Yiddish is a language that has a lot of words that express personality qualities and types, particularly loser types or mean types or conniving types. These words often combine humor with rueful sarcasm and cynical realism about the vagaries of the human condition.

One of those words is “chutzpah.” You’re probably familiar with it, because it passed into the American vernacular some time ago. It is usually translated as something like “audacity,” and it most often contains an element of outrageous gall [my emphasis]:

Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish defines chutzpah as “gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible ‘guts’, presumption plus arrogance such as no other word and no other language can do justice to”. In this sense, chutzpah expresses both strong disapproval and condemnation. In the same work, Rosten also defines the term as “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan”. Chutzpah amounts to a total denial of personal responsibility, which renders others speechless and incredulous…

The left’s attack on Kavanaugh starts with the following: take a man with a sterling public record during his entire life, mount an attack on his integrity that involves an unsubstantiated, uncorroborated, impossible-to-defend-against charge of sexual attack (up to and including gang rape), and do it at the pinnacle of his career, unleashing a social media war against him of the most vicious kind, including death threats towards him and his family. Do that publicly while cloaking yourself in self-aggrandizing sanctity, and make him sit there and listen.

But that’s not the “chutzpah” part I’m talking about. The real chutzpah part is this: if he acts at all angry in his response to being defamed in that way, say that his anger shows that he doesn’t have the temperament to be a justice, despite the fact that it is well-documented that he has shown an exemplary judicial temperament for his entire previous career as a judge.

And one more thing: if he hadn’t shown anger in response to these extreme charges against him and their public airing in the United States Senate, accuse him of lacking the appropriate outrage that would have been the sure mark of an innocent man. Does any fair-minded person doubt that would have been the outcome, had Kavanaugh not been angry?

“Chutzpah” is too light a word to describe that kind of ploy.

But still another word for what the left has done to Kavanaugh—a more technical and academic one—is that they placed him in a “double bind,” which is:

…a situation in which a successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other (and vice versa), so that the person will automatically be wrong regardless of response. The double bind occurs when the person cannot confront the inherent dilemma, and therefore can neither resolve it nor opt out of the situation…

Thus, the essence of a double bind is two conflicting demands, each on a different logical level, neither of which can be ignored or escaped. This leaves the subject torn both ways, so that whichever demand they try to meet, the other demand cannot be met.

So Kavanaugh’s anger elicited intense criticism, and lack of anger on his part would have done the same. I doubt that Judge Kavanaugh anticipated the nature of the bind he was in, unless he’s unusually psychologically astute. But even if he had foreseen it and tried to prepare for it, it’s nearly impossible to find a way out of a double bind and its contradictory demands.

I have previously discussed the importance of understanding the difference between process arguments and content arguments (please see this post for more detail). If you are caught in a double bind—such as the dilemma Kavanaugh faced—it is best to “go process” and address the underlying double bind itself rather than just the content of the argument at hand. To “go process” takes an unusual amount of psychological and communicative savvy, and an understanding of the content-process distinction.

Most people don’t have that knowledge. But I think it might have helped had Kavanaugh said something like this:

You may think I may sound outraged and angry, and no doubt some people will criticize me for that. But I believe that any person who knows that he or she is innocent and yet is accused of the kind of offenses I’ve been accused of here today would feel and express the same very controlled anger. What’s more, if I showed no such emotion when faced with these charges, charges that violate everything I hold dear, you would criticize me just as strongly for not showing the appropriate emotion, and you would blame me for that. It’s a classic double bind, where no reaction is okay and all reactions are fodder for the criticism mill.

When I say that sort of statement might have helped Kavanaugh, I don’t mean it would have prevented criticism. He would have been criticized for saying what I’ve suggested, too. But still, I have noticed that “going process” and revealing the underlying game being played by the opposition is generally a good tactic, because there may be some listeners who will then understand what’s happening. The tactic of going process offers the only chance of breaking the Gordian knot of the double-bind.

It’s also a tactic that often surprises the opposition; they rarely expect it. But to be successful, the person making the statement has to have either anticipated the double bind and the form it will take, or at least must be able to recognize the double bind while it’s in progress, which is also very difficult to do. One of the many goals of placing someone in a double bind is to confuse the person in real time so that, unless he/she is quite sophisticated about human communication patterns, that person will fail to recognize what’s going on.

Another aspect of the criticism of Kavanaugh’s anger is that it delegitimizes what is felt to be a typically masculine response. Even controlled and highly appropriate verbal anger, when exhibited by a man (a white man in particular), will now be labeled inappropriate and frightening and disqualifying as an example of toxic masculinity—if the man is on the non-leftist side of the political fence, that is.

In line with this, Kavanaugh was also criticized for crying—another indication that there was no response of his that wouldn’t have been criticized. The basic point is that all responses are forbidden and there are no choices left except to point out the game.

[Neo is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at the new neo.]

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