On the ceiling of the Capitol Rotunda, 180 feet above the floor, there is a painting of George Washington with a banner above his head that reads “E Pluribus Unum,” which is Latin for “out of many, one.”
But as Friday’s theatrics in the U.S. Senate demonstrated, the motto symbolizing the ideal of a unified country that draws people with disparate views together from disparate places is not our current reality.
In fact, that was a central conclusion drawn in a speech delivered by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, as she explained why she would cast a decisive vote in favor of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
“We live in a time of such great disunity,” Collins said. “It is a case of people bearing extreme ill will toward those who disagree with them.”
“The drafters of our Constitution … were acutely aware that different values and interests could prevent Americans from becoming and remaining a single people,” she said. “Their vision of ‘a more perfect Union’ does not exist today, and if anything, we appear to be moving farther away from it.”
Collins was interrupted by protesters as she began her remarks, and Capitol Police cleared the fourth floor of the Dirksen Office Building, where Collins’s office is located, after she finished speaking, to prevent protesters from storming into it.
On Twitter, Collins’s decision to support Kavanaugh was met with rage.
“Never let Collins have a moment of peace in public again,” said Kat Calvin, a lawyer and founder of Spread the Vote, a group that promotes expanding voting access.
Calvin was then targeted with vague threats from those who disagreed with her. “We know where you live,” one anonymous account wrote back.
When Collins posted the full text of her speech to the site, it was met with profanity and insults.
Such is the state of discourse on social media, and such is the state of our politics.
Within moments of the conclusion of Collins’s 45-minute speech, a former top aide to former President Barack Obama, Jen Psaki, joined the fray on Twitter, seeking candidates who might be able to mount a challenge to Collins for her Senate seat in 2020.
“Who wants to run for Senate in Maine? there will be an army of supporters with you,” Psaki tweeted.
Maine resident Susan Rice, Obama’s former national security adviser and ambassador to the United Nations, responded to Psaki with one word: “Me.”
In her speech, Collins explained in detail why she had come to support Kavanaugh.
The Maine Republican said that while she found the woman who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault at a high school party in 1982, Christine Blasey Ford, to be “sincere” and “compelling,” she did not feel Ford’s testimony rose above the threshold of being “more likely than not.”
Collins also issued a scathing rebuke to the unknown “leaker” who gave Ford’s letter first detailing her accusation to the press, despite Ford’s wish to remain anonymous. “To that leaker, who I hope is listening now, let me say that what you did was unconscionable. You have taken a survivor who was not only entitled to your respect, but who also trusted you to protect her — and you have sacrificed her well-being in a misguided attempt to win whatever political crusade you think you are fighting,” Collins said, her voice rising.
“My only hope is that your callous act has turned this process into such a dysfunctional circus that it will cause the Senate — and indeed all Americans — to reconsider how we evaluate Supreme Court nominees,” Collins said.
More than 20 Republican senators sat in the chamber listening with rapt attention. Only three Democrats sat on the other side. Nearly two dozen Democratic staff members, however, watched from benches in the back corner and at times were not able to conceal their discontent with Collins’s decision.