Division, partisan struggles to keep haunting US politics after Pelosi’s exit
Published: Nov 18, 2022 11:36 PM
Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi Photo: VCG

Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi  File Photo: VCG

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who dragged China-US diplomatic relations into unprecedented danger after a provocative visit to the island of Taiwan in August, has announced that she will not seek the Democratic leadership again after Republicans secured control of the chamber.  

However, Chinese observers believe that at the age of 82 and having led Democrats for two decades, Pelosi will continue to have an influence in the US Congress as a lawmaker. With her image as "a radical", Pelosi's stepping down will not end, but rather open another chapter of US' polarized politics trapped in bitter partisan struggles, they said. 

According to AP News, Pelosi said the October attack on her husband by an intruder into their home in California made her "think again about staying." 

The intruder's question - "Where is Nancy?" - echoed the chants of the pro-Trump rioters at the Capitol during the riots on January 6, 2021. 

The latest attack was one more example demonstrating the deep political divisions in the US and heightened fears of politically motivated violence across the US in general, analysts said. 

The US Capitol building is seen in Washington, DC Nov 10, 2022. The balance of power in the next US Congress is still undecided as of late Thursday night, two days after the 2022 midterm elections. Photo:Xinhua

The US Capitol building is seen in Washington, DC Nov 10, 2022. The balance of power in the next US Congress is still undecided as of late Thursday night, two days after the 2022 midterm elections. Photo:Xinhua

An epitome of polarization 

Liu Weidong, a research fellow at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Friday that Pelosi appeared to be disheartened after the Democrats' loss of the House majority and her family issue.

Now, Pelosi will no longer be the vanguard in the face of Republicans' "red wave," but as she is a strong legislator and has served so long, her impact will remain, Liu said. The new generation of Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC, is more aggressive, more extreme and more values-oriented, Liu said. 

Diao Daming, an associate professor at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times on Friday that Pelosi would remain an important operator as long as she's in the House, as her possible successors, such as Hakeem Jeffries are strongly influenced by her. 

CNN said that whoever follows Pelosi will serve in the shadow of her legacy as one of the most powerful and polarizing figures in American politics.

Pelosi earned the House Speaker's gavel after Democrats swept into power in the midterms in 2006 amid a backlash against then-president Republican George W. Bush, then lost it after the 2010 elections. She returned after the 2018 midterms in the Donald Trump era. 

Pelosi led the Democrats in the impeachments of Trump. In her Thursday remarks on the House floor, Pelosi recapped her career, mentioning three of four presidents she had worked alongside, leaving out Trump. 

Much of Pelosi's popularity comes from her seniority and strong will to spearhead the attack, but not all Democrats like her, Liu said. Pelosi's rise and her career somewhat reflected an extremist tendency in US politics. 

Pelosi's image in Congress is polarized. Democrats see her positively while Republicans view her very negatively. For median voters, she is not associated with an image that makes people feel comfortable, Diao said. 

Her radical style pushed the controversial Obamacare to be approved, but when partisan struggles intensify, radicalism increasingly becomes a threat to US democracy and is causing unprecedented problems for the country, analysts said. 

Partisan struggles 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is in position to replace Pelosi as speaker, said on Fox News Wednesday that the GOP "have fired Nancy Pelosi" after Republicans won the House with 218 seats. Democrats clinched 212 out of the 435 seats in total, and the biggest Republican lead could be just 11 seats. 

McCarthy said in July that he would lead a congressional trip to Taiwan island if he becomes House Speaker, when there was still speculation over Pelosi's provocative visit.  

McCarthy's rise within the GOP coincided with the emergence of Trumpist Republicans, so he follows Trump on China policy, despite also being representative of the Republican establishment on China, Diao said.

Also, as the Republican lead in the House is slim, in order to realize party unity, the Republican establishment may have to compromise with the more extreme forces in its own party and act in a very provocative manner, Diao noted.

The expert cited the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, a bipartisan member organization in the Congress that is made up of the more extreme anti-China politicians. It has the participation of 33 House representatives and McCarthy is facing a situation in which a less radical majority could be held in check by an extreme minority. 

Some observers are worried the two parties could engage in a race to provoke China and bring about a disastrous impact on China-US relations.

However, Diao raised the possibility that lawmaker Pelosi, and House Democrats, could even emerge with a new image as stabilizer if Republicans become excessively provocative in their China policy, because in that situation, Republicans as the opposition are responsible for making trouble, while for Democrats, "managing risks would win them more points and showcase their 'performance' in Congress." 

US division Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

US division Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

A plagued system 

Whether it's a radical or ostensibly rational Pelosi, or whether it's an establishment or extreme McCarthy, their words and deeds cannot escape intensifying partisan struggles that are chronically paralyzing US democracy, experts said. 

Many observers have pointed out an essential defect in the US political system - it very much encourages political stunts and radical words and acts because professional politicians need to offer "stimulating stuff" to demonstrate their presence, to get the spotlight and media coverage, and to get votes and political donations. 

At this juncture, US domestic politics is becoming increasingly polarized and violent, and different interest groups can barely compromise to push forward policies that truly benefit social development, analysts said. 

The core of US-style democracy lies in its electoral system, but an increasing number of citizens believe that this system is not effective. 

The result of a New York Times/Siena College poll indicates that 28 percent of all voters said they had little to no faith in the accuracy of this year's midterm elections. According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 69 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Republicans think the country's democracy is on the brink of collapse.

When a president takes power, what comes to his mind first is not how to solve problems, correct mistakes, safeguard national interests and protect people's welfare, but how to maintain partisan interests and consolidate power. Lü Xiang, an expert on US studies and research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has compared the US electoral system to choosing between the less rotten of two baskets of rotten apples.