Pence as president could be worse than Trump

The thought of Donald Trump’s monstrous ego being swiftly turned out of office because of his incompetence and corruption can’t help but give us a warm feeling of schadenfreude. Yet contemplating his possible impeachment gives full meaning to the idea of being careful of what you wish.

The complicating factor here is that an impeachment and removal from office would elevate Christian fundamentalist Mike Pence to the presidency. That would be truly a horrifying development. Not only because Vice President Pence is more of a “true believer” in the extreme Right agenda than is President Trump but as an experienced legislator and governor, he’d likely be far more effective in steering bills through Congress.

With some of the most ideological Republicans in control of all three branches of government, and given that the Democratic Party has shown no sign whatsoever of learning from last year’s electoral debacle, hoping for relief from traditional politics seems even more hopeless than it is ordinarily. What to do? Even the ongoing campaign to “Refuse Fascism” by “driving out the Trump/Pence regime” has a controversial element to it. Although appropriately aimed at both while targeting the system that could elevate such horrors to the apex of political power, this sort of campaign spreads confusion by equating what is a particularly nasty manifestation of capitalist formal democracy with full fascism.

The Indiana Toll Road (photo by Georgi Banchev)

Let’s step back for a moment and remember a bit of history. In the last years of Weimar Germany, the Communist Party of Germany maintained a rigid sectarian line that focused its attacks not on the Nazis, but at Social Democracy. The Social Democrats were scorned as “social fascists,” and the coalition governments of Social Democrats and its moderate Right allies denounced as “objectively fascist” already. Instead of a united front against the Nazis, the only strategy that could have defeated Hitler before Hindenburg appointed him chancellor, energy was dissipated in sectarian sniping.

When the Nazis took power, they wasted no time rounding up Communists and Social Democrats, sending them to the first concentration camps. Of course, it was the Social Democrats who paved the road for the Nazis through their continual reliance on the right-wing death squads known as the “Free Corps” who would later became the seeds for Hitler’s storm troops.

The difference between a miserable, politically bankrupt bourgeois government and a fascist government was hammered home the hard way. Let us not make the same mistake now. Donald Trump’s ascension carries the seeds of a potential fascist movement but it is not actually fascist; thus far it is a conventional Republican administration in its policies, albeit one more extreme and incompetent than even the Bush II/Cheney administration. That is more than enough reason to organize with urgency, going beyond demonstrations to building organized movements. But if both Trump and Pence were removed from office before their terms were up, then House Speaker Paul Ryan would take office. Hardly an improvement!

The bar is mighty low indeed when Speaker Ryan, capable of little more than robotically repeating the lines he’s been fed by the Koch brothers, can, with a straight face by corporate-media commentators, be considered an “intellectual.” As the Green Party activist Paul Gilman jokes, “Ryan is considered an intellectual by Republicans because he’s read both of Ayn Rand’s novels.”

None of the foregoing in any way is an attempt to discourage the work of Refuse Fascism, or anybody else organizing against the Trump administration. We need more of this kind of work — especially work that targets capitalism instead of focusing on personalities. For our ability to limit the damage from the White House and its congressional enablers will depend on the intensity and effectiveness of our organizing.

A general in the Republican war on women

Circling back to Vice President Pence, it would be nearly impossible to overstate his extremism. In public speeches, he has said he is “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican in that order.” Like many evangelical Christians, he believes he has a right to impose his religious beliefs on everyone else, and as Indiana governor passed a law intended to do that. As a Daily Kos report put it:

“He has repeatedly claimed that he should make policies and pass laws that are in accordance with his faith. The evangelical church Mike Pence has been attending teaches that marriage is only between one man and one woman. The wife must be submissive to her husband. All women are expected to submit humbly to the teachings of Christian men.”

The church he attended in Indianapolis openly calls for a theocratic state, believing the Bible should be taken literally:

“We believe the Bible to be the verbally inspired Word of God, inerrant in the original manuscripts and the sufficient and final authority for all matters of faith, practice, and life.”

And this church asserts that not only should women be “deferential” to men and be “guided” toward marriage and away from a career, but that this applies to all women, whether or not church members. The Daily Kos article notes that a foundational book used by the church

“does not distinguish between conduct expected from women in voluntary marriages and unrelated women who may be members of another faith. This book teaches that preferences of women from different faiths (or no faith) are simply wrong and need to be corrected by the older women.”

