AUGUST 5, 2022
“War is the form nostalgia takes when men are hard-pressed to say something good about their country.”
– Don DeLillo, White Noise
I suppose there are more risible politicians on the scene today than Nancy Pelosi, but few come clad in her power accessories or with as much potential to inflict carnage on a global scale. Even the banshee of the backwoods Marjorie Taylor Greene is a mere pipsqueak compared to the malevolent lunacy we’ve seen lately from Pelosi.
Some may say that Pelosi, now 82, has entered her second childhood. If so, it’s a delinquent one. Certainly her political inhibitions have dissolved, allowing her natural inclination to foment trouble to run rampant. One looks in vain for a rational motivation behind her ad hoc trip to Taiwan, an act of belligerency that might have sparked a war with another nuclear power. But to what end? China is not going to relinquish its entirely legitimate claims to Taiwan. Far from a model democracy, Taiwan is a former gangster state, whose repressive government was shaped by Chiang Kai-Shek, who retreated there in 1949 with his battered gang of CIA-financed KMT thugs, where he promptly instituted a violent crackdown on leftists known as the White Terror, a vicious form of martial law that lasted for the next 45 years.
Sure Pelosi represents many rich Chinese exiles, who have made fortunes in San Francisco and now fantasize about sticking it to the CCP from the safety of their Nob Hill mansions. But Pelosi doesn’t need their money or support. She’s well beyond that now. (Though her husband Paul is surely watching with avaricious eyes the reaction of the markets to this junket of the damned.) Antagonizing China over Taiwan doesn’t solve any of the global crises hurtling toward us on all fronts–not even the “problem” of Taiwan.
Pelosi’s trip seems more personal, an almost pathological assertion of her autonomy. It’s the act of a playground bully and the Mad-Eyed Lady from Pac Heights has come to see the world as her playground–provocation for the sake of provocation. Damn the consequences. The Speaker’s hubris has been accreting rapidly in the last decade. Once a capable, if not very creative, machine politician, she has now become baked by her own sense of power and runs the House like her own private autocracy, the leadership ranks stacked with her claque of senescent loyalists.
Now the second most powerful figurehead in the US government has gone rogue, enacting her very own Asian Pivot, flouting decades of US policy and even ignoring the requests of the increasingly feeble Joe Biden to scrub Taipei from her inflammatory itinerary. Nancy is the “Karen” of global geopolitics, a loose cannon intoxicated by her own self-righteousness. Like RGB, Pelosi apparently sees herself as an indispensable figure in American politics, even as a trapdoor slides open beneath her feet and those of her party and country. The people running our government are so antiquated, they won’t live to face the consequences of their reckless grandstanding. Heckuva job, Nancy.
Why Pelosi picked China as her target du jour is no mystery. Like Biden (and Bernie Sanders, for that matter), Pelosi has always been a Cold Warrior. It’s the way she chooses to understand the world, even if it’s a world that no longer quite exists. The political economy Pelosi has done much to help engineer over the last 35 years needs perpetual enemies to justify the trillions sunk into the weapons-and-surveillance complex. And not ephemeral scrub units like Al Qaeda and ISIS. Big ones like Russia and China. But more sophisticated politicians, from Nixon to Obama, have understood that the trick is to keep the threat elevated without actually risking a war. Pelosi seems to have lost this inhibition, as well.
Thus the brazenness–one is tempted to say, desperation–of her Taiwan excursion is a pretty clear sign of imperial (as well as mental) slippage. Far from a show of strength, Pelosi’s antics in Taipei revealed the frailty of the US hegemon in the Pacific. Sure, China postured a bit in response with naval exercises encircling Taiwan, drawing out of climate talks and slapping sanctions on Pelosi. But Beijing, a much more reflective (if equally lethal) government than our own, must have viewed Pelosi’s frantic finger-wagging as little more than a parody of power, a shrill manifestation of America’s political decrepitude.