Nancy Pelosi’s Loss of Form

Watching world-class sprinters run as fast as they do, your natural suspicion is that they are straining with every muscle, fists in balls pounding at the air, brows furrowed and veins in their neck ready to burst from the the sheer strain of racing at the 20+ miles per hour they do. But that’s not how it is at all. Instead, you see their palms completely open, brows smooth, and most improbably, cheeks bouncing back and forth against the sides of their face, all loosey goosey as the soft pliable flesh they are in their natural state.

The picture is one of a relaxed lope on a pleasant afternoon, which for sprinters, is a superhuman feat, when one really thinks about it.  Sprinters’ sculpted, muscle-bound bodies are finely wrought, explosive racing machines. Watching them before a race, they’re like amped up ponies pawing at the ground, heads twitching, shoulders flexing; you half expect them to whinny and neigh.

The rules:  Don’t strain, stay on your game, do the things you’ve practiced thousands of times, don’t let your competition get you flustered, stay with your plan, the way you do things, the style and mechanics you do them with in your daily practice. But when the race starts, long experience and research tells them they run fastest and best when they can remain as relaxed as can be, wholly self-contained—while engaging every fiber of their being in herculean effort.

Keep your form!



Which brings us to Nancy Pelosi’s theatrical tearing up the paper copy of President Trump’s State of the Union address earlier this week. Now there was a gesture!

It is such a human thing to want revenge, to spit right back in the eye of those who have done the same to you. Pelosi likely had many millions of Americans doing figurative fist bumps in her honor at that moment, and a huge part of me was hugely inclined that way as well.

Everything about the president begs his opponents to sink to his level, where he is a masterful competitor of unequaled accomplishment. No one will beat him there; he has a permanent lock on that dark lane in every race he will ever run.

Hard to think of a more deserving figure for vituperation than a president who dishonors his office and his country by consistently sinking to depths of previously unimaginable depravity in calling opponents demeaning names, accusing them of being “evil, very bad people, dumb, treasonous,” and all the rest.

Those of a different political and moral persuasion have all read it, all shaken their heads, have all been sorely tempted to answer if not in kind, then at least with pointed criticism of their own that lets him and his enablers know they will never accept this as “normal.” God help this country if it ever becomes so.

That said, there is great danger in going tit for tat with someone of Trump’s obvious narcissism and amorality. Having proved again and again that there are no depths to which he will not sink, what is the proper response in opposition?

How does one fight an opponent who refuses ever to fight fair, or with a shred of civility?

“Never wrestle with a pig. The pig likes it, and you both get dirty,” goes the old adage of unknown origin. Unfortunately, the president’s detractors have little choice but to wrestle with him lest he completely run them over with his tweet machine and then have their heads on a pike before breakfast.

But does the nature and tonality of the response matter, especially given the president’s own utter lack of decorum and dignity?

How can it not?

Previously, and to this day, Pelosi has been a fierce critic of the president while staunchly maintaining that she doesn’t, is prohibited by her religion from, “hating” him. And, as a matter of fact, being the observant, gospel-following Catholic that she is, she “prays for him.”

That good form, that maintaining of her composure and respect, if not for the man but the office of the presidency and the tradition of the State of the Union and its entire historic setting, did not require her to stand up and cheer the president’s words in the staid confines of the Capitol Building. But if she is to model a better, dignified message and messenger, it did require that she not inject herself into the proceedings in the negative manner she did.

It was a rare misstep by one who is regularly (and justifiably, seems to me) portrayed as having shrewd political instincts. Yes, she should be forgiven for this momentary lapse at the end of these wrenching weeks and months; turns out she is human after all, with actual blood rather than the legendary ice water flowing through her veins.

But if she and everyone who objects to the substance, symbolism and decorum of this presidency is to continue occupying the moral high ground in what promises to be the most contentious campaign in modern times, she has to maintain her form. Easier said than done, but nothing about these coming months will be the least bit easy.

Everything about the president begs his opponents to sink to his level, where he is a masterful competitor of unequaled accomplishment. No one will beat him there; he has a permanent lock on that dark lane in every race he will ever run.

What she should have done in this instance is let the president’s words speak loudly for themselves for all who would hear, rather than indulge in what, objectively speaking, resembled more a childish fit than a substantive, mature protest.

It was bad optics and difficult to defend in ways other than, “Well, he deserved it!” 

He most certainly did. But all of the better angels we will need in coming months didn’t.