And thus it is no surprise Vice President Pence would so distinguish himself for his crusades against women. As a member of Congress, he led fights to defund Planned Parenthood. Upon becoming Indiana governor, he cut Planned Parenthood funding by more than half and cut funding for domestic-violence programs. The slashing of funding for Planned Parenthood forced five non-abortion clinics that provided testing for sexually transmitted diseases to close, leading to an increase in HIV infections so severe that federal intervention was required. As the health crisis began to spiral out of control, local public health officials suggested using a needle exchange and harm-reduction program to combat it, but Pence refused, allowing the crisis to worsen.

Women’s March of January 21, 2017, in Chicago (photo by Jonathan Eyler-Werve)

As member of Congress, he co-sponsored a bill allowing hospitals to turn away women in need of life-saving abortions, and another bill that would have designated fertilized eggs as people with legal rights.

As governor, he signed into law a measure requiring fetal tissue from abortions to be buried or cremated, which was suspended by a federal judge before it could go into effect. The law would also have imposed rules designed to seriously impede the right to an abortion and subject doctors to potential jail terms. And it was under Pence’s governorship that Purvi Patel was given a since-reduced 20-year prison sentence for a miscarriage, after prosecutors claimed she had induced a “late” abortion.

A general in the war on gays and lesbians

In an Orwellian touch, then Indiana Governor Pence signed into law the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” The act does not grant freedom of religious belief, already strictly enforced and one that governments and courts bend over backwards to support, but rather was intended to allow evangelicals to force their religious beliefs on others. The law would have trampled on the rights of others, such as allowing businesses to refuse services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, similar to Southern businesses being allowed to refuse service to African-Americans.

The Human Rights Campaign, in a report analyzing the Indiana law and other similar laws around the country, wrote:

“These bills are often incredibly vague and light on details — usually intentionally. In practice, most of these bills could empower any individual to sue the government to attempt to end enforcement of a non-discrimination law. The evangelical owner of a business providing a secular service can sue claiming that their personal faith empowers them to refuse to hire Jews, divorcees, or LGBT people. A landlord could claim the right to refuse to rent an apartment to a Muslim or a transgender person.”

Swift public pressure and announced boycotts led to a revision allegedly softening the law, but the intention is clear. A President Pence would surely feel emboldened to attempt such a law on the national level.

His animus toward the LGBTQ community is so severe that he tried to block federal funding of HIV treatments unless they came with a requirement to advocate against same-sex relationships. He opposes non-straight people serving in the military, going so far as to claim that “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service because the presence of homosexuals in the ranks weakens unit cohesion.”

A crusader against science

Not surprisingly for someone who believes in the Bible as the sole source of truth and law, Vice President Pence is no fan of science. He doesn’t believe in evolution or global warming. On evolution, a Think Progress analysis notes:

“Speaking with an inflection many evangelicals would recognize in their pulpits, Pence advocated in 2002 for changing science textbooks to describe evolution as merely one ‘theory’ among many, and suggested including ‘intelligent design’ — a school of thought similar to Christian Creationism — alongside the work of Charles Darwin.

‘The truth is [evolution] always was a theory,’ he said. ‘And now that we’ve recognized evolution as a theory, I would simply and humbly ask: can we teach it as such? And can we also consider teaching other theories. … Like the theory that was believed in by every signer of the Declaration of Independence? The Bible tells us that God created man in his own image, male and female he created them — and I believe that.’ ”

Vice President Pence’s hostility to science has apparently prevented him from understanding that human knowledge has progressed since the 18th century. That is of no consequence because God gave him the ability to read the minds of people dead more than 200 years.

The Minneapolis climate march of April 29, 2017 (photo by Fibonacci Blue)

And as to global warming, perhaps here the concerns of his billionaire backers are intermingled with his religious obscurantism. He once wrote an essay in which he said: “Global warming is a myth. The global warming treaty is a disaster. There, I said it.” Putting “greenhouse gases” in quotation marks (maybe he didn’t take chemistry in high school?), he assured his potential voters that the Earth had actually cooled over the previous 50 years. In a truly marvelous piece of perfect ignorance, he wrote:

“[T]he greenhouse gases alluded to are real but are mostly the result of volcanoes, hurricanes and underwater geologic displacements. Regrettably, none of these causes can be corralled by environmentalists hungry for regulation and taxes and, therefore, must be ignored.”

