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Brett Kavanaugh and Jason Van Dyke: more in common than meets the eye

Jason Van Dyke and Brett Kavanaugh

Jason Van Dyke (left) is accused of murder; Brett Kavanaugh is accused of sexual assault. | File photos

So now we wait.

The Senate is expected to vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court some time over the weekend.

And the Jason Van Dyke murder trial for the shooting of Laquan McDonald has gone to the jury.

Two events that mesh together, and not just because they are reaching their climax at the same time.


Both involve the intersection of justice and politics, obviously. Both have been churning social media like a washing machine gone berserk, as partisans argue and evaluate. Like the famous blind men running their hands over an elephant, everybody describes what they perceive before them, never suspecting that the conclusions they reach are based on where they were standing when they began their exploration.

Waiting is hard. The Kavanaugh hearings went on for only a few days, but transfixed the nation, with Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony creating a rippled national shock that for one moment seemed to cut through our national divide into warring camps. Then our division returned, like the metal man in Terminator II, reconstituting itself, the red eye winking to life, raging back in the afternoon with Kavanaugh’s angry, deeply partisan rebuttal that demonstrated his unsuitability for the court far more dramatically than the possibility of a drunken attack 36 years ago.

The Van Dyke trial has gathered steam for three years, since the release of the video cast a pall over Christmas 2015, and lit the fuse on the implosion of Rahm Emanuel’s mayorship. The jury might have delivered its verdict by the time you read this.

Protest outside Leighton Criminal Courthouse

A protest outside the Leighton Criminal Courts Building last month, as jury selection began in the murder trial of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Both situations pivot around figures of authority: Kavanaugh, a right-wing judge picked to push extremist positions like overturning Roe v. Wade, constraining voting rights, and unleashing the power of money to control even more than it does. Van Dyke, a cop, holding the power life or death in his hands, literally, working in a city with a national reputation for shootings and unsolved murders.

Waiting is frustrating. We want to know the answer to the riddle, the punchline to the joke (Not a word I use accidentally. I asked a bright young man whose opinion I respect his take on the Kavanaugh hearings. “Fun!” he replied, with sincere enthusiasm.)

It’s hard to handicap the outcome of either, and unnecessary. “We don’t have to argue about what’s going to happen; we can just wait,” as I like to say. Hope has a way of affecting our bookmaking. I like to fantasize that a few Republican senators see Kavanaugh’s twisted face, his obvious lies about his drinking, and don’t want him on the high court for the next 30 years. Not just for his radical right-wing thumb on the scales of justice. But by the corrupting presence of such a man. He’s a poisoned chalice.

Courage is in short supply on our national scene. The most likely outcome: he is waved in, the forgone conclusion all along.

Anti-Kavanaugh protest

A rally in Boston earlier this month urging senators to reject Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. | Scott Eisen/Getty Images

But even if he isn’t approved, so what? Sure, a rare victory for the shattered, leaderless Democrats. Then the next step: Trump moves his finger down the list of identical far-right judges and goes to the next name: Meet the new judge, same as the old judge.

So with Kavanaugh, it’s really lose-lose.

And for Van Dyke? You can never be certain with a jury. Charging a policeman performing his job, no matter how recklessly, with murder seems extreme. The city is convulsed either way. If he walks, then unrest is almost certain. Rev. Michael Pfleger has already called to shut the city down. If Van Dyke is found guilty, then the fellow cops who gathered in a protective knot around him will feel even more besieged and oppressed than they already do, which is saying a lot, and sulk in their station houses, insisting they can’t do their jobs if they’re expected not to empty all 16 rounds into a teenager as he lies dying in the street.

So call that a lose-lose too.

A lot of lose-lose going around lately. The underlying problems — the bone-deep sexism in one, the automatic racism in the other — moved our two protagonists, Kavanaugh and Van Dyke, like a pair of marionettes. It feels too easy, blaming them, as neither created any of this. They just showed up and did what they thought they were supposed to do.