“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. / An evil soul producing holy witness / Is like a villain with a smiling cheek, / A goodly apple rotten at the heart. / Oh, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”
– William Shakespeare, “The Merchant of Venice.”
I just thought I would begin with some Shakespeare, apropos of nothing. A bit of the Bard certainly brightens up a Tuesday, no?
On a completely unrelated note, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to quote the book of Isaiah in a letter to her Democratic House colleagues to press for their support on legislation and to rebuke both unjust police officers and the Trump administration.
The letter, sent last Monday, begins with two verses with a very big ellipsis between them, Isaiah 2:12 and Isaiah 10:1-2.
“As Isaiah says, ‘For the Lord will have a day of reckoning… Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed,’” Pelosi wrote.
“A reckoning is here for justice in policing, and I commend Chair Karen Bass and the Congressional Black Caucus on their important leadership in presenting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020,” it continued.
“As we prayerfully protect the American people, we are protecting our Constitution.”
A lot happened between those two verses. We’ll get to that in a second. There was a second biblical-esque moment of judgment to come, apparently, this one over the Trump administration’s handling of the novel coronavirus.
“A reckoning is also in order for the lives lost and the disparate impact of the virus on the communities of color. On March 15, there were 60 known deaths in the United States. Today, June 15, there are over 116,000 deaths. This sad record represents a horrible failure of the Trump Administration in terms of PPE, testing and behavior recommended by scientists,” she wrote.
“We pray for a vaccine and a cure but are months away from such relief from COVID-19. We do have testing, tracing, treatment and isolation to curb the spread of the virus and have a moral responsibility to engage in such practices.
“We must insist on the passage of The Heroes Act to honor our heroes, open our economy with testing and put money in the pockets of America’s working families. Senator McConnell has said we need a pause. The virus doesn’t pause, unemployment doesn’t pause, hunger doesn’t pause – and neither should we.”
So, several threads here.
First, this part of the book of Isaiah deals with the judgment of God upon Assyria. While Isaiah can be a malleable book and certainly has a few quotable phrases, pulling these two out to form a single thought when they’re eight chapters apart and have a very specific context is entirely misleading and confusing.
Is she saying the Democrats’ judgment upon police and upon the Trump administration’s coronavirus response is like God’s judgment? It’s not just that; as religious parallels go, that’s all about as deep as your average Depeche Mode song. It also sounds a little bit like Pelosi sees the Democrats as bringing forth reckoning with these bills, which is problematic when you consider whose reckoning is discussed in these verses.
So, about those bills. The first is the House’s version of a police reform bill, which they see as being a whole reckoning better than the Senate’s bill. Among the primary differences, according to Reuters, is that Senate Republicans want to tie federal policing money to key reforms as opposed to making them federal law like the House Democrats’ bill would.
Speaking to NPR this past weekend, West Virginia GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said “that if local police departments and law enforcement don’t ban” chokeholds, for instance, “then they’re not going to get certain grants and certain other federal dollars, much like we did with the seat belt law when it went into effect … effectively, it would ban chokeholds.”
Republicans, meanwhile, have taken issue with the fact that the Democrats’ bill would overhaul something known as qualified immunity – which protects law enforcement members who have reason to believe they were acting in a lawful fashion – making it exponentially easier for individuals to sue police over purported misconduct even when police didn’t think they were doing anything wrong.
(According to The Washington Post, this may be an area of compromise, since at least one Republican senator is willing to look at scaling back qualified immunity.)
Is Pelosi saying, with this Bible quotation, that the Republicans are “those who make unjust laws” when these are the differences between them? It can certainly be uncharitably viewed that way. Of course, one could also uncharitably say that Pelosi simply sought out some Bible verses that dealt with reckoning and, after a quick search, thought these worked. There’s so many ways you could go here.
And then there’s the reckoning coming for the Trump administration because of the “horrible failure of the Trump Administration in terms of PPE, testing and behavior recommended by scientists.”
Her solution to this is the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion package which was dead on arrival in the Senate after the House passed it on a party-line vote last month.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that it was a “liberal wish list” and “an unserious product from an unserious majority.” Even if the Senate were to pass it, the Trump administration has said the president would veto it.
The bill would extend the additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits given at the federal level and send out another round of stimulus checks. It would also restore a property tax deduction that benefits rich blue-staters, bail out fiscally irresponsible state and local governments, and dole out $50 million in “environmental justice” grants.
This is what Speaker Pelosi is invoking Isaiah over. Better decisions have been made.
It’s also worth wondering why Pelosi didn’t pay attention to the simple context of the verses that she was citing.
Again, this is God’s judgment upon Assyria. This isn’t just some random collection of passages dealing with the unjust. This is a very strange parallel to make, but if corrupt cops and the Trump administration are Assyria here and the Democrats’ bills are going to help bring the reckoning, I’ll leave it to you to figure out what makes the Democrats.
Either way, it’s good to see Pelosi digging into the Bible. Now, quick, before the next abortion debate in the House, maybe read Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed you in your mother’s body I chose you. Before you were born I set you apart to serve me. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.”
Either way, if she gets to imply the Democratic Party is God … well, I simply get to quote the Bard. Apropos of nothing, I swear.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.