My daughter and I had a quiet Fourth of July. But it was quintessentially American. We baked. We made homemade ice cream with an old-style wooden freezer. We drove to a hill to observe fireworks in Bismarck, ND. We watched a documentary about the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas controversy. We listened to really really patriotic country western music. We grilled steaks.
It may seem pretty geeky to watch a documentary about Anita Hill on the Fourth of July. But we both retired for the night thinking it had been a perfect thing to do. Hill surely told the truth. Thomas surely harassed her, though how gravely is open to question. Hill was assailed by the pro-Thomas people in a way that made me sick to my stomach at the time, and more disillusioned now. She did not come forward to accuse Thomas of anything. She was contacted by the Senate Judiciary Committee. She answered their questions honesty, but with the greatest reluctance. Then she wrote an affidavit to the committee after senate staffers promised that they would keep it strictly confidential.
Clarence Thomas testified bitterly that he was being subjected to a high tech lynching. But if that horrific term can be attached to either of them, it was Hill’s destiny. Senators Orrin Hatch, Arlen Specter, and Alan Simpson attacked Professor Hill (who was not on trial, not subject to cross examination) so aggressively that their harassment may have been more severe than that of Justice Thomas.
Irrespective of the facts of the case, the whole circus was not a good moment for American democracy. But surely what Jefferson had in mind was a dignifiedprocess in which our representatives attempt to ascertain the truth, not merely pursue naked power, self-aggrandizement, fame, or the party line. We have descended into a maelstrom of grotesque partisanship, and the idea that our government representatives would deliberate in a civil, rational, and generous fashion is now considered merely quaint.
By any measure, Clarence Thomas has proved to be a mediocrity on the Supreme Court. That has nothing to do with his pre-court behavior with Anita Hill. I’m not sure that his harassment signified that he should not be confirmed to the Supreme Court–any application of the “whole man” template perhaps puts him in a slightly less bad light, and when you compare his alleged actions to those of Bill Clinton or Robert Packwood of Oregon, Thomas seems like a relatively low-level predator.
My point is that we blow off fireworks on the Fourth of July, and tear up (against our better judgment) over Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” but what we are celebrating is America not the American republic, which has long since thrown up its hands….