The assault on Paul Pelosi is only a part of the mayhem ahead of the US midterms

Republicans could secure a House majority next week, which does not bode well for the US and global economies

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The horrifying attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a key Democratic leader, is the chronicle of an attack foretold. Mr Pelosi, 82, was severely injured with a hammer by David DePape, who reportedly broke into their home at 2am and rampaged through the house shouting "Where's Nancy?"

Ms Pelosi was, fortunately, in Washington DC with her security detail. But the first obvious echo of this apparent failed assassination attempt was the focus on Ms Pelosi by the January 6 mob rampaging through Congress chanting "Nancy, Nancy" and "All we want is Pelosi." The other figure heavily singled out that day was then-vice president Mike Pence, whom the rioters chanted that they intended to hang.

The insurrectionists were infuriated with Mr Pence because he was refusing to co-operate with an unlawful scheme cooked up by former president Donald Trump and attorney John Eastman for the vice president to unconstitutionally refuse to count certified results and electors from key swing states. But their hatred of Ms Pelosi was far more broad-based and generalised, rooted in more than 10 years of intense personal vilification by Republican leaders and advocates.

She has consistently been in the top two or three Democrats demonised by increasingly violent Republican rhetoric over the past decade, first alongside former president Barack Obama, then presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and more recently candidate and now President Joe Biden. "Nancy" is such a constant feature of vitriolic right-wing denigration that she is typically referred to in these attacks only by her first name.

The reason, unsurprisingly, that she draws so much ire is that she has been a remarkably effective House leader for Democrats, particularly in the nearly two years since Mr Biden was inaugurated. The rabble-rousing Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene even indicated support for calls for Ms Pelosi to be executed as a "traitor".

A second significant echo in the attack on her husband was an outrageously violent debasement of the Speaker by her Republican rival, Kevin McCarthy, who is seeking to become Speaker in her place. In 2021, he told a fundraising event: “I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that [Speaker’s] gavel. It will be hard not to hit her with it.” Apparently Mr DePape took that both seriously and literally, though he had to satisfy himself with battering her elderly husband.

Republicans seem to have an excellent chance of securing at least a small House majority, but that is by no means certain

Violent rhetoric and thinly-disguised threats promoting attacks against politicians have been steadily intensifying since the rise of Mr Trump as the Republican leader in 2016. There have been several noteworthy instances of left-wing violence and threats against Republican officials. But not only are there significantly more such attempts against Democrats, there is no comparable violent discourse among Democratic leaders or leading liberal commentators.

The third echo in the attack on Mr Pelosi were of the chilling words of moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins who said on October 1: “I wouldn’t be surprised if a senator or House member were killed,” because of the proliferation of “active threats of violence and real violence.” No one could be.

While many leading Republicans have expressed horror at the attack, Mr Trump has been strikingly silent. Quite a few other Republicans made light of the attack or sought to blame it on the Democrats because of their supposedly “pro-crime” policies.

It certainly seems like just a matter of time before political assassinations and violent assaults could re-emerge as a regular feature of American national life. The spike in the rhetoric of havoc must eventually translate into concrete action, as it did at 2am on Friday in the Pelosi house.

But there is another form of mayhem lurking on the American horizon, and another potential chronicle of a terrifying attack foretold. The midterm elections which take place in a week are, this year, exceptionally unusual and hard to read. Anyone making firm predictions is being overconfident.

Republicans seem to have an excellent chance of securing at least a small House majority, but that is by no means certain. And the Senate appears to be absolutely neck and neck.

But assuming Republicans at least take the House, as does seem likely, the Biden administration faces all sorts of investigations, harassment and possible impeachment, all based on vengeance rather than actual misdeeds. That is not the grave danger, however.

Republican leaders in the House have repeatedly announced that if they regain power they intend to use the Speaker’s gavel not to hit Ms Pelosi on the head, but to hammer the US and global economies senseless, and create an unmitigated catastrophe unless Mr Biden capitulates and undoes many of his legislative accomplishments.

They want the administration to agree to huge spending cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and probably military and other support for Ukraine, or they will refuse to co-operate in the necessary regular raising of a “debt ceiling” that limits government borrowing, so that the country can pay for previous spending already authorised by Congress.

It is unconstitutional for the US government to default on its debt obligations, and doing so would not only disrupt payments to vulnerable domestic recipients of government support, it would also spike US borrowing costs. Most alarmingly, it would probably trigger a massive financial crisis across the world by destroying the credibility of US Treasury securities, which serve as a global benchmark.

They really are threatening to blow up the US, and to some extent global, economy if they do not get their way. That national and international horror is at least as terrifying as Mr Pelosi's hammer-wielding 2am assailant.

So, if Republicans win the House next week, Democrats must act immediately to abolish the debt ceiling, or raise it to an astronomical level that makes further extensions unnecessary, or find another workaround, like minting a $1 trillion gold coin. The precise methodology is less important than the absolutely essential defusing of this ticking bomb.

Poor Mr Pelosi was a sitting duck, unprotected in his home in the middle of the night. But the Democrats will have almost two months to move quickly to disarm these gavel-wielding would-be assailants on the US and global financial system.

Anyone who thinks the current crop of Republicans are not reckless enough to do that must have slept through the past six years.

Published: October 31, 2022, 2:00 PM