act of sexual violence “out of character” for Kavanaugh. Yet Brett Kavanaugh stood accused by three different women of acts of sexual violence.

Could one bridge the enormous gaps between Kavanaugh’s indignant protestations of his innocence and the allegations of his numerous accusers?

To understand the strange case of Brett Kavanaugh, who, as a teenager, did not remember the things he had done when he was drunk after he became sober, it is useful to take note of a poignant moment in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27, 2018. “I’ve submitted to this committee detailed calendars recording my activities in the summer of 1982,” Kavanaugh said. “Why did I keep calendars? My dad started keeping detailed calendars of his life in 1978.” At this point he became visibly agitated and struggled for a long moment hard to keep back his tears. “He did so as both a calendar and a diary. He’s a very organized guy, to put it mildly.”
Why was Brett Kavanaugh so upset when talking about his father? Everett Edward Kavanaugh was not only “very organized,” he also seems to have been an obsessional and compulsive perfectionist. Brett’s mother, Martha Gamble Murphy Kavanaugh, was a teacher who became a lawyer, like her husband, and even a judge. Brett was their only child. His Catholic parents raised him strictly, expected his to be perfect, and to be a devout Catholic, and criticized and punished his “sins,” such as sexuality or drinking. His defense was to unconsciously split up his “self” into two separate ones: a “good,“ sober, asexual Brett, and a “bad,” drunk, sexual one. The two selves did not know one another. Brett, who was constantly judged as a child, became a judge himself, like his mother, but the objects of his judgment were other people.
Brett Kavanaugh himself became every bit as obsessional, compulsive and perfectionist as his father. Not only did he keep meticulous, day-by-day diaries and calendars since he was fourteen, he also tried to get everything in his life “just right.” He was thirty-six before he found the right wife. Before sitting down to testify at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on September 27, 2018 he adjusted his name card at least three or four times to get it perfectly centered. His career as a judge was all about righting his wrong world.

Brett’s parents sent him to an “asexual” Jesuit all-male prep school, where they expected him neither to drink nor to engage in any sexual behavior. Nonetheless, like his fellow teenagers, he engaged in both. However, he could not engage in sexual acts when sober. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the “good” Brett Kavanaugh did not know the “bad” one. Brett drank heavily in high school, mainly beer. As he told Senator Sheldon Whitehorse during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on September 27, 2018,  “I like beer. I like beer. I don’t know if you ― do you like beer, Senator? What do you like to drink?”

One of my own high-school classmates, who emigrated from Israel to the U.S. as a young man, and whose daughter attended the same school as Christine Blasey Ford, has written me, “We had parties for her friends at our home, and always dreaded the Georgetown Prep crowd. They were a bunch of drunkards, hoodlums, violent and aggressive. Got so bad we had to hire off-duty cops to patrol the property and had an off duty cop check the arrivals against a list, and still they showed up through the back of the property with their 6 packs. […] They were driving home drunk  […] we sent [our daughter] to a self-defense course […] so she never felt she had to put up with an aggressor like Kavanaugh.  (Interestingly, she avoided the Georgetown Prep crowd, never dated any of them, and always ensured to not invite them to her parties.)”

When Brett Kavanaugh became seriously drunk, he committed acts of sexual violence: when he sobered up, he forgot them. Brett Kavanaugh was like the little girl in the well-known poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose works he must have read in school:

 There was a little girl,
  Who had a little curl,
  Right the middle of her forehead.
  When she was good,
  She was very good indeed
  But when she was bad she was horrid.

People like Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh see other people (and even themselves) as either “good” or “bad,” unable to realize, or accept, that the “good” people they know can also act “badly,” or the reverse. This is called “splitting” in psychoanalytic parlance and black-and-white thinking in plain English.  Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll does not know or own up to the hideous acts of his other self, Mr. Hyde.

Despite his seemingly-illustrious career, Brett Kavanaugh had his failures as well. For instance, as a Yale freshman, highly competitive and more interested in sports than in law or in politics, he unsuccessfully tried out for the Yale Bulldogs men’s basketball varsity team and had to settle for the junior-varsity team, where Dino Ewing was his teammate.

In his Fox News interview with Martha MacCallum, Brett Kavanaugh claimed not to have had any sexual intercourse or even “anything close to it” until he met his wife Ashley Estes in 2001, when he was thirty-six and she twenty-seven. This was highly unusual and incredible, even for a “good” man like Brett Kavanaugh. What kind of American male in the late twentieth century would have avoided sexual intercourse until he was thirty-six? The interviewer pressed him on this point, asking, “And through what years in college, since we’re probing into your personal life here?”Brett Kavanaugh replied, “Many years after. I’ll leave it at that.” He obviously did not wish to discuss this painful point in public.

Kavanaugh’s bizarre and aggressive performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 27, 2018, stood in stark contrast to the subdued, vulnerable, straightforward, honest and moving one of his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. He was very tense and had a weird facial tick that resembled sniffing. Kavanaugh broke down in tears while discussing the calendars he kept in high school, he rattled off the names of several female friends as proof he never sexually assaulted anyone, he claimed the sexual assault allegations brought against him were part of a pro–Hillary Clinton plot, he dodged questions from committee Democrats about why he hasn’t asked Trump to open an FBI investigation into the allegations against him, he sassily threw questions he didn’t like back at the senators who asked them, and he falsely explained the inside jokes written in his high-school yearbook page.

Kavanaugh denied the sexual meaning of “the Devil’s Triangle” in his prep-school yearbook entry, saying that it meant three people having beers together, when it really meant two men having sex with on woman, as well as that of the phrase “the FFFFFFFourth of July,” saying that it was just a spoof on one of his classmate having trouble uttering “the F word,” when in reality it meant Find them, French them, Feel them, Finger them, Fuck them, Forget them. And the man who called himself a “Renate alumnius” [sic] in his prep-school yearbook page became very angry with a senator for mentioning the full name of the woman named Renate, whom Kavanaugh himself had humiliated as having had indiscriminate sexual relations with numerous other boys.

The most striking similarity between the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick against Brett Kavanaugh were their clear memories of his heavy drinking and of his performing his acts of sexual violence when he was drunk. Indeed, the strange case of the “Renate Alumnius” resembles Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And, like the little girl in Longfellow’s poem, he was “very good indeed”when sober and “horrid” when inebriated. When he had sobered up, he forgot (or even denied to himself) his “horrid” acts of sexual violence during those drunken house parties, which were too painful for him to own up to and remember. Dr. Jekyll had to take a special potion to become Mr. Hyde; Brett Kavanaugh only had to drink enough beer.

On Saturday, October 6, 2018 Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Having put his previous nominee, Neil Gorsuch, on the Court already, Donald Trump was jubilant. He was short-sighted, however. His victory was Pyrrhic. He had won the battle, but could lose the war. Trump was one of the most destructive and divisive leader in U.S. history, and ultimately self-destructive as well. Like his own election to the U.S. Presidency two years earlier, Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court made the Democrats angrier and more vengeful. Millions of American Republicans were expected to vote for the Democrats in the midterm election the following month. The Republicans were expected to lose the House of Representatives, opening the door to a new Congressional investigation of Justice Kavanaugh., as well as Trump’s impeachment. And Kavanaugh himself, who had guilt feelings, however unconscious, about what he had done in his youth, and about the crooked way he had become Justice of the Supreme Court, could well do something self-destructive in unconscious self-punishment, which would end his career.

Like that of Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll, Brett Kavanaugh’s life — and that of his president — could end in tragedy.