By Edward Achorn
It seems a small matter: breaking the rules at a hair salon. But such incidents often have sticking power. They are packed with symbolism.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi often lectures the public about wearing masks. She supports locking down small businesses. But this week Americans could see that she did not practice what she preaches.
A security tape Monday captured Ms. Pelosi during a VIP visit to a shuttered hair salon in San Francisco, ESalonSF, for a wash and a blow-out. The politicians in her home city of San Francisco have imposed lockdown dictates that bar clients from being served indoors.
Not only did the 80-year-old politician violate the rules, she declined to wear a mask indoors.
No big deal?
Maybe. But this kind of behavior has greatly empowered such populists as the unpleasant Donald Trump.
In it for themselves
The president’s base of support in middle America has concluded that establishment politicians are in it for themselves. They believe these politicians, some of them filthy rich, like Ms. Pelosi, regard middle-class Americans as suckers who may be ripped off and abused at will.
The elites, in the view of many Americans, practice a double standard: They may do anything they please. The rules they impose, which they enforce through brutal government power, are only for the little people.
While many members of the news media slavishly applaud everything Ms. Pelosi does, a huge swath of voters find her conduct deeply hypocritical.
These voters see her routinely violate political norms and heap vicious abuse on her political foes, all the while touting her religious and moral virtues.
Perceptions of hypocrisy
They see her protect herself with a phalanx of armed federal guards, while comparing federal officers who go into Portland to protect the people there to Nazi “stormtroopers.”
Earlier this year, they saw her delay aid for small businesses that are dying because of government-ordered lockdowns, while proudly displaying her $20,000 freezers and the boutique ice cream inside them.
This week, she chided her political enemies for failing to wear a mask outdoors, while (when she thought no one was watching) she did not wear one indoors, where transmission of COVID-19 is more likely.
After the video appeared, there was a way Ms. Pelosi could have responded with decency and integrity. She could have said she was sorry and pledged to help small businesses reopen safely. If it is safe for her to dispense with a mask, perhaps it is safe for others.
Instead, Ms. Pelosi haughtily refused to accept responsibility for anything but “trusting the word” of a beautician who permitted her to be serviced inside. Ms. Pelosi, indeed, insisted the salon owner “owes” her an “apology” and that she was “set up.” The owner, who said she received death threats after the powerful speaker’s accusation, denied the charge.
‘Beaten down’ by politicians
“It was a slap in the face that she went in, you know, that she feels that she can just go and get her stuff done while no one else can go in, and I can’t work,” Erica Kious, the owner, told Fox News.
Countless small business owners are paying the price for safety dictates by establishment politicians.
“We have been shut down for so long, not just me, but most of the small businesses and I just can’t — it’s a feeling — a feeling of being deflated, helpless and honestly beaten down,” Ms. Kious said.
“I have been fighting for six months for a business that took me 12 years to build to reopen,” she said. “I am a single mom, I have two small children, and I have no income.”
She added: “The fact that they did this, and she came in, it’s like a slap in the face.”
That is the voice of many in middle America.
AOC and Trump
Altogether it was a tough week for Ms. Pelosi. On Tuesday, her endorsed candidate, U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy, lost his run for the U.S. Senate, the first time the once powerful Kennedy family has ever experienced such a humbling defeat in Massachusetts.
It is notable that former bartender Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Mr. Kennedy’s opponent. Though U.S. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and President Trump appear to detest each other, they are both tapping into a similar, potentially explosive populist sentiment — the growing anger over elites in Washington who serve themselves and their special interests, not the people.
Many Americans have concluded that, in the world of the elites, harsh treatment and inflexible regulations are only for the little people.
That is why a visit to a beauty salon may not be such a minor matter.
(Read Edward Achorn’s books about American history.)