When Senator Ron Johnson (R — WI) was on yesterday’s Meet the Press, we heard a familiar refrain: A man deciding to take another man at his word when presented with a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Chuck Todd of Meet the Press merely asked Sen. Johnson to elaborate on a Wall Street Journal quote attributed to him, of his reaction when the U.S. ambassador to the European Union told him that President Donald Trump had withheld military aid to Ukraine for political reasons. “At that suggestion, I winced. My reaction was: Oh, God. I don’t want to see those two things combined,” Johnson told the Wall Street Journal. After some broad gestures toward deflection were not fruitful, Johnson finally answered Todd’s pressing: “When I asked the President about that, he completely denied it. He adamantly denied it. He vehemently, angrily denied it. He said, ‘I’d never do that.’” (It, I presume, meaning withholding financial aid to Ukraine for political pressure.)
We are still embroiled in unpacking what exactly happened in Donald Trump’s — the motivation and the goals — but given that Johnson, as the chairman of the Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over the region that includes Ukraine, is the senator most embroiled in this growing scandal, wouldn’t he want and need more than an angry denial from a compulsive liar? I mean, for his own peace of mind and with his reputation at stake, wouldn’t Johnson at least need persuasive evidence beyond a verbal denial to be convinced? On the left side of the scale is mounting evidence, including the smoking gun itself, on the other end of the scale is a single man’s refutation, and the scale, in Johnson’s mind at least, tips to the right?
Where have we seen this before, this willingness of powerful white men to deny substantiated reality and invest in the words of their fellow powerful men? I learned about suspension of disbelief as an undergraduate taking a theater class, but are we really expected to use this as our way of interpreting objective reality?
If men like Johnson have their way, yes, we are. We need to look no further, for example, at how Trump took the word of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his denial of orchestrating the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi despite the strong intelligence findings to the contrary. And how he took Kim Jong-un’s words at face value when it came to the torture and killing of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier. Or when he said that Vladimir Putin was “extremely strong and powerful” in his denial at interfering with the 2016 election, and, despite the abundant evidence that contradicts this assertion, that was enough for Trump. (I suspect that all Vlad needed to do was shrug and say “Nyet” for Trump to believe him, though.) Or when he had the gall to apologize to then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for facing scrutiny over sexual abuse and misconduct allegations because the bro, who had everything to lose, denied it? It goes on and on.
This support of men by word alone is not isolated to Senator Johnson and Donald Trump, though the latter, at least, is an extreme example of someone who abides by it, probably because he has needed his supporters to rally behind him during his lifetime of racking up accusations of sexual assault, cheating, racism and scamming people. Yes, Trump is a flagrant example of maintaining the bro code, but what he and those like him expose is a stubborn and consistent adherence to a patriarchal ideology of believing men in power despite all evidence to the contrary. We are expected to throw reason, evidence, history, patterns and objective reality aside when a man utters words to the contrary. At the mere denial of a man, we are expected to collude with baselessness and uphold fallaciousness against everything compelling that contradicts it.
This is gaslighting. This is participating in a ruse. This is illogical. This is unacceptable.
Everyone deserves their day in court, but a denial ain’t it.