As we learn more about Donald Trump, his family, his connections with Russians, his finances, the people around him who have been indicted, jailed, caught lying and who have pleaded guilty to federal crimes, the closer we might be getting to his no longer being President – whether by resignation, impeachment, enactment of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, or even jailed. It does not hurt, therefore, to take a close look at Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence’s record is fairly well known in some circles. Despite being brought up Roman Catholic and an admirer of John F. Kennedy, Pence became a born-again Christian and is now a Tea Party conservative Republican. According to a 2016 article in the Indy (Indianapolis) Star, Pence is “staunchly anti-abortion rights, and while in Congress [from 2001 to 2013] he led the federal government to the brink of shutdown in 2011 in a failed attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. . . Pence has also been a strong proponent of religious freedom, and believes marriage should be between a man and a woman.”
Pence was elected Governor of Indiana in 2012 and chose not to run for re-election when he was tapped by Trump in 2016 to serve as his Vice President. As Governor, Pence’s record has been fairly consistently against progressive values and initiatives and for those promoted by the right (e.g., on gun legislation, abortion rights, LGBTQ issues, taxation, education, and public health). Contrary to his boss, to date, as far as can be discerned, there has been no hint of sexual assault or extramarital relations.
The right was happy to have Pence attend and be a featured speaker at this year’s Values Voter Summit, an annual event sponsored by the right-wing hate group, the Family Research Council. On September 22nd, Pence spoke specifically on immigration issues and the infamous “wall.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Pence promised that the Trump Administration would never abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and would take“dangerous gang criminals off of our streets at a record pace.” Further, “with the support of this Congress we’ve also kept a promise: we’ve already started to build that wall on our Southern border.” The crowd cheered and broke into a “build that wall” chant.
The SPLC article also reported that Pence lied to the crowd, telling the audience that Trump has “ended enforcement of the Johnson amendment, a section of the U.S. tax code that prohibits churches and non-profits from endorsing or opposing political candidates.” The truth is that, while repeal of the Johnson amendment is popular among the religious right, the IRS has almost never revoked a church’s tax exempt status.
Many themes of the Values Voter Summit, as well as its exhibits, centered on sex and sexual orientation. Speakers equated transgenderism with large-scale child abuse, “sex education classes as pandering obscenity to minors,” and childhood molestation as leading to becoming gay. The pro-conversion therapy group, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, was represented, and another group “called for the separation of girls and boys in the name of modesty on college campuses.”
The Summit featured the anti-LGBT group, the American Family Association (AFA). Its representative, Sandy Rios, characterized same-sex marriage as “a nationwide fist of defiance in God’s face.” One might conclude that these right-leaning groups, their leaders and adherents have issues, if not obsessions, around sex….
Then there is abortion – not unrelated, of course, to sex. The AFA offered a theory about school shootings: they are caused by a “‘culture of death’ fueled by abortion, violent media and violent video games.” This brings us back to Pence: the crusade against abortion, of course, is one of Mike Pence’s priorities. Unfortunately for his legacy, the courts have recently had something to say about the abortion law that he signed in March 2016 as Indiana’s Governor: the law has now been ruled unconstitutional. According to CNN in April 2018, “The legislation. . . imposed restrictions on a woman’s ability to seek an abortion, including in cases where the child would be born with a disability. The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling on the law [April 19]. Judge William Bauer wrote in the decision that provisions in the law that bar women from seeking abortions in certain cases ‘clearly violate’ what he described as ‘well-established Supreme Court precedent, and are therefore, unconstitutional.’ The ruling upholds an earlier federal court decision.”
As we head into the midterm elections, we must deal in facts, not propaganda and lies. Here are some facts that directly contradict Pence and the Values Voter Summit:
- The rate of abortion has been steadily decreasing for decades – it is not in any way a national crisis, as the right argues. As reported by NPR in January 2017, the Guttmacher Institute, a highly-respected organization that has been conducting quality research for 50 years, “puts the rate at 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age (ages 15-44) in 2014. That’s the lowest recorded rate since the Roe decision in 1973.”
- The judgmental attitude against transgender persons is ignorant, callous, insensitive, or some combination of all of these. The technical medical term is “gender dysphoria,” and it would behoove those of us unfamiliar with this to look into it if we are inclined to believe the right’s accusations. There is certainly no proof that transgenderism causes child abuse.
- Whether conservatives like it or not, same-sex marriage is now the law of the land. It is also supported by a majority of Americans. There is no evidence that LGBTQ people commit crimes or hurt others more than people in the general population, or that same-sex marriage is bringing our country down in ways that the right would have us believe.
- There is no evidence that being molested as a child makes someone gay. Significantly, however, a child with a gay proclivity might make him/her more susceptible to being abused – to being a victim. The right, again, is using fear, prejudice, bogus science, callousness toward those unlike themselves, and flawed theology to try to bring about a United States made in their own image.
One can wager that most Americans do not want rampant abortion, or immorality, or violence, or unregulated illegal immigration, or government waste, or unfair taxation. But the radical, illogical, far-right stances that Pence, the Values Voter Summit, the religious right, and extremely conservative legislators and activists are promoting are arguably out of step with the mores of most Americans, not to mention unworkable, reactionary, and downright dangerous for our democratic republic. I pity those among us who live their lives so deeply in fear, but our society will not long survive if we try to govern from that stance.
If Mike Pence does ascend to the Presidency, those of us who care about each other and the health of our nation must remain vigilant and challenge him and others like him – at every opportunity – when they lie to us and attempt to undo whatever social progress we have made over the past few generations.