Call Her “Madame Speaker”

Nancy, as I call her.  President Donald Trump, referring to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. 

Memo to President Donald Trump: Do not call her Nancy. Call her Madame Speaker. That is her title, just as Mr. President is yours. Your penchant for nicknames is legendary, and, frankly, it is more demeaning to you than to the objects of your intended insults, though, obviously, you do not see it that way. Your inability to tag Madame Speaker with a disrespectful moniker indicates that even you realize you have met your match. You cannot intimidate Speaker Pelosi, which is why she utterly defeated you in the showdown over the border wall and the government shutdown. Mr. President, you lost to Pelosi, and you would be foolish to try to strong arm her again in three weeks to get your vanity project, the border wall, built.

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Then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi shaking hands with President Donald Trump

The president will not or cannot accept his defeat at the hands of Pelosi and the newly invigorated Democratic Party. “Does anybody really think I won’t build the WALL?” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Have I not been clear on the wall?” Pelosi has countered rhetorically. Since Democrats will not allocate any money for a wall (though they will fund enhanced border security), what is the alternative? “If you’re the president of the United States, and you know that you have to defend the nation, do you want to shut the government down? No,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Do you want to declare a national emergency? No. But you do need and want to defend the nation.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Pelosi is adamant, Democrats are united, and public opinion is running against both the president and the wall. Would Trump be so foolish as to try the same gambit a second time? If he does, then one of two sayings will explain Trump’s behavior. Either he has not paid attention to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s favorite aphorism, “there’s no education in the second kick of a mule,” an indication Trump is a slow learner; or, conversely, Trump is unfamiliar with Albert Einstein’s misattributed saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” a hint Trump is not conversant with reality. Whatever the explanation, Trump will lose as badly to Pelosi in three weeks as he lost last week. Remember Trump’s campaign promise that the public will “be sick and tired of winning?” 

Trump prides himself on being tough and able to outmaneuver everyone else. But, he was beaten by a liberal woman from San Francisco, a result that has to be galling to a man who demonstrates little respect for women. Trump also assured his followers that he is the world’s best negotiator. Instead, his caving to Pelosi and the Democrats reveals his incapacity to lead. He shut down the government for three weeks — causing 800,000 federal workers to go without pay and wreaking potential havoc on the economy — only to get nothing in return. 

Trash piled up at Big Bend National Park during the shutdown.

There is one silver lining on this sorry story: The Republican rhetoric on government as the enemy has been exposed as a sham. For many Americans, the value of the government was revealed during the five weeks the government was partially closed. At the end of the shutdown, airports were in turmoil, the Internal Revenue Service was understaffed and apparently unable to process tax returns, and the national parks overflowed with trash. According to one poll, one in five people said they were personally affected by the shutdown. 

Positive public attitudes toward the role of government become critical with Democrats in a majority in the House of Representatives and as the Democratic Party veers to the left and gears up for the 2020 election. Many prospective Democratic candidates favor Medicare-for-All, an aggressive attack on climate change, free college tuition, a robust rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure, and other potentially expensive and expansive government programs. Polls show that two-thirds of Americans believe wealth should be distributed more fairly, three-quarters favor higher taxes on the wealthy, 60 percent endorse expanding Medicare to cover everyone, and 59 percent support a vigorous federal attack on climate change. These numbers are rising, and they likely will continue to increase given the repeated counter-productive Republican attacks on “big government,” an argument Trump and the GOP lost this time around. 

Administration officials displayed as much as empathy as Marie Antoinette before the French Revolution.

Republicans also suffered a hit when the Trump team’s response to the shutdown revealed a callousness reminiscent of Marie Antoinette and her cake. Trump economic adviser Kevin Hassett said furloughed workers were “better off” because they received time off without having to use vacation days. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross cluelessly expressed bewilderment that federal workers did not take out a loan from a bank or a credit union to make ends meet during the furlough. And, presidential daughter-in-law Lara Trump dismissed federal workers’ hardship as “a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of our country.” Demonstrations of the value of government in the everyday life of average Americans versus the lack of empathy on the part of the very wealthy in the administration is the best advertisement for Democrats and an ideology of an activist government.

Trump suffered a lot of losing over his futile wish to build a wall on the border. What is unclear now is how much losing he suffered among Republican voters. Conservative commentators already have taken him to the woodshed because he caved before Pelosi’s toughness. The day Trump threw in the towel, Ann Coulter tweeted, “Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States.” Mike Cernovich, another right-wing commentator, tweeted, “Nancy Pelosi is alpha,” implying Trump is beta. And Peter Wehner, who worked in several Republican administrations, tweeted, “In the showdown with Nancy Pelosi, Trump’s been exposed as pitifully weak, all bluster, a pathetic negotiator. Pelosi rolled him in every way.” Worse for Trump is defections among congressional Republicans. Last week, six GOP senators sided with Democrats on a bill to reopen the government without a border wall. All this erosion of support because Trump did not prevail over Speaker Pelosi. 

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Another memo to President Trump: You cannot win the fight for a border wall. Nancy Pelosi will beat you again if you pursue funding for one. She is, regardless of what you call her, “Madame Speaker” and smarter, tougher, and savvier than you. Get used to it.

Posted January 29, 2019

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