With each event Nancy Pelosi attends where she's meant to make nice with Trump, shade follows. Sometimes she shuts the room down with a look or a glare, sometimes a tweet, like last year's State of the Union. But at Tuesday's 2020 SOTU address, Pelosi once again made her contempt for the president and his speech widely known — this time, with more than a disapproving look or smarmy clap.
In addition to only introducing him as president instead of the usual "honorable," right after President Donald Trump finished giving his State of the Union Address, the Speaker of the House responded promptly by standing up and, while everyone else was clapping, began ripping up a copy of Trump’s speech. In 2020 fashion, of course the latest in the Trump-Pelosi feud is now ripe for meme generation. At the same event last year, Pelosi was notably making faces during his speech. But, this time, she wasn’t as subtle with her message to impeached president Donald Trump. She ripped up the speech symbolizing she won't simply be polite for optics sake while ignoring the implications of what Trump says and does.
According to Patti Wood, a body language expert and author of SNAP: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma, Pelosi’s actions clearly signal that the act was planned and done very intentionally. "It’s not something she is doing lightly. She’s doing it multiple times. It’s so distinctive," Wood told Refinery29.
Wood also says that it's especially significant that Pelosi didn't wait to rip up the copies of the speech until after the room was done with applauding. "She’s doing it while they’re still applauding so she’s also making the decision not to applaud," she says. "The juxtaposition of her picking the papers up as right next to her Vice President Pence is looking with adoration at Trump and has uplifted applause, that distinction makes it more dramatic."
In juxtaposition with Trump holding his head high to show how proud he is and Pence clapping, Pelosi looked down and disengaged from the clapping and adoration, "so even before she does the ripping of the documents, she’s making a choice not to adore him and not to clap." Wood says that when Pelosi began the ripping, it was clear she was "focused" on the papers, bringing her lips in to concentrate and "give it a lot more effort, to show ‘I want to really rip these.’"
But, after the shocking tearing of the speech, the White House quickly responded, taking to Twitter to say that ripping up the speech was disrespectful to Americans and everyone Trump mentioned in it, including “the mourning families of Rocky Jones and Kayla Mueller.”
It isn’t just the White House that’s upset, either — Pelosi’s actions are causing controversy, hijacking the attention of online discourse. Some say the snarky symbolic gestures are not enough and others agreeing with the White House, saying it’s simply uncalled for, as it’s not just an act of disrespect towards the president but to Americans.
Others have defended the action and stand in solidarity with Pelosi and her communication of anger and disgust, saying that in this context, ripping the speech is somewhat revolutionary, since no one has done anything like it before. Mika Brzezinski defended Pelosi on Morning Joe, saying, “I think she sat there and listened to a pile of lies and the only way to communicate that visually was to rip up the speech, which was useless because it was full of lies. She's fed up.”
As she ripped the documents, it was clear to see she was keeping her focus away from the president. Woods explains that the significance lies in how she's treating the papers. "The thing about that is that it makes the focus on the documents and his speech rather than the man. She’s not giving him respect, admiration or attention, but she’s not doing it to get him. It’s not a direct dig at him personally," she says. "She’s doing it symbolically for everyone. It’s purposeful but it’s not an interpersonal game with him. It was to show symbolically that the document wasn’t worth keeping."
This isn’t the first time the two politicians have clashed and publicly feuded, of course. Their relationship is full of particularly public quarrels — from her rescinding Trump’s invitation to give the State of the Union in 2019 in the first place, and then the infamous clap after the speech last year. At each step of the way, Pelosi has made it clear that she’s not here for anything Trump has to say.
When asked by reporters why she tore up the speech, Pelosi responded, “Because it was the courteous thing to do. It was the courteous thing to do considering the alternative. It was such a dirty speech.” She also called it “a manifesto of mistruths.”