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17 comments to Nancy Pelosi’s Loss of Form

  • Linda Proulx  says:

    Well Andrew, I have to say I agree with you on this one. Being a fellow Italian with the maiden name of Peluso, I can only imagine that Nancy simply had a spike of emotion and lost her fabled cool. It happens to the best of us, and Nancy is someone I have grown to respect. I can forgive her for this one but at the same time regret not only the optics, but the disintegration of civility in our public life. There is a pundit who wrote a book entitled, “Everything Trump Touches Dies”. We have certainly seen so many of his supporters become their worst selves. Lyin’ Ted and Little Marco may not have started out that way, but they have become that. It’s tragic to watch. Others have had to resign to honor their conscience and maintain their self-respect. Few have had the courage that Mitt Romney displayed this past week. For myself, I have to meditate to release the anger that Trump brings up in me. It will be a workout to not pose an enemy and thus become like the enemy during what promises to be a vicious election season.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Thanks for this, Linda. It occurred to me after posting this that of course Pelosi didn’t do this on the spur of the moment; it was a planned and calculated event, but the calculation was just strategically wrong in any case, reflecting too much a fit of pique. It lets her be written off by detractors as just another overly emotional woman, which is hardly the image she has cultivated over the decades. And it feeds the narrative of politics as reality show, all theatre, personality, and personal invective—which is right where Trump wants to keep it.

      I think your meditating as a way to keep it all at bay is wise. Better than drinking (though the latter does have its place…). :-)

      • Linda Proulx  says:

        Not sure I agree with you Andrew. I don’t think we can be certain Nancy pre-meditated this move. She’s too smart for that. I think she was in a state of outrage, which is a healthy response to the crazy man in charge.

        • Andrew Hidas  says:

          All right, let’s make this fun, Linda, and put up a dollar bet for when the true story comes out in the NYT or WashPo the next few days. Those reporters are relentless and will surely get the goods!

  • Jeanette Millard  says:

    I’m ambivalent about this one. Is it really time to keep our cool and not show our real feelings, at least some of the time? I think this president is being given much more space than he should be – of course by Republicans, but also by us all holding it together and acting as if this is business as usual. I still wonder why people didn’t hit the streets in outrage way back when this psycho announced his candidacy by writing off most Mexicans as criminals and rapists. Heck, I don’t understand how we didn’t hit the streets after the murder of children and teachers in Newtown, CT. I think I’d like to see more outrage, stronger reactions. Thinking this will all go away – well, that is part of why we have this monster as president in the first place.
    And, while I’m ranting () – we are in a marathon, not a sprint. Watching a marathon, you see people working hard, in pain, struggling to keep going. It does nothing to detract from a marathoner’s victory when they collapse at the finish line! I don’t think the goal, in our struggle to hold on to civil rights, decency, and the rule of law, is to make it look easy – it is to stand up to a real force for evil.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Jeanette, this is great, thanks. I’m not at all suggesting we not be outraged or that we not intensify protests; it’s much more about the nature of those protests, the setting we do them in, and the message we are conveying. I think Pelosi is throwing her whole self into the resistance, as well she should, but this particular expression of it was a misfire. Wrong setting, wrong time and gesture. It’s about tactics and strategy, not whether or not we should be outraged. I am, every day, I assure you.

      As for your remarks about marathoners, I have to say that it is most always only the back-of-the-packers we see writhing, flailing, “struggling to keep going.” The pros (and Pelosi is a pro politician, I hasten to add) are going at a breakneck pace but making it look effortless. As soon as their form breaks, they’re done, toast, they slow down and lose. This is just as true of 100-meter sprinters as it is of marathoners.

      And this really important point: It’s not about trying to “make it LOOK easy.” It’s never easy. But willing yourself to stay relaxed and calm (no small accomplishment) allows you to run faster, which is the whole point. It’s not about aesthetics or appearance, it’s about effectiveness. Agitated, struggling people are rarely if ever good at the tasks they’re performing, whether it’s running, writing, politicking or whatever.
      A great model here: Our previous president…

  • gpickrell  says:

    Right on! I respect Nancy Pelosi immensely, but in the heat of the battle, it wasn’t the “high ground” of “When they go low, we go high” (M. Obama)

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Yes, this reminds me that more than once over these months I have found myself fantasizing about Michelle O emerging as the consensus candidate from that field! Will never happen, but it would sure fire up not only the base, but the entire party, across the spectrum.

  • Jeanette Stokes  says:

    I rather liked the gesture. Tearing paper hardly equates to blatant disrespect he shows to immigrants, women, poor people, the environment, his opponents. I thought she was rather dignified in the way she did it.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      You’re exactly right that it pales in comparison to the atrocities Trump has committed that have had terrible real world consequences, Jeanette, but these gestures only serve, in my humble opinion, to take our eyes off those real and awful issues where we need to keep pointing and pointing and pointing. Strictly symbolic gestures of tearing up paper aren’t all that far a cry from sneaking up behind him and flashing bunny ears. It shifts the conversation to Don & Nancy, tit for tat, “Oh, look at them now; they don’t like each other!” And has us talking about this rather than about him destroying the environment, buddying up to dictators, mistreating children and immigrants, etc. etc.

