By Hank Beckman -
More than fifty years ago, as I was walking down a crowded street in my hometown after a high school basketball game with a friend, I was the victim of an attack by a complete stranger.
I was told the kid, several years older than I, had run from behind me for about the distance of half a city block, whereupon he threw a roundhouse punch at me that left my nose bloodied, but thankfully, not broken.
I remember to this day the details of the assault; I remember the friend I was with, the older kid who attacked me, and the section of the street where it happened. I remember the older Irish girl—on whom I had a tremendous crush—who checked to make sure I was OK, along with the African-American kids that crossed the street to protect me, telling me that the guy was a fool for doing what he did.
As it happens, the kid who attacked me was also African-American. It was the late sixties, the era of the “long hot summer” in which entire sections of inner cities had gone up in flames, including the West Side of Chicago, where I was born and lived until my family moved out of the neighborhood.
The town in which I actually grew up, then segregated residentially but integrated academically, saw its share of racial troubles, including full-scale riots, the worst of which was prompted in my senior year by the vicious beating of a white sophomore female by black males.
Although most African Americans I knew were not bigoted or resentful of white people—remarkable in itself, considering the country’s history—it was not exactly unusual to hear of a random, unprovoked attack on a white kid.
So if some white person today claims that they were attacked by a specific black person, I automatically believe the accusation. No forensic evidence is needed, I don’t require witnesses, and the victim’s credibility is not in any way compromised by conflicting details of the attack or the outright denials of any witnesses cited by the victim.
Because it happened to me and several people that I know, the accuser must be believed. It feels true.
I hope the reader recognizes the preceding paragraph as among the silliest ever written in the English language. But that is exactly the position taken by the normally-sane Caitlin Flanagan regarding Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that a 17-year-old Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape her at a house party when she was 15.
“I Believe Her. When I was in high school I faced my own Brett Kavanaugh,” was the title of Flanagan’s Sept. 17 article in The Atlantic magazine. Apparently Flanagan had a similar experience in her teenage years, and that led her to believe Ford’s accusation.
Flanagan describes her 17-year-old self as a troubled kid, one who had trouble adjusting socially after being transplanted before her senior year in high school from her native California to Long Island, where her father took a new job.
Already depressed—blaming it in part on her family situation—things seemed to brighten when a boy she’d had her eye on offered her a ride home. But instead he decided to take a detour to a deserted beach parking lot where he tried to rape her.
She fought him off, but her depression understandably worsened—to the point where she actively considered suicide. Even though the boy was remorseful and eventually offered a tearful apology, the experience was seared into Flanagan’s psyche to the point where a similar accusation from Ford convinced her that Brett Kavanaugh was guilty of attempted rape.
Flanagan wrote this before any testimony from Ford or Kavanaugh, before any other witnesses had been heard from, and before Kavanaugh had any chance to really defend himself before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the nation, other than to issue a statement categorically denying the accusation.
All it took was a Washington Post article (Sept. 16), and the reference in it to Ford’s therapy to convince Flanagan that she was telling the truth.
Do we really want to start down this path? Is a mere accusation of sexual assault, with no corroborating evidence, no witnesses, and an ever-shifting narrative where even witnesses offered decline to confirm the charge, enough to ruin a person’s reputation; an accusation made 36 years after the fact?
Flanagan has company in the-it-happened-to-me-so-it-must-be-true school of jurisprudence.
Kirsten Powers’ Oct. 2 column in USA Today recounts a similar experience she had at a party in the 1980s, when she was fed copious amounts of alcohol and woke up with her shirt off and a popular senior basketball player on top of her.
While the boy insisted that all they had done was to snuggle, Powers had her doubts, especially in light of the missing shirt.
She later learned from a friend that she was indeed molested, but explained that the shame she felt in that era prevented her from coming forward. “I thought it was my fault,” she wrote.
Powers doesn’t explicitly state that she believes Ford’s story or that Kavanaugh is lying, but it’s clear that her sympathy rests with the accuser. She eloquently recounts the prevailing attitudes of the era, before a term like “sexual assault” was common.
I don’t have any reason to doubt the stories of either Flanagan or Powers. I’ve regularly read work from both of them, including Powers’ excellent The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech. So I’m not questioning either their motives or decency.
And I’m aware that we all carry preconceived notions about various social phenomena. When I hear reports of youths rampaging through shopping districts or engaging in unprovoked attacks against random strangers, my first impulse isn’t to think those crazy Norwegians are at it again. A black person who’s been turned down for a job might suspect it was due to racism; it’s not as if that never happened before. A legal Hispanic immigrant might suspect he’s being tagged as an illegal alien, because of other Hispanics who’ve been stereotyped. And because of their personal experiences, women like Flanagan and Powers might empathize with a sexual assault survivor.
But those preconceived—and very human—reactions are completely different than simply believing a specific charge against a specific person, without any evidence or corroborating witnesses, decades after the alleged event.
If that is to be our future standard, whether in legal proceedings or being considered for employment, we’re entering a dark age where any accusation, however far-fetched or implausible, can ruin a person’s life and reputation.
As I file this story, the full Senate is preparing to vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. Predictably, the full force of the loony left is pulling out all the stops in an effort to prevent a moderately conservative jurist from taking Anthony Kennedy’s place on the Court.
Extremists are nothing new and have always been with us, on both sides of the aisle; we’re all used to them.
But from Caitlin Flanagan and Kirsten Powers, I expect much better.
Hank Beckman writes from Brookfield, Illinois.