Nancy Pelosi: the Linchpin to American Democracy

The Speaker is the last thread by which our democracy hangs.

For the most part, we have overcome fascism. Sort of. The issue at play within American democracy and the reason Trump became President, or even was the Republican candidate is because we as a country never properly dealt with the failures in our system laid bare after the Civil War. Rather than trying the rebels for treason they were not only issued a blanket pardon (another issue we’ll have to discuss at a later date) but many of them were given important society and academic positions and enshrined as heroes in the American mythos. As Isabel Wilkerson points out in her book Caste, Germany imprisoned and executed its fascist traitors and erected memorials to their victims while in the United States we — counterintuitively— did the exact opposite.

I know to a lot of white people that sounds like a massive tangent, but it’s why our democracy is imperilled. If you want a representative democracy everyone has to have equal access to and regard within the institutions. Stratification inevitably leads to fascism.

Trump was able to secure the Presidency in 2016 because of people’s refusal to vote for a woman, particularly a woman who upheld the ideals of equality and was well regarded among people of colour. Despite a lot of Republican and Independent voters’ racism and sexism she still won the general election by millions of votes, but as I’ve repeated ad nauseum, the Electoral College is problematic.

For years, it has been women who stood between America and the abyss. They have done it in the form of a handful of elected officials, as academics, as lawyers, as writers, and as activists. Many to all of these women overcame bigotry and overtly sexist attacks. They were vilified for their mere existence and many of them were written out of history, or repurposed and declawed so as to fit the narrative of white men.

Nancy Pelosi, the first and only woman to rise to the position of Speaker of the House is one of these women. Pelosi is routinely attacked for her age, tenacity, experience, and love of chocolate ice cream. These are not attacks that would be seriously levelled against a white man. In actual fact, many to most white men in elected office today are patently less qualified for any job including the one they hold than Nancy Pelosi.

But, this is the problem. Nancy Pelosi is absurdly competent. There is no one in the Democratic Party and arguably in the history of the House of Representatives who can whip votes, cultivate the majority, and pass progressive legislation like Nancy Pelosi. If you are a Democrat, wherever you fall in the ideological matrix you really have to acknowledge Pelosi’s contribution to liberalism. But, if you want to put an end to progressive legislation or if your goal is even further to end American democracy then Nancy Pelosi stands in your way.

Pelosi knows how to get things done. She knows what can be achieved, how long it will take, and what needs to be done to achieve it. She does not waste anyone’s time on silly goals, but she does drag the country kicking and screaming as it may towards progressivism. That angers a lot of white men, but that’s simply because they want to control the narrative.

The issue at hand, however, and the reason this isn’t just a puff piece on Pelosi is that we did just electorally kick a fascist out of office, but because we have the world’s oldest representative democracy some of our electoral laws meant to be safeguards happen to be a little … kinky. On January 3rd (Sunday) the 117th Congress will be sworn into office. That very day they will hold the vote for Speaker of the House. Then on January 6th a joint session of Congress is held to tally the Electoral College votes and confirm the Biden Harris administration.

In all likelihood particularly given that Nancy Pelosi is the reason Democrats retained their House majority despite certain Trump supporting freshmen Representatives who insist they’re actually progressive messing up races for other Democrats, Nancy Pelosi will be confirmed as Speaker of the House. When — inevitably — the GOP raise objections to the election of Biden and Harris she will preside over the the House debate and vote which will reject those objections and allow for the election to be upheld. It will be thanks to her stewardship that Biden and Harris will be inaugurated January 20th.

In the unlikely event that the GOP were somehow successful in arguing that the Electoral Count Act of 1887 is unconstitutional Nancy Pelosi will be in a position to refuse to hold a House vote for President on the grounds that regardless of the constitutionality of the ECA, the Electoral College tally shows a clear majority of votes for Biden meaning that the requirements to hold a House vote for the Presidency have not been met. Any other Speaker could do that, but no Republican Speaker would and not other Democratic Speaker would succeed.

What I’m saying is that with Nancy Pelosi as Speaker on January 6th, our democracy and the results of the 2020 election will be upheld and Biden will ascend to the Presidency on January 20th at noon. If, however, someone else becomes Speaker of the House there is a clear path to overturning the 2020 election and reinstating Trump. From there it’s not so much a slippery slope towards fascism and the destruction of American democracy as much as it is a headlong plummet.

