Himpathy, as defined by Cornell University philosophy professor Kate Manne, is the “pathological tendency to disproportionately or excessively sympathize with the male point of view.”
Yesterday, Manne spoke with a friend of mine and a former professor at LSU, Vox‘s Sean Illing, about the concept of “himpathy,” and the ways in which it has manifested during the controversial nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.
Manne elaborates. “(The) tendency to dismiss the female perspective altogether, to empathize with the powerful man over his less powerful alleged female victim, is what I call himpathy,” she tells Illing. “It’s a refusal to take the female perspective seriously, and it amounts to a willful denial rather than a mere ignorance.”
It may be a broad cultural or sociological critique, but “himpathy” is also an elegant explanation of the reaction among partisan Republicans to the instantly-historic testimonies provided by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
And it’s also an accurate diagnosis for how both of Louisiana’s U.S. Senators, Bill Cassidy and John Neely Kennedy, have responded to Dr. Ford’s account of being sexually assaulted by the Supreme Court nominee when they were both teenagers. Even Donald Trump, a man who once bragged on tape about sexually assaulting women, called Dr. Ford a “very credible witness” (though he is still standing behind his nominee, at least for now).
Sens. Cassidy and Kennedy, however, have both attempted to shift the focus away from the extraordinary decision to open up an FBI investigation into Dr. Ford’s “very credible” allegations of sexual assault. Instead, both men seem far more concerned with the way those allegations were disclosed to the Senate and the public.
“What Senate Democrats really want is more time to smear Judge Kavanaugh, regardless of the toll it takes on his wife, his daughters, and our country,” Cassidy wrote on Thursday, in an “exclusive” for the alt-right online publication Breitbart (founded by the late Andrew Breitbart, a graduate of Tulane University in New Orleans). Cassidy is demanding the FBI also investigate “potential coordination between the Democrat operatives and lawyers that assisted in bringing (Dr. Ford’s allegations).”
He doubled-down on his argument in an interview Saturday morning on “Fox and Friends.”
Without citing any evidence, Cassidy argued that a cabal of unnamed Democrats must have conspired to “smear” Kavanaugh through a “coordinated” campaign. The FBI, he said, must investigate them too.
But Cassidy isn’t alleging any crime was committed, even if there was “coordination” (which is dubious, considering Dr. Ford first disclosed her identity to The Washington Post). No, he’s just indignant about the timing of that disclosure, the political optics, and as he has made abundantly clear, he’s far more concerned about how these allegations became public and not if Kavanaugh’s denial or Ford’s account can be substantiated.
There are significant and compelling reasons to believe Dr. Ford’s testimony, and most Republicans have been careful not to impugn her, focusing instead on Michael Avenatti’s representation of a third accuser as an example of the politicization of the process.
Cassidy, however, implies Dr. Ford could be a participant in his elaborate conspiracy theory about a coordinated smear campaign.
He demands the FBI also investigate notes from Dr. Ford’s psychologists, falsely claiming that those records- which were referenced in The Washington Post‘s very first report- are somehow unverified. He incorrectly asserts those notes are the only corroborating evidence provided by Dr. Ford, when, in fact, she also submitted sworn affidavits from four different people who verified that she had told them about the sexual assault months- and in some cases, years- before Kavanaugh’s name had ever been mentioned as a potential Supreme Court Justice.
And, of course, she also gave her own testimony, under penalty of perjury, in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the entire country.
Similarly, John Neely Kennedy, Louisiana’s junior senator who has earned national attention for his work on the Judiciary Committee, has also largely ignored or dismissed the allegations made by Dr. Ford. Like his colleague, Kennedy is much more sympathetic to Kavanaugh.
Prior to Thursday’s committee meeting, Kennedy was repeatedly asked, on video, about voting in favor of a nominee who has been accused of sexual assault. Kennedy panicked. He called for security. The question was never answered.
This is what Manne means when she talks about “himpathy;” both Cassidy and Kennedy have reflexively- perhaps instinctually- decided to empathize with another powerful man, and both have refused to “take the female perspective seriously.”
Christine Blasey Ford may have been a “very credible witness,” but she must be confusing Brett Kavanaugh with someone else. She may have stated, under oath, that she’s 100% certain it was Kavanaugh who assaulted her, but she can’t even remember the exact date or the address of the location. Bill Cassidy needs to see the notes from her doctor!
Before Dr. Ford testified on Thursday, it may have been easier for like-minded conservatives to believe in his innocence or to argue that the good judge was being victimized by a coordinated smear campaign. But afterward, the only excuse now offered is that Dr. Ford is misremembering things, even if- bless her heart- she thinks she is telling the truth. They’re himpathetic.
We need to remember what this discussion is ultimately about: The credibility and integrity of the highest court in the country.
On Thursday, we saw an earnest and honest college professor tell the entire nation about one of the most traumatic experiences of her life. She was exceedingly respectful to the committee; she never obfuscated. She acknowledged the lapses in her memory, the missing details, and the personal reasons she had kept her story to herself for so many years. She was authentic.
The man who would like to serve as the next Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court said he didn’t even listen to Dr. Ford’s testimony, which- in and of itself- shouldn’t inspire confidence in his approach to the law.
He lumbered in the hearing room, scowling, and he began his remarks by implying the woman that the entire nation had just heard from was a pawn in a political campaign against him. Bless her heart. He spoke about “left-wing” organizations financing attacks. He blamed “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.”
And then he started crying, while speaking about his father- who is still very much alive- mentoring him on the art of calendaring, as he introduced what he hoped would be exculpatory evidence: His calendar from the summer of 1982.
He told us how much he liked beer, still likes it, and whenever questioned about his drinking, he tried to turn the question back on the senator asking it. “Do you like beer?” “Have you (gotten blackout drunk)?”
Throughout the hearing, the nominee was belligerent, disrespectful, and nakedly partisan, and none of those are qualities of a Supreme Court Justice. At least, they shouldn’t be. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, the Court’s credibility on split decisions, particularly those regarding contentious issues in our politics, will be irreparably undermined.
Kavanugh lied about the meaning of commonly-known sexual innuendos he’d written in his yearbook. He claimed it would have been virtually impossible for him to have ever had time to attend the party Dr. Ford described, even though his own calendar proved otherwise.
For the 53.9% of the country that voted against Donald Trump and rejected the Republican Party’s new orthodoxy, the manufactured urgency of confirming a nominee accused of sexual assault seems all too predictable, albeit ironic considering the story of Merrick Garland. This is the kind of presidency we expected and feared and warned about: The era of himpathy.