Yesterday the New Yorker published a fascinating, scathing and horrifying examination of Vice President Mike Pence. In a world where President Donald Trump has been increasingly unstable—something that is morbidly impressive given where he started out—and has shocked even his own followers with the depths of his depravity—granted, to his followers, said depravity includes not building a wall and speaking to Democrats—there has been a rising, relatively off-handed support for Mike Pence. The idea, largely from a place of exhaustion, outrage and exhausted outrage, is seemingly clear-cut: after this, anyone would be an improvement.
As absolutely apocalyptic as Donald Trump is as president, this New Yorker article posits one chilling truth: Mike Pence would actually be worse.
Pence has a few things working in his favor: his boss is almost a lock to get himself impeached, he is the only person in the White House who can’t be fired, and he’s possibly the only person outside of Trump’s own family that Trump hasn’t publicly castigated. He’s also deep in the pockets of deeply conservative billionaires. The Koch brothers are no fans of Trump, but they adore Pence. Whereas Trump’s beliefs change with the wind, Pence holds firm to his—and his most steadfast beliefs would be devastating to the nation. One Republican congressional staffer describes him as “as far right as you could go without falling off the earth.” He thinks global warming is a “myth.” He’s made a name for himself by opposing Bush’s efforts to expand Medicaid and threatening to shut down the government if they didn’t defund Planned Parenthood. His “pro-life” stances are shocking in their cruelty.
He backed “personhood” legislation that would ban it under all circumstances, including rape and incest, unless a woman’s life was at stake. He sponsored an unsuccessful amendment to the Affordable Care Act that would have made it legal for government-funded hospitals to turn away a dying woman who needed an abortion. (Later, as governor of Indiana, he signed a bill barring women from aborting a physically abnormal fetus; the bill also required fetal burial or cremation, including after a miscarriage. A federal judge recently found the law unconstitutional.)
His history on race is no better. He was one of the governors to ban Syrian refugees from his state. During his tenure he refused to pardon Keith Cooper, a black man who was found innocent of committing armed robbery through DNA evidence and retracted victim statements. After being asked by the Indiana Parole Board to pardon Cooper, Pence “dragged out the process for years.”
“It was all about Pence’s political career,” Cooper said. “As a Christian, he’s a hypocrite. He wouldn’t see me or speak with me. God doesn’t turn his back on the truth, but Pence just walked away from the truth. I couldn’t move forward in life. I was stuck in a dead-end job.” Cooper, who was operating a forklift at the time, now cares for his grandchildren. He has become friendly with the robbery victims who mistakenly identified him in a police lineup; they supported his bid for a pardon. “I forgive them,” he said. “They stood up for me.” He went on, “I forgive the prosecutor. He wrote a letter. And the parole board? They saw that justice happened. But I don’t forgive Mike Pence, and never will. He talks all this God stuff, but he’s biased. He hates Muslims, he hates gay people, and he hates minorities. He didn’t want to be the first white man in Indiana to pardon an innocent black man.”
A spokesman for Pence, who declined to be quoted, said Pence believed that Cooper needed to go back to court and face a retrial, instead of seeking a pardon.
What’s getting the most notice from this article is a “joke” made by Donald Trump. As a joke, it’s disgusting; as a possible truth, it’s terrifying.
A staff member from Trump’s campaign recalls him mocking Pence’s religiosity. He said that, when people met with Trump after stopping by Pence’s office, Trump would ask them, “Did Mike make you pray?” Two sources also recalled Trump needling Pence about his views on abortion and homosexuality. During a meeting with a legal scholar, Trump belittled Pence’s determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. The legal scholar had said that, if the Supreme Court did so, many states would likely legalize abortion on their own. “You see?” Trump asked Pence. “You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.” When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”
Pence has since the early days of his political career sought to ensure LGBTQ people are denied rights under the auspices of “religious freedom.”
Are we better or worse off with President Trump versus President Pence? It’s a question that if thought about too long can be used as a very effective ipecac. But it’s a question we all need to face and soon.