Anita Hill, who reluctantly testified at the 1991 hearings on Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, has written a powerful rejoinder to Thomas’ new book. She corrects a great many lies and distortions. I recommend it.
It also occurs to me that Anita Hill’s experience, which seemed to be so much “yesterday’s news,” has loomed present and relevant, if unnocticed, ever since. The blueprints of the political deathstar that has become right-wing discourse were there, televised for us all:
- Slime. A distinguished conservative law professor was villified, her personality invented whole cloth and trashed, and unseemly behavior made up on the spot, like a bad Grand Funk Railroad riff, for no other reason than her presence threatened their guy.
- Misdirection. The hearings were all about the foibles of one Clarence Thomas, namely, sexual harrasment and an obsession with pornography. The deathstar made it about anything but.
- Role-reversal: Ms. Hill, a victim of sexual harrasment, came to be tagged a central aggressor in a putative “high-tech lynching” of Thomas.
- Vacuuming the MSM: They were sucked right in. It became “all Anita, all the time,” with very few pausing to say, “you know, this Supreme Court nominee strikes us as one sleazy guy.”
The collection of tactics now known as “Rovian” was perfected back then. Anita Hill is relevant as long as the deathstar of political discourse remains. And the future is far from secure, as Ms. Hill herself points out:
Regrettably, since 1991, I have repeatedly seen this kind of character attack on women and men who complain of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. In efforts to assail their accusers’ credibility, detractors routinely diminish people’s professional contributions. Often the accused is a supervisor, in a position to describe the complaining employee’s work as “mediocre” or the employee as incompetent. Those accused of inappropriate behavior also often portray the individuals who complain as bizarre caricatures of themselves — oversensitive, even fanatical, and often immoral — even though they enjoy good and productive working relationships with their colleagues.
Finally, when attacks on the accusers’ credibility fail, those accused of workplace improprieties downgrade the level of harm that may have occurred. When sensing that others will believe their accusers’ versions of events, individuals confronted with their own bad behavior try to reduce legitimate concerns to the level of mere words or “slights” that should be dismissed without discussion.
Fortunately, we have made progress since 1991. Today, when employees complain of abuse in the workplace, investigators and judges are more likely to examine all the evidence and less likely to simply accept as true the word of those in power. But that could change. Our legal system will suffer if a sitting justice’s vitriolic pursuit of personal vindication discourages others from standing up for their rights.