A the end of Donald Trump's State of the Union address on Tuesday night, House speaker Nancy Pelosi picked up her copy of the speech and proceeded to tear each sheet in half.
The stunt was reminiscent of the previous State of the Union, when an image of Pelosi clapping in Trump's face with a sarcastic looking smile on her face quickly went viral. In one story, CNN declared "Nancy Pelosi's clapback steals Trump's show." That instance turned out to be overblown though. "It wasn't sarcastic," Pelosi later told reporters, saying that she was earnestly clapping for Trump's call to "reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution." She added, "Look at what I was applauding. I wanted him to know that was a very welcome message."
The speech shredding was a more direct message. When asked about it, Pelosi told reporters, "it was the courteous thing to do, considering the alternative. It was such a dirty speech.” Speaking to Democrats in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, Pelosi reportedly said, "He shredded the truth so I shredded his speech," adding, "What we heard last night was a disgrace. The American people deserve better."
Pelosi's paper-ripping predictably led to conservatives gnashing their teeth over the death of civility. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted a still from an episode of The Simpsons with Lisa crying over ripped up paper—Pompeo is possibly unaware that the scene involves Lisa seeing a politician taking a bribe and subsequently losing faith in democracy. Charlie Kirk of Students for Trump called it a "tantrum." George Washington law professor Jonathan Turley claims that Pelosi "dishonored the institution and destroyed even the pretense of civility and decorum in the House. If this is the Speaker's 'drop the mike' [sic] moment, it is a disgrace that should never be celebrated or repeated. In a single act, she obliterated decades of tradition." Quietly tearing paper is probably less obtrusive than yelling "you lie" at a president during their speech, as Republican representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina did to Barack Obama in 2009.
One of the more outlandish claims came from former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich, who wrote, "As Speaker of the House for four State of the Unions by a President of the other party I am disgusted and insulted by the viciously partisan action of Nancy Pelosi tearing up the speech. She isn’t clever or cute her childishness insults our American traditions—should be censured." Gingrich, of course, led the hyper-partisan impeachment of president Bill Clinton, and disseminated a list of words for Republicans to use when describing any Democrat: sick, pathetic, lie, anti-flag, traitors, radical, corrupt. As McKay Coppins writes in The Atlantic, "Gingrich’s career can perhaps be best understood as a grand exercise in devolution—an effort to strip American politics of the civilizing traits it had developed over time and return it to its most primal essence."
Liberal reactions to Pelosi's stunt are as full-throated as the conservative ones. The hashtags #NancytheRipper and #NancyPelosiROCKS are both trending. Seth Abramson, a self-styled #resistance figure on Twitter, wrote, "I just saw someone say something online that really resonated with me: that with a flick of her wrist Pelosi may well have—in the view of history—overshadowed Trump's whole speech. There's a sense in which there's huge power and courage in that—how an act of resistance resonates."
Pelosi could have chosen much less symbolic ways to oppose Trump of course. She could have opposed Trump's military budget—instead she consented to fork over $738 billion to the president to back an unconstitutional war in Yemen and create his long-sought "space force." She could also have refused to Trump him deliver the State of the Union in the first place, barring him from using Congress as a venue to award the highest civilian honor to Rush Limbaugh, an unrepentant racist who calls the children of political rivals dogs and one told a black caller to "take that bone out of your nose and call me back."
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Originally Appeared on GQ