Monday, September 18, 2023

So Help Me God

Mike Pence has always been a bit baffling.  

On the one hand, a deeply conservative Christian, who considers duty and honor and faith central to his existence.  On the other, a supporter of a leader who represents and lives out the precise opposite of every Christian virtue he espouses.   My curiosity in picking up this book at the library:  what did Pence think he was doing?   There's importance to that, to listening to what people believe they are doing as they act.  It gets to motivation, to self-understanding, to the ethos that makes a certain set of decisions possible.

In this book he tells us.  Lord have mercy, does he tell us.  It's over five hundred pages long, with meticulous endnotes.  Every meeting, every person he's interacted with meaningfully, every pet owned, all of it.  It's the whole life, right there.  The acknowledgements section goes on for eight pages.  

Pence and Trump were clearly cut from wildly different cloth.  An example, one that Mr. Pence notes on pages 187-188 of the book, and that hung in my own memory after it happened: He took his daughter to go see Hamilton, right after the election.  The cast, noting his presence, had a cast member read a short statement expressing their anxieties.  As Pence put it, the cast "..hoped we could uphold American values and work for all Americans.  I wasn't offended by anything he said."  Pence publicly described that...and the mixed reception he and his family "what democracy looks like."  Trump, on the other hand, raged about it on Twitter.  Later, Trump grumbled at Pence.  "You took the high road.  I never take the high road."

That dissonance continues throughout the book.  There's little evidence that Pence had significant influence in the administration, other his evident and primary role as a liaison to Christian conservatives and anxious democracies.

Why the support, support that lingers even after a mob instigated by Trump threatened Pence's life?

It seems to boil down to this: What Trump did worked.  Trump instinctively found handholds in the angers and bitternesses of the struggling American working class, and leveraged those resentments to his own benefit.  Trump's force of will, natural charisma and self-confidence parse as authenticity to many, sure.  That this is the modus operandi of every demagogue and charlatan throughout human history...the Neros, the Mussolinis...somehow eludes Pence.  He saw that it worked, and if it works, it must be Providence and part of God's will.  Right?  

Throughout the book, for all of my considerable disagreements with him, Pence comes across as a decent man, a good husband and father, someone who genuinely values country and faith.  At the same time, he remains someone whose partisanship leads him to both excuse and rationalize fundamentally immoral actions.

His anger at the riot on January 6th, his proclamation, "Not here, not in America," those are the selling points of the book, right there on the cover.  That's the entire case for his presidential campaign.  But what does that mean, if you turn right around and raise your hand affirmatively when asked if you'd vote again for the man whose lies were the root cause of that desecration?  How does that show duty to God or country, to truth or patriotism?  

It does not.  It means nothing.

Right there in a nutshell lies the paradox of Mike Pence.