Before we begin to grapple with the gravity of the impeachment inquiry that is now upon us, can we acknowledge yet again the extreme weirdness of our times? If, through the distorting mists of time, the heroes and anti-heroes of the Watergate saga seem positively Shakespearean in their stature—Nixon raging on the heath, his cunning satraps devising their poisoned betrayals—what to make of today’s dramatis personae of Kiev and Washington, Presidents Zelensky and Trump, one a comic actor turned fledgling statesman, the other a real-estate grifter turned . . . political grifter? Scholars of the Volodymyr Zelensky filmography will recall his appearances in “Love in the Big City 2” and “Rzhevsky Versus Napoleon.” And they will credit his work in the television show “Servant of the People,” in which he played the President of Ukraine, a role that set him on the path to being the actual President of Ukraine. Zelensky is an expressive comic artist. And so it is not hard to imagine his mask of terrorized bewilderment as he held a telephone to his ear in July and listened to the ex-star of “The Apprentice” deliver an implicit threat to deprive his country of military aid and diplomatic standing if he failed to interfere in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election on Trump’s behalf. This is our reality.
Into this reality has stepped, if belatedly, Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, Speaker of the House.
From the start, Pelosi has confronted Trump with a wry fearlessness. When, in a moment of rare self-aggrandizement, Trump referred to himself as an “extremely stable genius,” she replied, “When the ‘extremely stable genius’ starts acting more Presidential, I’ll be happy to work with him on infrastructure, trade, and other issues.” In an Oval Office confrontation last year, she brooked no disrespect from Trump and asked that he please not underestimate “the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats.” When, on another occasion, Trump referred to Pelosi as a “mess,” the Speaker thoughtfully suggested that the President might benefit from an “intervention for the good of the country.”