NINA COSDON, Editor-in-Chief—President Donald Trump had a busy week. On Tuesday, he delivered his State of the Union address. On Wednesday, his impeachment trial drew to a close with his acquittal. On Friday, he declared that it was actually Nancy Pelosi who had broken the law.
In a video that has since gone viral, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ripped Trump’s speech in half as he concluded his State of the Union. As the image of a stone-faced Pelosi tearing the speech became a meme, Trump told reporters, “I thought it was a terrible thing when she ripped up the speech. First of all, it’s an official document. You’re not allowed. It’s illegal what she did. She broke the law.”
For some reason, his reaction has stayed with me. There are myriad things Trump could have said to denigrate Pelosi’s actions. He could have joined fellow Republicans in claiming that she acted disrespectfully or unprofessionally, which may be true. Pelosi certainly could have waited until she wasn’t on live television to rip up the speech. However, she knew what she was doing; Pelosi tearing the speech was an act of civil disobedience.
But Trump didn’t say this. He didn’t say that Pelosi had disrespected him because that would be to admit that her actions had hurt his feelings. Instead, Trump declared that Nancy Pelosi had broken the law by ripping his speech.
Anyone who knows me knows I love discussing the law. Law combines my two favorite things: rules and precisely chosen language. Therefore, I’d like to first address the “law” in question, and then dissect the implications of this rhetoric.
The only legislation that is even remotely related to the situation in question is U.S. Code Title 18, Section 2071, which states that it is illegal to destroy any official government record, document, book, etc. The reason no one is rushing to prosecute Pelosi should be obvious: she ripped up one of many copies of Trump’s speech, by no means destroying the original. Unless I happened to miss the part where Nancy Pelosi crept into the National Archives in the dead of night and set fire to the sole remaining copy of the speech, she has done nothing that could conceivably be considered illegal.
Why would Trump say something so obviously wrong? A few days passed before he formally addressed Pelosi ripping the speech, so why claim something a quick Google search could disprove? Of course, speaking in hyperbole has yet to fail him. Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric attracts supporters who believe that he’s unafraid to speak the truth, regardless of how many fact-checkers have refuted his claims.
Trump himself tweeted an obviously doctored video with the caption “Powerful American Stories Ripped to Shreds by Nancy Pelosi,” refusing to admit that Pelosi deliberately disrespected him, and only him.
Trump accusing Pelosi of breaking the law instead of bruising his ego is a deliberate technique to protect his image. He’s used it countless times before. You can find recent videos of Trump leading his supporters in chanting “Lock her up!” even though Hillary Clinton should no longer pose any threat to him.
“The Law” connotes masculinity, objectivity, unquestionable authority. By claiming that his (often female) opponents have broken the law, Trump is attempting to poison the well. If the law is irrefutable, how can you defend someone who has allegedly broken it?
Trump will continue to deploy this rhetoric to mask his hurt feelings. He has cast Pelosi’s actions as illegal in an attempt to hide how personal of an attack it was.
The irony of this man who was just impeached casting judgment on what’s illegal cannot be lost on us. It’s asinine for a president who solicited campaign help from a foreign government to draw the line at Pelosi tearing up some copy paper.
Nancy Pelosi didn’t break the law. But it doesn’t matter, and Trump knows that.
Nina Cosdon ‘21 is a communication and anthropology/sociology double major from Meadville, PA.