A Jury of His Peers

Deborah Harter, Classical and European Studies

I was lucky to be raised in a family of eight that spent a good part of our time talking politics around our kitchen table. My parents were maverick progressives, never hesitating to fight for what they believed. And I was proud both to follow in their footsteps and to cherish a country for what it is at its best even as I protest actions done at its worst.

Which is why the Kavanaugh hearings were painful for me in a way I didn’t see coming. They were not just a moment in history where a credible testimony was ignored, an investigation left undone, a national party exultant in choosing power over principle as it failed the nation. They were also hearings that were a betrayal of my essential optimism—my belief that this country’s ideals are sometimes eclipsed but never undone.

They were an affront, moreover, to the #MeToo movement, the weightiest national rising up in the US since the one of civil rights. A movement that speaks to me in the most personal of ways, it was not enough to slow the catastrophe of that week—not enough not to be submerged by a coterie of powerful men drunk with entitlement, egged on by an insufferable president, furious that a man of lofty credential should be suspected of unlofty action, and silent in the face of a woman whose willing testimony chilled their unwilling chamber.

There was nothing that week—not our president, not a rageful judge, not the epic fury that swirled around and protected him—that wasn’t an insult to Christine Blasey Ford, to the American people, to the Constitution, or to the governing bodies in which we place our trust. I couldn’t help but think of the better wisdom of a story written a century ago. Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers” (1917) begins as the tale of a sheriff and his men whose unfounded assumptions about women prevent their solving a crime, only to end as the tale of their wives—unwitting detectives who accompany the sheriff, uncover the violence of a loveless house, and defeat any rush to judgment.

In a black and white photo, a woman, author Susan Glaspell, sits writing in front of a light colored fireplace. She is wearing a white shirt and dark skirt, and sitting in a rocking chair.
Susan Glaspell, author of “A Jury of Her Peers,” c. 1913

We are not a gentle civilization. We could use to place on trial more often, as in Glaspell’s story, not just our singular misdeeds but also our sometimes absence of human compassion and human decency and the fundamental respect we owe to each other every moment of the day. I hope that we will as we cry into a cosmos we have come too close to tearing apart.