I saw the opera Aida recently at a theater offering Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera. Seeing it on the same day that Kavanaugh was hurriedly being sworn in, I couldn’t help but compare the two situations.
In Aida, the Egyptian authorities will condemn Radames, the leader of the Egyptian Army, for betraying his country. Radames loves Aida, now a slave in Egypt but secretly the daughter of Amonasro, the Ethiopian king. Aida loves Radames but suddenly Amonasro turns up. He demands Aida find out from Radames which route the Egyptian Army will take in its next attack on Ethiopia. (The story gets fuzzy here because Radames and his army have already defeated Ethiopia and have just held a tremendous victory parade, with live horses and all sorts of acrobats and beautiful dancers onstage, but never mind.) Aida meets Radames, with Amonasro hidden nearby, and pressures Radames for the route. Radames tells her and Amonasro overhears. The Egyptian officials then capture and condemn Radames. (We don’t know what happens between the two armies, that’s not the issue in the opera.)
Most summaries of Aida simply say Radames “betrayed” Egypt. Treason must be an intentional act. I don’t think Radames intentionally revealed the army’s plans to Amonasro. He and Aida were talking of fleeing Egypt to find true happiness in the desert. They needed to escape Aida’s rival, Amneris, the Egyptian queen, who would be sure to track them down. (I’m summarizing tremendously and overlooking many of the beautifully sung pro’s and con’s and what-shall-we-do’s. Opera gets complicated.) Aida presses Radames for a quiet place they can escape to and a route that will avoid the Egyptian soldiers. Radames says, well our route to attack the Ethiopians will be deserted for a day until our army advances; you and I could use that route to look for a desert hideaway. Aida knows her father is listening in but Radames doesn’t and has no idea he has just given his plans to the enemy. So he is innocent of treason I think. But loose lips do sink ships and Radames has just revealed the all-important plans to the Ethiopians, whether he intended to or not.
Aida and Radames will sing most beautifully until their tragic ending but that is not our focus here. The question for me is: how does all this relate to what we just saw in the Kavanaugh hearing and the farcically narrow re-investigation? (Trump to the media: the FBI can investigate anything it wants; Trump to the FBI: you can only talk to four people.)
I started by thinking maybe Kavanaugh was Radames and was pressured by his desires for confirmation to betray . . . what, exactly? No, that didn’t work.
Although I was engrossed in the opera (“Don’t tell her the route, Radames!”), the Kavanaugh situation just wouldn’t go away. It somehow seemed so connected to the opera. Not until a few days later did it hit me: it’s not Kavanaugh, it’s Susan Collins! We all thought she was so honest, so reasonable, so thorough, so morally upright. Maybe a little dense: she bought Kavanaugh’s implied argument that because he said Roe v. Wade was “established precedent,” he certainly wouldn’t vote to overturn it. She ignored that his writings specifically argued that the Court could indeed overturn established precedent. But not in the tank for Kavanaugh. Not good, virtuous, upright Senator Collins from the good, virtuous, upright state of Maine. She couldn’t be.
Before the Blasey Ford letter came out, commentators considered Collins to be on the fence. Once the letter was out, and once we all saw Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony, Collins just had to be more than on the fence. Didn’t she? She certainly wouldn’t stand for a con job, or for a sham investigation. . . would she?
Yet she did. And then she gave an hour-long explanation for her vote: Kavanaugh was a brilliant law student and then jurist, always of great moral character. To be sure, Dr. Blasey Ford seemed sincere, but she just couldn’t provide corroboration, never mind that Trump had cut off the means to find that corroboration, a real FBI investigation. To Collins, the poor woman just couldn’t be believed without corroboration. Collins wasn’t demanding a “beyond reasonable doubt” standard—-no, she knew this wasn’t a criminal trial—-but without corroboration, Collins was left with a reasonable doubt. (Huh? Isn’t that the “reasonable doubt” standard?)
How could Collins do this? She must have known that a woman who saw her attempted-rapist and had his face “seared” into her brain (“my hippocampus”) would be unlikely to be mistaken. She didn’t consider: the “two front doors” marital argument that reopened the whole experience (who on earth puts in two front doors to their house?) twelve years earlier for Blasey Ford; that in therapy Blasey Ford told her therapist about the attack; that at the same time she told her husband Kavanaugh’s name—-all years before it would have any prominence. Collins also completely ignored the numerous witnesses who were not interviewed and the factual possibilities that were not investigated (it would have been easy for the FBI to find out where the house was by talking to and even driving the area with Blasey Ford).
Why? Radames betrayed (or was tricked into betraying) his country for love of Aida. Why would Collins betray her professed values of truth and thoroughness? Enter the villainous, non-beautiful, non-singing Mitch McConnell. He wasn’t even in favor of Kavanaugh initially; there were plenty of conservative candidates, he initially told Trump, who didn’t have the paper trail Kavanaugh did. Was McConnell somehow like Aida, pressured by Trump (father figure?) to prove himself by jamming the nomination through? Was McConnell psychologically trying to prove himself to Trump and to everybody that he was really the supreme ruler?
But why would Collins cave so quickly and so easily, without a true re-investigation? Did McConnell have something on her? (Doesn’t each Senate party leader, by definition and by LBJ’s example, have something on each member of his side?) But if that were so, she would not have made a show of her independence for so long (or would she, one paranoically wonders?).
Maybe it was to be a positive reward. Maybe McConnell could get Collins something she desperately wanted. But there again, what could Collins reasonably want that she didn’t already have? (Every senator looks in the mirror and sees a president but McConnell couldn’t arrange that.)
We’ll probably never know. But let’s watch Collins carefully over the next few years and see what turns up. Oh yeah, I should add to make sure I seem impartial: if anything.