The newest scandal in rightwing media is that Nancy Pelosi got her hair done. A security video time-stamped from Monday afternoon Pacific time, emerged on Tuesday showing the House speaker walking through an empty eSalon, a business in her San Francisco district. In the grainy, overhead shot, Pelosi can be seen wearing a papery black spa robe and blue pumps. Her hair is wet, and she is not wearing a mask. A stylist follows behind her, who is masked. The visit evidently violated San Francisco’s coronavirus procedures, which mandate that salon treatments should be conducted outdoors.
The video has been replayed giddily by Fox News and covered with fervor by outlets like the New York Post, which have lambasted the congresswoman for her hypocrisy in failing to comply with the now politically charged mask mandates she has encouraged others to follow. “Crazy Nancy Pelosi is being decimated for having a beauty parlor opened,” tweeted Donald Trump, “and for not wearing a Mask – despite constantly lecturing everyone else.” The right has also implied that to visit the salon was decadent and selfish of Pelosi, with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, calling her “Mary Antoinette” (yes, he misspelled it), in reference to the queen of France whose life of excess became a parable of the moral repugnance of elite obliviousness generally and female vanity in particular.
For her part, Pelosi dismissed the scandal as manufactured, saying that her assistant was told that the salon was routinely scheduling individual appointments. “I take responsibility for trusting the word of a neighborhood salon that I’ve been to many times,” she said at a press briefing in San Francisco. “It was a set-up. I take responsibility for falling for a set-up.”
It would perhaps be tedious to catalog the numerous hypocrisies that characterized the Republican response to the scandal. There is the way that Fox News rushed to book Erica Kious, the salon’s owner, who appeared on Tucker Carlson’s TV show to express her supposed outrage at the violation of the coronavirus restrictions. And the fact that Kious reminded one of Shelley Luther, the owner of Dallas’s Salon a la Mode, who opened her shop to serve clients in defiance of her own city’s coronavirus restrictions, and who also became a darling of rightwing media, with Carlson defending her at length on his show in May.
And it would be unnecessary, too, to point out that the Trump family’s attempts to depict Pelosi as vain, decadent, elite and out of touch for getting her hair done draws attention to their own conspicuous lifestyles and effortful personal appearances. Donald Jr, for instance, is the son of a rich man who is the son of a rich man, and his comparison of Pelosi’s salon visit to the indulgences of hereditary royalty has the quality of a pot calling a kettle black. Meanwhile Donald Trump’s signature skin tone appears to require the intervention of one or more professionals to achieve, and women and men alike in the Trump orbit never appear publicly without their own elaborate coiffures. But the attack on Pelosi for the salon visit is not necessarily meant to belie any of these realities: after all, one of the Trump family’s primary means of asserting their power is to emphasize the brazenness of their own hypocrisy.
If Donald Trump wasn’t such a bad president, no one would have to weigh the public health risks of getting their hair cut in the first place
Instead, Salongate seems less like a genuine outrage and more like a fabricated one, intended to distract from a presidential race that remains heavily favored for Joe Biden even in the aftermath of the Republican national convention. New polls released this week show Biden with a sizable lead in many swing states, including Arizona, once a Republican stronghold. Even those voters most amenable to the Trump camp’s messaging might have difficulty forgetting how much their lives have been altered and narrowed by the coronavirus pandemic, and experts have blamed America’s uniquely poor handling of the disease on incompetent executive leadership and the framing of commonsense public health measures, like mask-wearing, as statements of political allegiance. If Donald Trump wasn’t such a bad president, no one would have to weigh the public health risks of getting their hair cut in the first place.
If anything, Salongate is evidence of the Trump campaign’s failure to respond to a central shift in the political dynamic between 2016 and now: Trump, for the first time, is running against a white man. Entering the political scene with the racist birther conspiracy theory he leveled against Barack Obama, and framing his 2016 presidential run as an reassertion of masculine prerogatives against the uppity ambitions of the first major female presidential nominee, Trump has previously made his political case as a defense of white male power against the forces of equality.
But when he is running against Joe Biden, another white male, this argument has less potency. Instead of finding another way to attack Biden, the Trump campaign has attempted to frame him, and the Democratic party more broadly, as too comfortable and too proximate to female power. An awkward attempt was made to revive the racist birther conspiracy by suggesting that Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, was not eligible to be vice-president (Harris was born in California). Mailers sent out by pro-Trump groups have tried to cast Biden as a radical leftist, and provided pictures of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar to illustrate the point. The reality of Joe Biden – a paragon of white American masculinity in all its privileges and absurdities – makes attempts like Salongate to make the 2020 election into a referendum on female power seem somewhat desperate and sad. Of course, that doesn’t mean they won’t work.
Originally published: 2020-09-03 14:05:53