An Indelible Blot
When the next vacancy on the Supreme Court opens up—and fingers crossed it won’t be anytime soon—let’s pray that the confirmation battle won’t be as ugly as the last one. In case you’ve forgotten the details, Ruth Marcus reminds us in “Supreme Ambition: Brett Kavanaugh and the Conservative Takeover.”
The fight began with the contentious battle to replace Antonin Scalia after his sudden death in 2016, when Speaker McConnell blocked Obama’s nominee, allowing candidate Trump to appeal to his base by pledging to appoint conservative, pro-life judges to the bench. Marcus contends that the promise of a more conservative court played a large part in the 2016 election, with the subsequent confirmation of Neil Gorsuch a first step toward that goal. Then when Justice Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018, Trump had a chance to establish an even more secure conservative majority on the court.
Oddly, one of the names not on the list of potential nominees was Brett Kavanaugh. Having spent much of his career with the Bush administration—and having served with Kenneth Starr on the Clinton investigation—Kavanaugh was considered by many to be too much a part of “the swamp.” But Kennedy himself recommended his former law clerk and, despite some grumbling among conservatives, he was nominated. As Marcus writes, Kavanaugh’s nomination would “irrevocably change [the] lives [of] the justice whose reputation was forever marred and the shy professor and reluctant witness whose name became a household word.”
We all remember those fraught hearings, at which a “terrified” Christine Blasey Ford offered her intensely personal account of a sexual assault, Kavanaugh delivered an unsettlingly truculent and over-the-top defense, and Senators on both sides pontificated. But Marcus fills in some of the things we didn’t see, such as the attempts to discredit Dr. Ford, the FBI’s refusal to interview witnesses or pursue reports of other incidents (which she calls “nothing sort of a dereliction of duty”), and the partisan stand-offs that thwarted the process every step of the way.
While it took only 101 days from Kennedy’s retirement to Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Marcus believes the effects of that rancorous confirmation battle, which “plunged the country into yet another anguished, angry national conversation” will continue to resonate. “The Kavanaugh confirmation discredited the White House and the Senate,” she writes, “and his tenure will forever have an asterisk attached—a blot on Kavanaugh and the court that is, to use Christine Blasey Ford’s phrase, indelible.”
Ruth Marcus is a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post and deputy editor of the editorial page. Find her on Twitter @RuthMarcus.
A Silver Lining
There’s not much to celebrate about being stuck at home during a pandemic. Despite the pleasures of wearing elastic-waist pants and getting to know all the birds in your backyard, it would be hard these days for anyone—even Eric Idle—to sing a convincing chorus of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
There is one area, though, where you may actually be able to expand your horizons. Freed from space and geographical limitations, bookstores from all over the country are now making their programming available online.
Check out the Washington Post’s virtual literary event calendar (www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/events/cal) and you’ll find offerings from as far afield as San Francisco, Martha’s Vineyard, Houston, Los Angeles, and Madison, Wisconsin. Many are free, some require tickets or the purchase of a book—which is only fair—and together they present a wonderfully broad and eclectic entrée into today’s literary scene.
Many local venues have stepped up to the electronic challenge and are inviting readers to join them for readings, discussions, and book clubs. Here is a sampling, by no means complete, of what’s available around town:
East City Bookshop
ECB maintains an energetic slate of events, including a recent reading by Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri, as well as an expanded selection of book clubs such as Really Reading Romance, Well-Read Black Girl Book Club, Social Justice Book Club, and clubs for middle readers and tweens.
The Folger Shakespeare Library
In addition to a virtual book club called “Words, Words, Words” (Julie Schumacher’s “The Shakespeare Requirement” will be discussed on Sept. 3), the Library offers podcasts, streaming talks, and a chat show called “Shakespeare Lightning Round” where guests are quizzed about their favorite—and least favorite—things about the Bard.
The Hill Center
The Center has moved its classes and presentations online, including a book club—the pick on Sept. 15 will be “Carville’s Cure” by Pam Fessler with Lynn Neary of NPR—and
Talk of the Hill with Bill Press, which will feature Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report on Sept. 22 (viewers may submit questions in advance). Also, don’t miss Paul Rivas, local educator and author of “This Book Will Not Be on the Test,” who demonstrates how to create an online course on Sept. 2.
Literary Hill BookFest
If you missed our virtual event in May, you can still go online and see a variety of recorded panel discussions, poetry, children’s readings, and videos featuring local authors such as Garrett Peck, E. Ethelbert Miller, Jonathan Bardzik, Louis Bayard, Katy Kelly, and many more.
Highlighting “the diverse voices and creatives that make our communities great,” this Petworth bookstore continues to host a full schedule of virtual book clubs, including Agatha Christie + Sherry Club, Antiracist Book Club, and Memoir Book Club, as well as panel discussions and author events.
Solid State Books
The H Street store hosts a variety of book clubs, including Lit on H Street, SciFi Book Club, and Persistence + Prose: A Feminist Book Club, as well as author talks and story times, all of which you can now join virtually.
The Smithsonian now offers its full range of art, history, cooking, and cultural programs online, including a series of discussions this fall called “Windows on the World: Reading Literature from Many Cultures,” with selections by Arundhati Roy, Julia Alvarez, and Margaret Atwood.
Capitol Hill Books
Alas, our beloved Eastern Market bookstore is not currently hosting virtual events, but they are selling books online and they maintain a hilarious Twitter feed that’s not to be missed (@chbooksdc).
DC Noir at the Bar
This program of readings by writers who specialize in crime fiction has gone virtual in support of DMV bookstores. Eight to ten authors read at the weekly event and viewers are encouraged to buy books from various local independent bookstores.
Politics and Prose
No listing would be complete without this DC literary hub, which is now streaming its complete line-up of book talks and discussions, including a dual presentation on Sept. 1 by superstar authors Louise Penny and Hilary Rodham Clinton.