Funded by the Koch brothers

The Koch brothers must have been proud of him. He certainly has proved to be a winning investment for them. One of the brothers, David Koch, donated $300,000 to Pence’s gubernatorial bids, and there are strong ties. A 2014 Politico article reported:

“A number of Pence’s former staffers from his days in Congress have assumed major roles in the brothers’ corporate and political spheres. And Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs’ top political group, has been holding up Pence’s work in Indiana as emblematic of a conservative reform agenda they’re trying to take nationwide. … Pence has worked to spotlight the fiscal issues that animate the Kochs’ political giving. People close to the brothers say he first earned their network’s admiration during the George W. Bush years, when he opposed what he deemed Big Government policies backed by his own party, including No Child Left Behind and a Medicare expansion, and repeatedly warned that the GOP was veering off course.”

The Bush II/Cheney administration was too liberal! Something else to keep in mind should Vice President Pence gain even more power than he already has. Given his ability to understand how government works, he would likely be more effective at ramming through far Right wish lists than Trump. A Republican consultant quoted by The Guardian backed this opinion:

“Pence has outstanding relationships with the GOP leadership on Capitol Hill of all stripes, not just the social conservatives. So there’d be clear alignment and rapid progress on healthcare, taxation, and many other key policy initiatives that have eluded the party over the past months as a result of Trump’s unorthodox approach.”

To what extent the policies of the Trump administration are those of Mike Pence and what policies are those of White supremacist chief strategist Steve Bannon are difficult to know. Perhaps they have separate spheres of influence or, as is likely, there is considerable overlap in their agendas. The draconian budget proposed by the Trump administration on May 23 has the fingerprints of the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, a far right ideologue himself, but it is likely the vice president had much say in it — the punishments intended to be administered to people for the crime of being poor are certainly consistent with his style.

Given that Donald Trump doesn’t have the intellectual capacity or attention span to actually be president, and appears to rely heavily on a small coterie, Mike Pence likely is already directing much policy. There is nothing to choose between the two. We don’t have to declare them fascists to find them plenty scary enough. (You are, after all, reading this on your computer screen at your leisure rather than having this conversation in a concentration camp. And by this point, Hitler had already consolidated his dictatorship with political opponents and union officials murdered or in camps.)

We have all the reasons we could want to oppose the Trump administration at every step. An administration, not one personality. There is no reason to think ousting President Trump would lessen the danger to the world he presents, and could actually have the counter-intuitive effect of increasing it. Organize!

20 comments on “Pence as president could be worse than Trump

  1. Grace Weaver says:

    was just about to send you this photo when this arrived. thanks. below is the photo i took. it appeared as a screen saver on my desktop so wherever it’s located will not have my files and stuff. perhaps, fran’s contains more than i thought. keeping fingers crossed.

    still i’m glad rep. al green has introduced the “i” word. to me it’s not really schadenfreude, but more like justice being carried out. it gives a signal that one cannot just go in the middle of 42nd street and kill someone or even think that or say that and get away with it.

    > Yet contemplating his possible impeachment gives full meaning to the idea of being careful of what you wish.

    hard sentence grammatically to suggest a better way of stating. maybe:

    > one should be careful about for what one wishes.

    actually in this instance i’d put the darn preposition at the end.

    > one should be careful about what one wishes for.

    back to my deadlined show! an unexpected visit from my sister at 5 pm . whoopee! but must complete show and upload to MNN way before. ‘;-) love, nance

    ps congrats on continuing to think these important things through and continuing your blog!


  2. wideangle1 says:

    I agree.

  3. Anna Van Z says:

    Yes, agreed. Excellent points here!

    Clearly we’re in a bad place. We’ve allowed the two corporate parties to take over the election process so thoroughly that anyone who isn’t a corporate toady/millionaire in one of the two parties can’t get elected on the federal level.

    We have an enormous set of tasks ahead of us. Getting corporate money out of the elections (structuring them the way European countries do; publicly funded, limited campaigns, same media exposure, etc) This alone will take huge involvement. Then, developing workable alternative parties that represent actual citizens.

    All this will take the massive involvement of citizens, across party lines. And frankly, I wonder if Americans have the intelligence to see beyond corporate media programming and the politics of division, the ability to think critically and independently, or have the desire to become involved. So many are addicted to their little gadgets and games, sports, Facebook – all the trivial pursuits that have enabled the ruling cabal to slowly forment tight control.

