For most Democrats, the take is that Donald Trump is a racist. For Woke Democrats, the take is that Nancy Pelosi is Trump’s patsy.
It might not have seemed like Pelosi was a Trump dupe when she pointed her snarky clap at him during the State of the Union, or when she dusted him during the partial government shutdown, or when she said that he belonged in prison. And yet in politics, the caravan is always moving on.
These days, Woke opinion holds that Pelosi has been so soft on Trump as to virtually be his friend. The speaker did, after all, oppose the Woke left in last week’s impeachment vote. Wokesters believe that Pelosi, desirous of keeping her majority in the House—and her own personal control of that majority—has been too tough on the Squad, that being the hip moniker for that noisy quartet of left-wing freshwomen.
The Squad has plenty of friends in high places. One such is Karen Attiah, global opinions editor of The Washington Post. On July 14, taking note of Trump’s most recent anti-Squad animadversion—the instantly notorious “go back” tweet—Attiah volleyed her own strong tweeting: “Make no mistake: Nancy Pelosi’s dogwhistling snipes at @AOC, Ilhan Omar, @RashidaTlaib and @RepPressley helped pave the way for this vicious, racist attack from the president.”
In Democratic circles, it’s usually Republicans and conservatives who find themselves accused of “dogwhistling”—not San Francisco Democrats. Yet now, according to this pillar of the mainstream media, Pelosi has joined the racist ranks.
In that same tweet-storm, scorning two pro-Pelosi columns by The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, Attiah added that Pelosi, Dowd, and Trump (!) have formed an “axis of shevil”—that is, an alliance for “white supremacy [that] relies on dismissing, silencing, and undermining women of color.” Attiah surmised that the goal of this axis is “putting [the Squad] in their place by any means necessary.”
We might pause over those comments: did a top editor at the Post really say that Pelosi was pursuing “white supremacy” in league with Trump? Yes, she really did: that’s the MSM this days, after its “Great Awokening.”
On July 18, Adam Serwer, writing for The Atlantic, declared that Pelosi’s arguments against impeachment were “gibberish,” adding, “If congressional Democrats cannot or will not defend the principle that America belongs to all of its citizens, regardless of race, creed, color, or religion, their oaths to defend the Constitution are meaningless.”
The following day, Jeet Heer, at The Nation, headlined his piece, “Pelosi Proves Triangulation Is Really Self-Strangulation.” Heer contrasted Pelosi’s “lackadaisical sparring” with Trump with her eagerness to go to “war” against the Squad. He added, “Pelosi often acts as if Trump were merely annoying (and perhaps a useful foil), while the Squad are the true enemies.”
We might pause over those last two words, “true enemies,” and make a larger point about the dynamic at play here. Politicos with an historical frame of reference look at a situation such as this—when an ally is harshly scourged for not being allied enough—and recall the distinction between “infidels” and “heretics.”
In this reckoning, an infidel is someone who never believed what you believe. For instance, over much of the last 13 centuries, a Muslim might say of a Christian, “He’s an infidel,” and the Christian would say the same thing. On either side of such a divide, there can be plenty of hostility, yet it tends not to be personal—after all, the infidel is a stranger.
By contrast, a heretic is someone who once believed the same thing you do, but now does not. And so heresy is more wounding, and threatening, because the heretic challenges one’s innermost beliefs.
In history, civilizations have fought wars against infidels, sometimes wars of annihilation, yet even so, heretics are often treated worse, because there’s that intense personal edge: you betrayed me. That’s why civilizations have often launched inquisitions against heretics, cheerfully torturing them to get them to confess and recant—and then killing them. For the orthodox believer, there’s a grim logic here: the infidel is an external enemy to be opposed. But the heretic is an internal cancer to be eradicated.
Nowadays, America’s politics isn’t so vicious as, say, Europe’s during the Thirty Years War. Yet still, in our time, we can see the infidels/heretics dichotomy: in the eyes of the Wokerati, Trump and the Republicans are infidels. Yes, they’re the enemy, and so of course they must be crushed. Yet for the most part, it’s nothing personal.
By contrast, Pelosi and other moderate (relative term) Democrats are the heretics. The Attiahs, Serwers, and Heers may have never even met Pelosi, yet as Democrats and/or leftists, they know her. She’s one of them, or at least she was. And now she’s chosen to go easy on Trump and rough on the left—and that’s the heresy. (And yes, Republicans are perfectly capable of the same sort of heretic-hunting, but that’s a tale for another time.)
Today, through this infidels versus heretics prism, we can see plenty more evidence underscoring Woke anti-Pelosi ferocity. On July 22, left-wing YouTuber Cenk Uygur went even further, declaring in The Wall Street Journal, “Democrats Should Unify Behind AOC, Not Pelosi.” In Uygur’s opinion, “Democratic voters were clear in 2018 that they want Mr. Trump impeached.” And yet, he continued, “There is not a single public official doing more to protect Mr. Trump than she is.” That pro-Trump “she,” of course, is Nancy Pelosi.
In Uygur’s view, such ardent Republican Trump defenders as Congressmen Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan have now been demoted; the real enemy is the Democratic speaker of the House. Uygur concludes: “We signed up to rout [Trump] and send him home. If you’re not on board with that, get out of the way and let us do it.” Irrespective of whatever happens to Trump, this is the language of an intra-party purge.
We might also pause over the placement of Uygur’s piece. The Wall Street Journal is not usually a forum for progressive opinion. Yet in this case, the Journal obviously seized the opportunity to sow Democratic discord. As for Uygur, just as obviously, he wants anyone and everyone to know just how much he loathes Pelosi and company.
Indeed, other infidels—that is, Republicans—are happily throwing more logs onto what they hope will be a bonfire for Pelosi. Congressman Chip Roy of Texas launched one such flaming timber in an op-ed the other day: “Now I know there isn’t just one speaker, there are four,” referring, of course, to the Squad.
Meanwhile, from the White House, the Firestarter-in-Chief hurled his own incendiary tweet: “So sad to see the Democrats sticking up for people who speak so badly of our Country and who, in addition, hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion. Whenever confronted, they call their adversaries, including Nancy Pelosi, ‘RACIST.'”
The 45th president added: “If the Democrat Party wants to continue to condone such disgraceful behavior, then we look even more forward to seeing you at the ballot box in 2020!”
In other words, Trump fully intends to run against the Squad next year, as much as, or more than, against the Democratic nominee. White House communicator Mercedes Schlapp was on message when she added, “These Democratic presidential candidates are going to have to kiss the ring of the Squad.”
To be sure, it’s possible that Trump will do or tweet something that unites progressives, convincing progs, finally, that the threat from the infidel is greater than the threat from the heretic. And it’s also possible that the July 24 hearing on Capitol Hill, starring Robert Mueller, will ignite some new conflagration.
Yet it seems more likely that the 2020 election will be a fight not only between Republicans and Democrats, but also between infidels and heretics. And we know which will be the hotter.
James P. Pinkerton is an author and contributing editor at The American Conservative. He served as a White House policy aide to both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.