But never let reality get in the way of a sexist fantasy. Nancy Pelosi — again, because she’s absurdly competent — has stated that she has the votes to be elected Speaker again on January 3rd. And for all my handwringing on the subject, she’s basically never wrong. But like every woman and every person of colour Nancy Pelosi faces unfettered bigotry and because she is competent she tends to go uncelebrated.

I am somewhat undecided if the following is from a smart conservative playing on sexism among voters who erroneously define themselves as progressives or if it’s from one of those fauxgressives themselves. The point though, is that whoever created the following memes is, they’re perfectly comfortable risking democracy. If this person calls themselves liberal then they are fooling themselves.

Before I tear this all apart let me present these. They were shared sardonically in one of my Facebook groups by a woman who routinely fields some deeply misogynist attacks from fauxgressives.

The reason I suspect this was made cynically by an out and proud Republican is because it’s pretty deeply stupid and transparent. I don’t really respect fauxgressive “logic” particularly after the “Bernie delegate math,” debacle, but this seems especially dumb. In the odd event that Nancy Pelosi lost the Speakership on January 3rd, McCarthy would win. End of story. They’re trying to make a point about a quorum but that’s not how the Speakership election works. The Speakership is awarded to whoever receives a majority of the votes cast. If any or multiple Democrat(s) present and able to vote were stupid enough to cast a vote for someone other than Pelosi it is far more likely that McCarthy would win the Speakership than it would be for multiple roll calls to be had. Yes, McCarthy can only count on 210 votes and unless “the squad” becomes far more bold they won’t actually openly vote for him, but with the pandemic it is entirely possible that an abstention from a Democrat could lead to a McCarthy Speakership. Even if there were no lasting damage, an abstention from a Democrat in a year where democracy is at risk means that that Democrat does not understand or care about the consequences of their actions.

Jumping around a bit, the second meme claims that a Speaker other than Pelosi would mean “Good Committee positions for the Squad.” Not only is this historically incorrect but it’s not even how committee positions work. Democrats who abstain from the Speakership vote will probably face Party repercussions which may include being stripped of their positions in leadership or committees. This will happen regardless of whether or not Nancy Pelosi happens to win. Committee assignments are not given by fiat. They are democratically determined within the committee. “The squad” is not getting committee assignments or positions not because Nancy Pelosi doesn’t like them, but because Democrats in general don’t. Eliminating Nancy Pelosi would decrease Democratic Party power in the House and would make Democrats hate “the squad,” even more. Not only would they not get “good … positions,” they may possibly not have any at all.

But this is not the only insanely silly claim made by these memes. It’s pretty absurd to think that any Speaker would entertain “the squad” any more than Pelosi has, so the entire basis of these memes is ridiculous, but the other claims under the final point are similarly nonsensical. A Speaker could call floor votes for the various things fauxgressives are pushing for, but as all of that legislation is not ready and shows no sign of ever being so it would fail and waste time.

The rest of the meme seems to show the creator’s cards a bit. Several of the points made are concerns held primarily by conservative voters and the idea that getting “perks” is a valid reason for challenging the Speakership is somewhere between stupid and preposterous.

In my mind, I see no reason to speculate whether or not these meme were written by a conservative or a supporter of “the squad,” because to be perfectly frank they’re the same thing. Conservatives at present are trying to hold onto power and discredit women and people of colour. Likewise, “the squad” tends to find various excuses to vote with Trump and has killed a lot of progressive legislation on the basis that it “didn’t go far enough.” So their net effect has been to interrupt progressivism and aid the Republican Party and Trump. Furthermore, by eliminating Nancy Pelosi or disrupting the Democratic Party by sowing division the goal of this meme is to slow progress or even upend democracy.

The challenges against Nancy Pelosi for the Speakership are sophomoric at best. But particularly in a year where failure to defend our institutions could mean the instalment of Donald Trump as an autocratic dictator for life and the continuation of concentration camps at our border the fact that any American at all takes issue with Pelosi’s historic and stellar leadership is absolutely chilling. I acknowledge the fact that some 74 million Americans voted for Donald Trump and I am utterly aghast at the presence of that level of shameless bigotry in a country which purports to be free and upstanding. But I am comforted by the twin facts that Biden won with over 81 million votes and that in 2016 a majority of voters chose Hillary Clinton.

We took a very large leap towards racist autocracy and regardless of the will of the people our institutions are hanging by a thread. And that thread’s name is Nancy Pelosi.

Doctor of Palaeopathology, rage-prone optimist, stealth berserker, opera enthusiast, and insatiable consumer of academic journals.

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