      • Jeanette Stokes  says:

        I see that, but I still like the gesture she made.

  • Jay Helman  says:

    A trusted mentor once advised me to simply allow outspoken and inappropriate people to be themselves in a public setting. His advice was that those around them would recognize irrational behavior and distance themselves from whatever agenda the person was propagating. It worked well in my professional career in higher education administration. My sense is that Pelosi has allowed Trump to be Trump throughout his term, likely thinking that those near him would see the insanity and be repelled. Senate Republicans clearly proved her and this strategy to be faulty. My sense is that it was not pre-meditated on her part, but that the lies, accompanied by chants of “four more years” and standing ovations finally broke her will; and I respect her for it. The speech, of course, was trash. The only remaining course for our country is to bury him and Senate Republicans in the election, let the courts proceed on The Don, convict him of innumerable crimes and then watch him head to prison.

  • Kirk  says:

    What I was wishing ? That all of the democratic senators just started laughing, a little at first, and then the laughter to grow louder and louder throughout the whole speech whenever a lie or ridiculous statement was made. Ending in ROTFLthierAO.

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Jay and Kirk (and everyone else, for that matter), I’ve been mulling quite a bit over what might have been a more effective response, a more powerful protest, on Pelosi’s part. The tearing of paper was definitely a protest, but it seemed petulant rather than powerful, a sudden fit rather than shrewdly considered. (Though, as I said, I do suspect she planned it rather than reacted on the spot.)

    So I am going back to the Civil Rights protesters of the MLK and John Lewis era, the incredibly cool and restrained (so all the more powerful), bearing of witness they exhibited, and the great bodily harm they risked in standing fast for what they believed in. How might she have replicated something along those lines?

    Or John Carlos and Tommy Smith standing with their black-gloved hands raised silently aloft at the Mexico City Olympics while the national anthem was played. Perhaps she could have shown up in a black dress, or with a black patch sewn into it somewhere?

    Or could she have stood silently with her head bowed as all the hubbub of the speech’s end went on around her? That would have put her more in a position of prayer and vigil rather than throwing a fit, so the symbolism may have been more powerful, more in line with her past claims that she prays for the president, and less vulnerable to being dismissed as a mere tantrum.

    Just some thoughts, which leave me thinking some more about how all of us might respond more powerfully, with greater, more sober conviction, to this mortal threat our country is facing with this man as president.

    • Jeanette Stokes  says:

      Come on, Andrew. You know that if a woman exhibits any emotion in public, she is accused of a tantrum. She did not have a tantrum. She tore up a speech in a dignified way.

      When the NC General Assembly failed to pass the ERA in 1982, someone (we never found out who) delivered little tiny bags of chicken sh-t to the office door of each legislator who voted NO. Some people found it an inappropriate gesture. I thought it was brilliant.

      Then NC legislators were what the little bags represented. Trump’s speech was what she did with it. I do not put either of these actions in the category of violence.

      And please be reminded that non-violence was a tactic, not necessarily a virtue. It was used as a tactic to get the attention of the world. And it worked. The question in this case is: Are there any gestures, actions, or acts of God that could stop the steamrolling of democracy?

      • Andrew Hidas  says:

        I’m not sure whether there are “dignified” as opposed to “undignified” ways of tearing up a speech, Jeanette. I just think the gesture, in that setting, at that time, was unproductive, and did nothing but provide some fleeting “Right on!” satisfaction to those sharing a collective revulsion to Trump and their desire to release their frustration. I understand the impulse, just don’t see it as advancing the cause of bringing him down.

        I also did not say she had a tantrum—only that she left herself more vulnerable to her gesture being dismissed as such. I doubt a bowing of her head or some similar, more dignified gesture would have had her so easily dismissed.

        I agree that the stunt by the anonymous chickenshit droppers (great name for a band, methinks…) was brilliant, but with a key difference: They were not the Speaker of the House standing behind the President of the United States in the Capitol Building after the State of the Union address.

        And I would also submit this: If the “tactic” of non-violence worked “to get the attention of the world” and result in desperately needed change, then it was also a virtue, pure and simple, and reflected the tactic’s brilliance.

        Thanks for writing.

  • Jay Helman  says:

    I think the idea of her bowing her head is brilliant. She may, however, have determined something more bold was in order for her Party.

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