The correct response to a white nationalist president is to relentlessly resist and call out his behavior as dangerously abnormal.
She just doesn’t get it.
“We will strive for bipartisanship, with fairness on all sides,” announced Nancy Pelosi on the night of November 6. “We must try” to find “common ground” with President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, she told a rally in Washington, D.C. as victory after victory in the midterms confirmed a new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, adding: “ We’ll have a bipartisan marketplace of ideas that makes our democracy strong.”
My heart sank as I listened to her speak. Did she really believe this platitudinous nonsense? And if so, where has she been the past two years? In a coma?
In fact, forget the past 24 months in which an unhinged president praised Nazis, banned Muslims, caged kids, and obstructed justice. Consider only the events of the past seven days, since Pelosi made her pious pledge.
The morning after the midterms, Trump fired his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and appointed a political crony, Matthew Whitaker, as the new “acting” attorney general — a move described by former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo as “unconstitutional.”
Trump denounced CNN journalist Jim Acosta as an “enemy” of the people and then stripped him of his White House press pass. “Out of line” and “unacceptable” was the response from White House Correspondents’ Association.
He insulted three black female reporters, dismissing questions from CNN’s Abby Phillip and “PBS NewsHour’s” Yamiche Alcindor as “stupid” and “racist,” while calling American Urban Radio Networks’ April Ryan a “loser”.
He promised to adopt a “warlike posture” if House Democrats dared to open investigations into his financial and political dealings, and vowed to use the Republican majority in the Senate to go after them in response.
He threatened to cut federal funding to California over “poor” forest management in the midst of the deadliest fires in the state’s history. (Firefighters on the ground say the fires have “nothing to do with forest management.”)
He took to Twitter to make unfounded claims of “fraud,” “electoral corruption,” and “massively infected” ballots in the election recounts in Florida and Arizona, in a brazen and partisan attempt to secure victory for Republican candidates in both states. “In a month of harrowing news,” noted Cornell University political scientist Tom Pepinsky, an expert on authoritarian politics, “this development is still almost incalculably bad for American democracy.”
All the while, Congressional Republicans stayed silent. With the exception of the retiring Jeff Flake, not a word of criticism, or dissent, from any of them.
Yet this is the far-right president and party that Pelosi wants to do deals with. This is the motley collection of racists and misogynists, of con artists and conspiracy theorists, that she plans to negotiate “bipartisan” agreements with. She wants to lead a “unifying” Congress, she told CNN’s Chris Cuomo last Thursday, and hopes that Trump will show a new “level of maturity” going forward.
Who is she kidding?
Maybe herself. In September 2017, Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader who also prefers rolling over to resisting, went to the White House to try and persuade Trump to extend protections for young undocumented immigrants. An excited Pelosi and Schumer called it a “very productive” dinner meeting with the president on the subject of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. “We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides,” they said, after tucking into Chinese food in the Blue Room of the White House.
Guess what happened next? The following morning, Trump threw Pelosi and Schumer under the bus. “No deal was made last night on DACA,” the president tweeted. “Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent.”
Yet here we are, more than a year later, with Pelosi telling The Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere last week that Trump might “support bipartisan legislation, whether it’s comprehensive immigration reform, whether it’s Dreamers, whether it’s gun safety.”
Come on, Nancy! Whatever happened to “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”?
To quote liberal megadonor Tom Steyer, Trump and the Republicans are not in the “range of reason” on most policy issues and have “shifted the conversation to places that are so crazy that there’s really no other side to the conversation.”
Has Pelosi really not been paying attention as the GOP, led by Trump, has mounted an assault on everything from voting rights to racial equality to planet Earth itself? And if she has, why then the continuing obsession with “bipartisanship”? “Politics is not a parlor game where good manners always win out,” wrote left-wing activist and co-founder of Data for Progress, Sean McElwee, in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. “It involves questions of power and privilege, which cannot be solved merely with bipartisan brunches.”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not denying that Pelosi was an effective speaker the first time around. Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, the Recovery Act, the Lily Ledbetter Act … all passed on her watch. Few question her ability to count votes — or the lack of a viable challenger from within the Democratic Party. But the job of speaker in the 116th Congress, which will convene in January, can’t only be about passing laws; it has to also be about holding this lawless president to account. Impeachment, therefore, must be on the table — but Pelosi has taken it off the table by naively insisting that it can only be done “in a bipartisan way.”
Let’s be clear: American democracy is in crisis. America’s minorities are, literally, under fire. If the dishonest, racist, corrupt, anti-democratic Donald Trump isn’t worthy of impeachment, then who is? Pelosi should take a pause from her ongoing media tour and listen to the recent discussion that my colleague Jeremy Scahill hosted on his podcast, Intercepted, with NYU historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of “Fascist Modernities” and an expert on Benito Mussolini, and Yale University philosopher Jason Stanley, author of “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.”
“I think right now, we are heading towards, more and more, a one-party state,” Stanley said, explaining Trump’s use of “classic fascist tactics.” Ben-Ghiat said she believed that “we are heading toward … a militarized authoritarian surveillance state,” and “we’re in the middle of a battle for the survival of democracy.”
Got that? A battle for the survival of democracy. Yet the leader of the Democrats in the House wants to talk infrastructure spending and prescription drugs. Her counterpart in the Senate is busy making noise about the size of seats on airplanes. They both seem unable to rise to the occasion; unwilling to recognize the existential danger that Trump poses to the republic.
“We have an obligation to try and find common ground” with the president, Pelosi told CNN last week. Not true. She and her party have an obligation, above all else, to defeat fascism — and you can’t defeat fascism by meeting it in the middle. The correct response to a white nationalist in the White House isn’t to offer him a vague deal on “infrastructure.” It’s to fight and, yes, to resist him at every turn; to loudly and relentlessly call out his rhetoric and behavior as abnormal and un-American.
The next two years will be a battle for the heart, soul, and future of U.S. democracy; it will be a nonstop, 24/7 struggle against incipient fascism and unabashed white nationalism. The president who wants his base to believe that constitutionally mandated recounts are illegitimate, who deploys thousands of troops to the border during an election campaign to stop an “invasion” from a migrant caravan 700 miles away, and who thinks Democrats are “evil” and “crazy” won’t go quietly into the night.
Forget bipartisanship and compromise. There is too much at stake for an out-of-touch and self-defeating kumbaya politics. The job of soon-to-be-Speaker Pelosi is not to negotiate with Trump and the far-right Republicans — only to defeat them.