We Can’t Judge Brett Kavanaugh by the Arsons of His Youth

I’ll be the first to admit that blocking Merrick Garland’s nomination was a disgrace. American discourse may never recover from the descent of Supreme Court nominations into partisan politics. That tragedy doesn’t justify dragging the arsons of Judge Kavanaugh’s youth into the court of public opinion.

High school is a confusing time. No teenager has a full grasp of the impact that two liters of kerosene, a zippo lighter, and a grudge against the local 7-11 can have on a community. Condemning a middle-aged professional for an adolescent flirtation with molotov cocktails is a dangerous road. I don’t think any of us wants to see how far it goes.

Moreover, cultural attitudes towards arson have changed. It’s easy to condemn torching a community center from the modern high ground. But Kavanaugh’s alleged arson took place thirty years before the #ScorchMarks movement brought human flammability into the national conversation. We’re simply in a more burn-conscious world, and should avoid the instinct for post-facto judgement.

Consider the information lost to time. Were those Judge Kavanaugh’s matches, or his neighbor’s? How reliable is a thirty-year-old memory of him tossing an oil-soaked rag through a church’s open window? Don’t chemical plants burn themselves down from time to time? I, for one, question the value of burning–pardon the expression–Congress’s time with unverifiable claims.

True to form, culture war opportunists have already attached the allegations to other (less literal) hot-button issues. Many claim that a sorority or inner city arsonist would never have been allowed to rise as far. While there is a widening gulf between wealthy pyromaniacs and low-income firestarters, these complaints are a transparent diversion from Kavanaugh’s unimpeachable qualifications. Even in a post #ScorchMarks world, sympathy for burn victims shouldn’t subvert the democratic process.

If we must chase this rabbit, I encourage everyone to remember that there are two sides to every story. Yes, homeowners and park rangers should be heard and believed. But in a nation of laws, the accused deserve equal opportunity to be heard. And frankly, in the midst of this moral panic, we should consider our personal skeletons as well. Let he who is without a homemade flamethrower cast the first stone.

Audio Version (Soundcloud)

Leave a Reply