That incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi met with the President this past week is not, by itself, extraordinary. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – you know, Amy Schumer’s uncle – was also in the meeting, pretty standard, not surprising at all. That the President threw a tantrum is also not unusual; it is a regular part of his repertoire when whatever demand he makes is not met.
Ever since Miles Davis released “The Birth of the Cool” in 1957 cool has been a highly regarded quality. Even if you can’t quite define it, you know what it is.
While explaining to the president that billions of dollars in funding to build a wall on the border between Mexico and the U.S. was not going to happen, Pelosi was pretty cool. She was firm, she was calm, she made her point as often as she needed to make it. She held her ground.
Post meeting, when Speaker Pelosi put her sunglasses on, she was very cool. It was a photo that went viral right away.
The image also spoke to another very powerful picture of a woman in shades. The famous photo of Hilary Clinton, texting from behind her sunglasses, came back into popular focus, and the reflection of Pelosi in sunglasses was easily translated into a meme of her supposedly texting with Hilary about the meeting.
As one of the tens of millions of people who had thought these were the years we’d be talking about Madame President, cool is a very important quality for someone at that rank to have.
The concept of sunglasses being a uniform of cool has a very long history, but perhaps no starting point as definitive as the release of a Miles Davis album.
The fact of being able to look without truly being seen, being present while staying hidden, that is the inner power of cool.
When Snoopy, perhaps the most famed cartoon dog in the world, changes into his persona of Joe Cool, all he does is put on a pair of shades.
Cool is about restraint, about self-control. No one has to exercise more restraint than women in positions of political power. Cool is about being in possession of yourself.
Women in politics have long understood that there is a popular mythology of women as overemotional. Women are widely – and erroneously – considered to be driven by emotions, lacking in logic. Women in positions of power understand that their emotions must be kept in check, or they risk being seen as impulsive or weak.
While Trump repeatedly raised his voice, interrupted and demanded that his need to build this wall was more important than any other needs America might have – including the need to have a functioning government – he was as emotional and out of control as an overtired toddler. While the president did not throw himself on the floor and drum his heels, or hold his breath until he turned blue, neither would have been very surprising. He’s done worse, right?
Pelosi, mother of five, has surely seen a few tantrums.
So, outside the White House, after the meeting, when she put those sunglasses on, she was probably not thinking of the picture of Hilary on the plane, texting. She was probably just protecting her eyes from the afternoon light.
I’m a person who has recently had to add shades to my accessories. I’m a woman with light blue eyes who lives in a very bright sunny place, and my doctors tell me cataracts are not an ‘if’, but a ‘when.’ So I have my big, black glasses handy when I get in the car, or walk down the street.
Before this past week, my sunglasses made me think about aging, about being vulnerable, about needing props for support.
Now, I feel I am part of the American sisterhood of cool.
And, after this whole constitutional crisis shakes out, and all the elected officials who are tainted by their participation in Republican campaign to make Russia great again are removed from office, we might be talking about Madame President sooner than you think.
That could be extraordinary. That could be cool.