War for Constitution Becomes a Battle of the Sexes

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

The U.S. Capitol in Washington

If the U.S. Constitution survives the Age of Trump, it will have been a woman who saved it. Were there ever a more able, more shrewd and more psychologically adept opponent for President Donald J. Trump than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, I’ve yet to meet that person.

The speaker refused the president use of the House chamber for his scheduled State of the Union address—an event full of the sort of ceremonial spectacle Trump so loves when he is at the center of it. Not until the government shutdown is over, she said. After issuing threats of maybe showing up anyway at the House chamber or moving ahead with the speech in a different venue (a rally, perhaps, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania?), the president backed down. No speech before the shutdown is over, he conceded today.

The president conceded. Uncharacteristic behavior, one might say. The president conceded—to a woman. This is the same president whose misogyny played no small role in his winning the White House. (Pussy-grabbing notwithstanding, remember the one where he said Hillary Clinton shouldn’t win the 2016 election because she didn’t “have a presidential look”?)

With the shutdown—instigated by Trump with a demand for $5.7 billion for building a wall across the Southern border—dragging down the president’s already low approval numbers, Pelosi not only deprived Trump of a chance to make his case in the guise of the Big Guy, she shamed him. She yanked it from him. She, a woman. Oooooo, that’s gotta smart.

One can only imagine the frustration the world’s loneliest president must feel, accustomed as he is to having his way with women by pushingshoving, and threatening (not to mention the grabbing). Yet Pelosi has given not an inch, and the president has been forced to retreat from his demand for the chamber. Point Pelosi. She’s not just playing hard; she’s pushing his buttons, demoralizing him with such feminine wiles as shrewd political strategy, a superior mind, and an unflappable nature. “Don’t characterize the strength that I bring,” she said to him before television cameras in the Oval Office last month. Not only did he characterize it; he underestimated it.

It is disheartening to see the throw-down between Pelosi and Trump portrayed, as it was this morning in The Washington Post depicted as a mere “squabble” steeped in “personal enmity,” when in fact it is a battle for the fate of our tripartite form of government as prescribed by the same United States Constitution that self-described conservatives so claim to love. Pelosi is drawing a line, not simply for the sake of dealing with this one, bullying president, but for the very future of our constitutional system. If the president is allowed to shut down the government at will for any outrageous demand he might make going forward of a Congress otherwise disinclined to go along, then Congress will no longer be a co-equal branch of government; it will be a tool of the president. On the Republican side, it clearly already is.

There is no way any Constitution-loving legislator could abide the hardship the president has foisted on government workers and the businesses that serve them in order to subvert the will of Congress. Anyone who has signed on to Trump’s stand-off for border wall funding cares only for whichever part of Trump’s Plunder Project™ he or she is getting a slice of, be it the opening of public lands to mining interests, or the dark money that flows to one’s campaign coffers with a vote for a larcenous tax bill.

Already, thanks to the cynical machinations of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Trump administration has had an outsized influence on the shape of the federal judiciary, the third branch of government. Where McConnell deprived the previous president of his final Supreme Court appointee by refusing to hold confirmation hearings, where he held up the confirmations of Obama appointees to the lower courts, he has sped Trump’s nominees through the Senate at a dizzying pace, seating judges with dubious records and thumbs-down ratings from the American Bar Association. (President Barack Obama, by contrast, did not nominate any judges with an ABA “not qualified” rating, while Trump has nominated six rated as such by the association.)

Just last weekend, women filled the streets of Washington, D.C., and other cities, donning their pink hats in protest of the most overtly sexist president in modern times. As the month began, the U.S. House of Representatives gained a record number of women members. Together with their compatriots in the majority party, they just may save the republic. Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi is putting first things first. She’s saving the Constitution. Because without that, you can’t keep the republic. 

When I was a girl, a media-hyped tennis match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes” had Americans glued to their TV sets, rooting for either Bobby Riggs or Billie Jean King. Riggs was a proud, self-described male chauvinist who claimed that he could beat any of the top women players, despite being past his prime. He had already beaten Margaret Court in an exhibition, so King felt she had to save women’s tennis by taking him on. And she beat the pants off of him, so to speak.

It’s a game President Trump would do well to review.

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