Last month, I joined activists accompanying former Supervisor John Avalos to the District Office of Representative Nancy Pelosi to deliver a giant foam backbone. We offered to help Democrats grow a spine, which they will desperately need to oppose Donald Trump with intensity equal to the GOP obstruction of President Barack Obama.
Pelosi’s office responded to press coverage of the backbone with this statement: “San Franciscans know that Nancy Pelosi has always stood steadfast against hate and discrimination in any form and will lead the fight against any such efforts by the Trump Administration. We appreciate the considerable amount of time a lame duck supervisor has on his hands, but he is very misinformed.”
Political defeats mean that heads roll. Even if you were right or it wasn’t your fault or you’re best for the job, in politics, an unexpected humiliating defeat means it’s time for new leadership. Even Newt Gingrich had the decency to resign his speakership entirely after losing five seats in 1998. It must be pretty humiliating for Pelosi to be a less-dignified leader than Gingrich.
Pelosi — who told CBS’s “Face the Nation,” “I don’t think people want a new direction” — demonstrates yet again her resolve to fight some war other than the one she is actually in. While I applaud “standing” against hate and discrimination, I much prefer “winning.” But I won’t quibble.
More importantly, what about dismantling of democratic institutions? Shredding the Constitution? Erosion of a free press and civil liberties? Hijacking of government by the least-qualified placeholders since Coy and Vance Duke replaced the Dukes of Hazzard?
When scholars worldwide warn against the potential of long-term Trump autocracy, martial law and/or nuclear war, Pelosi is business as usual. Her tweets are routine partisan posturing, not a reaction appropriate to an existential threat to civilization. Rather than being the champion of the opposition, rallying her forces to defend core principles and unite the public against the promised dismantling of 70 years of social progress, Pelosi is doing the same thing and expecting different results.
The case for a starkly new direction is made by five studies that tumbled down the internet superhighway in the last few months:
– According to the National Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy in the United States declined for the first time in two decades. People are dying younger.
– According to a working paper by economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger at Princeton and Harvard universities, respectively, all net job growth in the last 10 years has been contracted, independent contractor, on-call, temporary, part-time or other futureless contingent work.
– According to the Federal Reserve’s Report on the Economic Well-Being of Households in 2014, half of Americans would need to borrow money to cover an emergency $400 expense.
– According to Stanford economist Raj Chetty, the percentage of Americans who will earn more than their parents by age 30 has plummeted to half, down from 92 percent for those born in 1940.
– Why is this happening? Perhaps it has something to do with the recent Oxfam analysis that the richest 62 people in the world own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population.
Taken together, the story told by these details is that whatever progress was made in the United States since World War II to raise standards of living is collapsing. Upward mobility — admittedly, primarily for white people — is done. People of color and women will catch the meanest scraps from feast. Modernization of the last century has crashed into the wall of inequality and capitalist greed. We considered a Star Trek future and chose Mad Max instead.
Anyone who wants to lead must offer a credible solution to these problems. Pelosi certainly doesn’t. Whether it’s her, a presidential candidate or a San Francisco supervisor, they cannot dither with politically viable technocratic gimmicks but need to articulate a plan to solve the crisis in front of us or step aside.
Nato Green is a San Francisco-based comedian and writer who will take your questions @natogreen. Seem him live at Verdi Wild Things Are at the Verdi Club on Thursday, Jan. 12.