Political Traps

Much has been seen in the wake of the controversial confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court. There have been significant accusations on both sides of the aisle accusing the other of making this hearing into a sensational circus aimed more at playing partisan politics than focused on the confirmation or rejection of the President’s appointment.

What has been lacking in these arguments is any effort to understand why.

Why are the parties making a Supreme Court justice nomination about politics? The easy answer is to assume it’s about power of the party. The next easiest answer, and probably in tandem with the former point, is that it’s about power of the person – in other words, Senators who are individually trying to maintain or elevate their status for re-election purposes or to create opportunity to run in 2020 for President.

But those are the easy answers. What are the deeper ones?

Well the next one has nothing to do with partisan politics but is nonetheless highly emotional and also about bringing attention to a very important, under-appreciated and under-recognized issue, and that is sexual assault, abuse, and the hidden, but pronounced, scars it leaves behind. In so many of us, it was impossible to ignore not only the pain Dr. Ford expressed, but individually, the memories it brought forth. In these moments, it is nearly impossible to maintain a sense of focus on the current situation because the memories of personal experiences hinder our ability to think. We begin to see the person accused as the person that hurt us and the thought of them in power is so painful, so egregious, that one doesn’t just disagree, one doesn’t just argue, one doesn’t patiently and quietly stand by – one carries out an emotional plea hoping that the perceived injustice to oneself is rectified.

This is not partisan politics – this is a huge number of the women in our country reaching out for help – experiencing joint, national-level catharsis – and to suggest that the expression of that pain should be calm, clear, and rational in its delivery is unfair, unreasonable, and disrespectful.

So how is it that so many Senators missed this point? They are mostly attorneys, practiced politicians, and self-selected as people who can withstand and ignore a lot of negativity. To be in these jobs, they necessarily must be people who tend to calmly review reports, people, and situations with an eye for rules, legalities, arguments to win, and an ability to block out all dissention. If they didn’t have these skills well-honed and these personalities, they wouldn’t likely be politicians. Their reactions, in my opinion, are predictable. Just as an Emergency Room doctor would react to a person with a severed arm calmly and focused on assessing and addressing the situation rather than screaming in fear or paralyzed by shock – Politicians will react with focus, arguments, and blinders to dissenters under this kind of a situation. This doesn’t excuse their seeming lack of understanding but it does provide some insight. If we don’t like people with these personalities in public office, then we need to join the many people around the nation standing up to run for the first time. That’s how real change will occur over time.

But right now, there remains an even deeper, even more concerning point that this combination of situations brings to bear and this is the issue that requires the most attention. It is the fact that when we focus on only one action, one moment, one issue at a time, we miss the forest for the trees. I watched a Senator give a very long, very detailed, very supported argument about why the person would confirm Kavanaugh. However, in doing so, this person also revealed a flawed process that failed to recognize the point that with each stove-piped action, the accumulation of uneven power across the nation increases. It is the multi-situational set of issues that creates a larger, more destructive system of problems. In psychology, and I believe in business too, it’s called the foot-in-the-door technique – get people to agree to a series of small actions or agreements and then, without even realizing, they will have agreed to major purchases or changes.

Similar to the fable of the slowly boiled frog, the real threat that was missed in this hearing was that it is one more event that raised the temperature of the nation.

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