Small World: The classic drama of today’s politics

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

For fans of classic Greek drama these are the best of days. You must be in paradise or at least in the box seats. The struggle between Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Professor Christine Blasey Ford, has all of the essential ingredients of a play by Sophocles or one of his fellow dramatists. The prize on offer is not kingship, of course. Rather, it is America's second best political job: a lifelong seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

First, there are the two principal characters caught up in this tragedy. The judge is the exemplar of a hero. He is strong and engages the world in a physical way as a basketball coach (albeit with a girls’ team, but let that pass). He is wise, intellectually strong, and the author of more than 300 legal opinions from the bench where he sits in Washington, D.C. — the second most prominent court in the nation. He is a proven leader, having earlier made himself valuable as a member of the Bush White House staff. Yet he bends his knee to God, exactly as a Greek hero would do. And, like a Greek, he absolutely denies events that he deems to be false and hurtful.

The judge’s opponent, Dr. Ford, is the perfect recreation of a Greek lady. She is modest. The only photo of her we have seen shows her wearing dark glasses — a sort of modern mask. Although feeling wronged, she did not trumpet her hostility and desire for vengeance against the judge, but quietly bided her time, waiting decades for the right moment to strike. Some 3,000 miles from where she says she was assaulted, she has waited and [says] she did not forget. Like Antigone, she is guided by a higher calling than earthly laws and the practical considerations of everyday life.

Then we have that major Greek contribution to the theater arts: the chorus of conflicting voices that always has something thoughtful to comment on as the action unfolds. We may depend on Republican and Democrat senators and ordinary men and women in varying mixtures to offer us guidance that will be amplified by the media. Never mind if you miss a line here and there — we heard this plot laid out a decade back when Clarence Thomas was confirmed for the Supreme Court over a similar disputed truth.

Put these ingredients together and stir repeatedly. We know from the classics that the result is almost certain to be a tragic loss for one side, and quite probably for all the actors on all sides. Why is that? Again, we know the answer, i.e. the root cause: It is hubris, or overweening pride. Is there nothing to be done to save these two admirable and noble individuals? Can they not become the authors of a kinder fate — for their benefit and for ours?

Well, yes, there is a way out. The medicine prescribed is a good dose of humility, which must be repeated as necessary. It should be administered in public, no matter how loudly the chorus warns or cheers for or against yielding. Let the judge admit that he has only a dim memory of some regrettable, but youthful misbehavior and apologize for it. For her part, the professor should also acknowledge the likelihood of error, a product of decades of brooding. Let her offer forgiveness, if a wrong was, in fact, committed.

If, however, if neither actor will back down — or budge even a metaphysical meter or so — we shall have a traditional tragic Greek ending. Then, alas, we shall surely see a continuation, probably an augmentation, of the vile bitterness that for too long has defined relationships in our political community.

Pay close attention, for there is every chance that this modern tragedy will play out its final scenes on a wider stage, affecting us all for decades to come.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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