I have previously condemned both sides in our raging politics for labeling their opponents as “traitors,” “terrorists,” and “enemies.” That overheated rhetoric is continuing this week with Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling not just President Trump but her own congressional colleagues “enemies of the state.” I have been highly critical of President Trump in his use of such language. I also have long been critical of Pelosi’s conduct as Speaker, including her ripping up the State of the Union. This attack is particularly egregious from a sitting Speaker who represents the body as a whole. If we cannot agree on condemning even this language, we have lost any sense of decorum or decency in our public debate.
In a Monday interview with MSNBC host Ayman Mohyeldin, Pelosi was asked about the controversy over the postal service and mail-in voting. She responded:
“Thank you for the opportunity to say. One thing I’ll say to the American people: Do not pay any attention to Donald Trump. It is his goal to scare people from voting, to intimidate them by saying he’s going to have law enforcement people at the polls, to welcome, in fact, Russian intervention into our election . . . We take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. And sadly, the domestic enemies to our voting system and our honoring our Constitution are right at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., with their allies in the Congress of the United States.”
Pelosi clearly states that her colleagues are included among the domestic enemies that the House oath that is required as a qualification for office under Article VI, clause 3.
It is a further denigration of our political debate. However, this is directly calling those who support Trump in Congress to be domestic enemies. Pelosi has previously caused controversies over comments on the floor that were viewed as violating House rules.
Pelosi herself has led efforts to condemnTrump for his “low standards using disgraceful language about Members of Congress.”
This is not a statement on the floor and is not a clear violation of House rules. However, it is a violation, again, of the traditional role of the Speaker. No one expects a Speaker to be a non-partisan, particularly off the floor. However, she is the highest ranking member of the House of Representatives and leads by example. This has been the continuing example of raw and reckless partisanship from the Speaker. I happen to agree with Speaker Pelosi on some of these policy fights. Yet, calling your own members enemies of the state is a reprehensible moment that would be widely condemned in the media if the party affiliation were reversed.
I admit that I may be hopelessly out of touch with the brawling, insulting character of modern politics. I still believe that our leaders should be examples, particularly presidents and Speakers, in their language and conduct. This is a sitting Speaker saying that members who disagree with her are enemies of the State and the very dangers that members are sworn to resist as threatening the nation as a whole.
It is easy to take this free-fall plunge into such damaging and demagogic language. We can yield to the moment and label opposing voices as traitors or we can insist that our leaders meet minimal standards of civility and responsibility. This is neither. If we become accustomed to labeling opposing views as effective treason, it will not be long before people begin to treat such labels literally and demand treating dissent as treason.
Speaker Pelosi should apologize for this attack and reaffirm that there remains some degree of decency and civility that remains in our public debate.