This week’s State of the Union Address has particularly electrified the media – oddly enough, not because of the contents of the address, but because Nancy Pelosi promptly tore the speech in two after its conclusion. It has been lauded online and in the media, with NBC News’ Liz Plank calling it “a possible 2020 tipping point,” and Representative Matt Gaetz claiming that Pelosi had broken the law to do so. Despite such allegations, House leadership by Nancy Pelosi remains performative at best. A plurality of Democratic Representatives remains extremely pliable to Trump’s policy proposals, in spite of both Pelosi’s verbal disapproval and the embittered impeachment process.
The finger is often pointed at President Trump for lacking integrity and values. While that is a correct assessment, it detracts from the total absence of political resistance from Nancy Pelosi and mainstream Democrats; in December of 2019, 188 House Democrats voted to hand a mountainous $738 billion military budget to Donald Trump. This is an over $100 billion increase in the defense budget since the Obama era, without even so much as a slap on the wrist from House Democrats. According to the New York Times, some notable items were jettisoned by the lack of Democratic resistance to the bill: restrictions on Trump’s war powers to conduct war in Iran, restrictions on reallocation of the budget to Trump’s border wall, a ban on new detainees in Guantanamo Bay and prohibition of arms sales to Saudi government to fight a proxy war in Yemen. Rather than actually halting the progress of Trump’s policy proposals with their confident majority in the House of Representatives, the Democrats have actively collaborated in their implementation.
A ripped copy of the State of the Union might be in line with the current liberal practice of performative resistance, but it does nothing to improve the lives of the American people. Democrats holding the House of Representatives is an empty power if Democrats don’t use that power to force important pieces of legislation. And although Democratic Representative Adam Smith called the bill “the most progressive defense bill we have passed in decades,” this bill fails to materialize an alternative to the military-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, or American imperialism abroad. The lack of action by House Democrats is just another reminder that Trump’s America is a bipartisan political process. Any reflection of the 2016 election in the past four years should have taught Democratic leadership that opposition to Trump without an inspiring alternative will simply enable their opposition to get away with whatever they want. Let’s hope they remember their supposed vision before the election in November.