    The majority of folks in my area (rural North Carolina) go around spouting off about freedom, and think because they can buy an assault weapon they are free. They neither know nor care, about the rest of the Constitution or Bill of Rights which has been decimated. Whatever the wingnut media tells them, they buy into. Observation, thinking for oneself, and drawing one’s own conclusions which contradict what their buddies or their preacher says are not skills they have.

    Many of my ancestors fought in the American Revolution. They were feisty, cantankerous citizens who read, thought, gathered, debated, and gave everything for what they believed in. American citizens today are not those people. Somewhere along the line, we quit paying attention, we quit being willing to fight for things, and got way to attached to comfort and entertainment.

    And until at least some of that changes dramatically, we are doomed to continue with the fascist, control-freak government we now have. Is that too strong a word? What do you call a government where the so-called representatives of the people are totally comfortable ignoring the wishes and demands of the citizens? Whose corporate handlers and industry lobbyists actually write the bills that are passed as law? Whose public resources are turned over to industry for private plunder? That is the classical definition of fascism, and it is HERE, NOW.

    Let’s be willing to do the uncomfortable and talk about these things with everyone we know. Let’s at least try to wake people up!

    • Greetings, Anna. If you are doing these things in rural North Carolina, you’re already doing good work. We can disagree on what we believe constitutes fascism (this is the subject where readers of this blog are most likely to argue against me) at the same time we can recognize a clear and present danger.

      There is no doubt we have a tremendous task ahead of us; the mere fact that a billionaire con man who built his fortune on screwing working people could get elected as a “champion” of working people speaks volumes to the lack of education in the U.S. and the misinformation of the corporate media. I completely agree with your conclusion: Let’s risk the uncomfortable and talk about these things with everyone we know. We can’t only talk to those who already agree with us.

      • Anna Van Z says:

        So true! Thanks for the encouragement!

      • Anna Van Z says:

        I had a great discussion the other day in the grocery store parking lot with a fairly conservative fundamentalist, and she definitely was aware and very concerned about what we’ve been seeing with Trump. Very concerned about the the Trump “healthcare” plan (ie, massive handout to insurance and big pharma). We talked for 20 minutes and parted with a hug, so like you said,, it’s worth risking discomfort to discuss things with our community. It was a good reminder for me that we have a lot of common ground as citizens.

  4. Alcuin says:

    I foresaw the Pence succession issue when t selected him. As long as the Republicans are successful in pushing through their agenda (t’s antics provide excellent cover for their actions), they’ll stick with t. If t goes completely off the rails and endangers the Republican agenda, then something might happen. I seriously doubt that anything will happen as long as the Rs retain control of the House and Senate, though. If the Ds regain control in 2018, I don’t know that a lot will change either – the Ds have been complicit with the Rs for decades, despite their jaw-flapping. Sanders is no better – he’s all righteous talk and no action.

    • For now, congressional Republicans see Trump as a vessel to get their agenda rammed through, although I suspect that belief is weakening given the extraordinary chaos of the Trump administration and his falling approval ratings. Still, it will be a good while yet before Republicans seriously consider impeachment — almost certainly, I believe, not before the 2018 congressional elections if at all.

      Certainly expecting Democrats to grow backbones is a lost cause — pressure from below is what is needed, and if the Democrats take at least one house of Congress in 2018, pressure on them to hold the line, to at least slow down the extreme Right assault.

    • Anna Van Z says:

      I think Sanders would have been WORLDS better! Looking at the extreme damage Trump and his ilk have done to the country, the environment, public programs, public lands, wildlife, etc, etc. is overwhelming.

      I voted third party. I would have never voted for such an ignorant narcissist as Herr Trump, nor would I have voted for Killary .But it seems most citizens were too programmed against “wasting their vote” to do that – so 45 million just stayed home, and the others voted for one of the two abominations. The repugs have also succeeded in disenfranchising voters in almost every state.

      Well, elections have consequences. And not voting is the same as voting for the horror show we have now. And not paying attention to anything but corporate media results in a country of very uninformed citizens.

  5. Susan says:

    Yes — Pence is horrible and ideologically even more horrible than Trump.
    But Pence has been a die hard supporter of Trump, so impeaching Trump will rub off on Pence.
    We shouldn’t let the specter of Pence keep us from working to get rid of Trump!

