Nancy Pelosi stepped down as Speaker of the House on Thursday, after Democrats narrowly lost their majority in the midterm elections. The first female speaker in American history will remain in Congress, representing her home district in San Francisco. The end of Pelosi’s official leadership is sure to spark reflection about her legislative creativity, her fundraising prowess and her inevitable villainization as a Democratic boogie-woman. Personally, though, I’ll remember Speaker Pelosi as a much-needed foil to historically treacherous president Donald Trump.
From the eve of her second speakership in 2018, Pelosi occupied a valuable and sorely-needed place in the culture: a powerful woman taking the monstrously sexist Trump to task. This gender dynamic mattered in a country still very much smarting from the electoral college victory of a credibly-accused sexual predator and self-identified p****-grabber over a would-be historic female Democratic president. It felt richly satisfying to see Pelosi at the top, just two rungs from the presidency herself, checking the president whenever possible.
Rifle through the overstuffed card catalogue of Trump presidency memories (although I’d typically rather not) and the vision of Pelosi—in a rust-colored Max Mara coat and shades, stepping out of the White House with a wry smile on her face—re-emerges. Pelosi was fresh from a heated 15-minute meeting with Trump in the Oval Office, attempting to avert a government shutdown, in which the president reportedly wagged his finger at the Speaker and, in lieu of respectfully using her official title, chided her as “Nancy.”
The moment inspired a fashion frenzy (alas, the coat was old and no longer in stock) and a round of memes casting Pelosi as an action star striding from the wreckage of a burning building. (“Instructions on how to come for me,” one read. “1. Don’t.”) Looking back, I must have been distracted by the excellence of the coat, because I forgot, until today, that the picture was only part of Pelosi’s show of force. “Mr. President,” she reportedly shot back, “please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory.” In a rebuke to Trump, Democrats had just regained the House in the 2018 midterms, and Pelosi was poised to become Speaker. “Please don’t characterize the strength that I bring”—the phrase should really be up there with “nevertheless, she persisted” and “I’m speaking.”