A Swedish proverb that is applicable for consideration in the current polarized political climate is as follows: Man hör vad man vill höra. Originally from the 1981 publication “Svenska Ordspråk” by Fredrik Ström, a prolific Swedish writer and prominent Social Democrat, the proverb translates to: You hear what you want to hear. This is a statement that is particularly resonant to the current hyperpolarized, toxic and tribal political arena that continues to engulf the United States. After the election of Donald Trump, an individual termed by many liberals (including myself) as a bigoted demagogue, the trenches were dug: liberals and progressives on the left and conservatives on the right. In an op-ed for The Washington Post titled “In Trump’s America, tribalism reigns,” Paul Waldman notes how the United States is now becoming more tribal than ever before. Combative, bombastic partisan language only intensifies this tribalism, as exhibited by Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) partisan tirade at Kavanaugh’s hearing imploring his fellow Republican senators to vote “yes” on Trump’s nominee. The left is berating the right. The right is lambasting the left. We are getting nowhere politically. Politics is becoming more insular, on both sides of the aisle. This is why I am offering the opinion in this article that liberals and conservatives here at Bowdoin, and in our country as a whole, are hearing what we want to hear and nothing else. This is something we need to change.
In a response to reading an op-ed printed on October 11, 2018 titled “I am Brett Kavanaugh” and seeing the maelstrom of criticism of it on Facebook, I wanted to offer my opinion. Though I totally disagree with the article, there are important, implicit issues that it raises. Historically, the author is right in that the United States is a nation where the law states that someone is innocent until proven guilty. Yes, I do not deny that. A critique I have of the inclusion of the comment is that it implies an “innocent” or “guilty” verdict, verdicts decided in a court of law. Kavanaugh’s hearing was not a trial, at least not in the legal sense. It was more like a supplemental job interview. It was never the case that Kavanaugh would be jailed if he was found ‘guilty.’ The only issue that mattered was that he was being nominated to a life-term to the highest court in the land: The Supreme Court of the United States.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford stepped forward and whole-heartedly accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her decades prior, exacerbating the debate. Though the investigation conducted by the FBI at the behest of Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ.) brought up no corroborating evidence, Kavanaugh gave such a battery of partisan fusillades to Democrats that his temperament, or his lack thereof, should have disqualified him for consideration. To echo Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Kavanaugh was not the right nominee for this point in historical time. Though there is information that we know and do not know, what we do know is that Ford’s accusation meant recounting a traumatic experience and Kavanaugh’s reaction was a blistering partisan broadside. There is more confusion than clarity at this point.
While we should not, as the author of the contentious Orient op-ed pointed out, consider people guilty before they are proven innocent, we also should not disregard personal memory—or trauma—for the sake of only having tangible, literal evidence. It goes both ways. Yet, again, evidence to prove someone is “guilty” also connotes that they are on trial. Kavanaugh was not being tried in a traditional courtroom.
Since Kavanaugh is now the ninth Supreme Court Justice, we must all recognize that in this hyperpolarized time, divisions are ripe to become deeper and ideological trenches become more pronounced.As Phillippe Cousteau Jr. mentioned in his talk during the opening of the Roux Center for the Environment, it is important nowadays to enter discourse with people who share different views than you and find ways to build bridges with those people. Our aim is not to win others over, but find a common ground and shared viewpoints, or facets of viewpoints, in order to address larger problems facing our society, nation and world. I too need to work on conversing with more conservative people, including some of my own extended family members who I love and cherish deeply as individuals and as relatives, and on understanding their viewpoints while not necessarily agreeing with them on every single topic. My only hope is that they too, and other conservatives, are able to listen and respect the points of views of liberals such as myself. We can either come closer as a nation or grow further apart. I hope it is the former. I hope we do not just hear what we want to hear.
Beto Wetter is a member of the class of 2019.