    • Greetings, Susan. I wear an “Impeach Trump” button my hat, so I am with you on getting rid of Trump. But Trump is a symptom of a larger structural problem that would remain if he is pushed out of office even if, as you suggest, his removal might well rub off on Pence.

  6. Tyler says:

    Why not advocate revolution? Trump’s approval rating has already fallen to 40 percent, and Congress’s approval is only 18 percent. Add in the fact that millions of Bernie supporters are furious that he is not president and believe he was cheated. It seems we are in the midst of a revolutionary crisis.

    Imagine millions of Americans descending on Washington, occupying and shutting down the city, and demanding the abdication of the Trump administration and the removal of all conservatives from Congress. Yes, there would be brutal repression by the state, but aren’t we revolutionaries who are prepared to die for a better world?

    • If we really want a complete change from the political and economic system we’re saddled with, a revolution is what is called for. You and I can advocate for that, but, let us be honest, United Statesians are far from a revolutionary mindset even now.

      Bernie Sanders in the White House would not constitute a revolution; he isn’t even a socialist but rather somebody who wishes for significant reforms to capitalism. Given where we are today, and the increasingly precarious state of so many, Sanders-style reforms would be a welcome set of steps in the right direction. I’d rather be on the offensive with someone who is only willing to go part of the way than be wholly on the defensive with someone determined to turn back time as we are with Trump.

      What you are advocating here is that millions of people no longer allow business as usual. If we really want a better world, we’ll have to do that and much more.

      • Tyler says:

        Bernie cares greatly for workers. We could do great things for the proletariat with Bernie as president and a left-wing Congress.

        I think we should keep a close eye on Trump’s approval rating. When it gets down to 20 percent, the time for revolutionary action will have arrived.

      • Ol' Hippy says:

        Pointing out that Pence or Ryan would be worse than Trump is a given. To get democrats back away from neoliberal economics would be a good first step for a shift that needs to happen to save the US and especially Earth. Capitalism is killing everything; global poisoning/warming, the ever present potential nuclear disasters, both civilian and military, are all existential threats to Earth and all her creatures. Starting major economic reforms and a major reduction of military actions and weaponry all all good first steps. I just don’t see it happening soon enough to matter. It will take a concerted coordinated rebellion to start the ball rolling. Are the average folks ready for this change? Are they willing to do what it takes to save Earth? These have to on the table now if humanity is to survive in the future.

        • Greetings, Ol’ Hippy. Democrats (and Liberals and Social Democrats and etc.) do need to learn that neoliberalism has become unendurable (not that it was ever a good option). But we of course can’t wait around for Democrats/Liberals/Social Democrats/etc. to grasp the immensity of the task. Mass movements of people are the only forces that bring about positive change.

  7. I’m definitely with you on this one. I think impeaching Trump would be a grave mistake.

  8. Alcuin says:

    This quote is likely the only thing that ever came out of John Boehner’s mouth that I agree with:

    “Talk of impeachment is the best way to rile up Trump supporters. Remember, impeachment is not a legal process; it’s a political process.”

    I think it is far better to just sit back, shut up and smile when Trump finally implodes all by himself.

  9. Paul Gilman says:

    Systemic Disorder correctly points out “When the Nazis took power, they wasted no time rounding up Communists and Social Democrats, sending them to the first concentration camps. Of course, it was the Social Democrats who paved the road for the Nazis through their continual reliance on the right-wing death squads known as the “Free Corps” who would later became the seeds for Hitler’s storm troops.”

    What most Liberals (as opposed to to Communists) don’t realize is that Fascists, Police States, and Right-wingers in general do not make the distinction between Social Democrats, Liberals, Communist and all shades of to the Left of them. The Social Democrats called ex-WW I German soldiers to form para-military death squads to suppress the German Revolution of 1919. The Right-wing German Social Democrats of 1919, were just as much transfixed into preserving petty-bourgeois prerogatives, ie preserving capitalism, as the Liberals and Sanderites of 2017 USA. Morphing into the Free Corps, they turned on their Social Democratic creators. (Yes, I am just paraphrasing Systemic Disorder, but I am doping it for emphasis).

    Whether it’s Trump or Pense or some other hard Right-Winger for whom bourgeois democracy is full of to many checks on their blood lust dominations, only a militant opposition to capitalism is capable of defeating them. I don’t quibble over whether we are in a fascist state, or a police state, or just “a particularly nasty manifestation of capitalist formal democracy”, we must defeat it.

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