Kleptocrat Or Theocrat?

Frank Bruni had a recent column headlined “Mike Pence: Holy Terror,” with a subhead asking “Do you really want to get rid of Donald Trump?”

There are problems with impeaching Donald Trump. A big one is the holy terror waiting in the wings.

That would be Mike Pence, who mirrors the boss more than you realize. He’s also self-infatuated. Also a bigot. Also a liar. Also cruel.

To that brimming potpourri he adds two ingredients that Trump doesn’t genuinely possess: the conviction that he’s on a mission from God and a determination to mold the entire nation in the shape of his own faith, a regressive, repressive version of Christianity. Trade Trump for Pence and you go from kleptocracy to theocracy.

I would add one more comparison to Trump: Pence is equally incompetent. Former students of mine who worked in the Pence administration when he was governor have reported on his utter lack of interest in–or competence for–actual governing.

Bruni’s column was prompted by a forthcoming book about Indiana’s contribution to American decline, titled  “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence.”  The book will be published on Aug. 28, and Bruni says it’s the most thorough examination of the vice president’s background to date. (I probably would amend the title to read “The Shallow President,” but then, I’ve known Mike a long time.)

The book persuasively illustrates what an ineffectual congressman he was, apart from cozying up to the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVos and other rich Republican donors; the clumsiness and vanity of his one term as governor of Indiana, for which he did something that predecessors hadn’t and “ordered up a collection of custom-embroidered clothes — dress shirts, polo shirts, and vests and jackets — decorated with his name and the words Governor of Indiana”; the strong possibility that he wouldn’t have won re-election; his luck in being spared that humiliation by the summons from Trump, who needed an outwardly bland, intensely religious character witness to muffle his madness and launder his sins; and the alacrity with which he says whatever Trump needs him to regardless of the truth.

In Pence’s view, any bite marks in his tongue are divinely ordained. Trump wouldn’t be president if God didn’t want that; Pence wouldn’t be vice president if he weren’t supposed to sanctify Trump. And his obsequiousness is his own best route to the Oval Office, which may very well be God’s grand plan.

The book documents Pence’s disregard for science (remember when he insisted that smoking doesn’t cause cancer?) and his willingness to peddle conspiracy theories, like the belief that efforts to address climate change are “a secret effort to increase government control over people’s lives for some unstated diabolical purpose.”

The book also reports on what the authors call his “callousness” toward African-Americans.

As governor, Pence refused to pardon a black man who had spent almost a decade in prison for a crime that he clearly hadn’t committed. He also ignored a crisis— similar to the one in Flint, Mich. — in which people in a poor, largely black Indiana city were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead. D’Antonio told me: “I think he’s just as driven by prejudice as Trump is.”

There are discussions of Pence’s stunt flying to Indianapolis for a Colt’s game (so that he could ostentatiously leave when players took a knee), his long association with Betsy DeVos (and their efforts to divert public school children to religious schools via vouchers), his anti-woman, anti-abortion stances (on the House floor, he called for abortion to be a capital offense), the RFRA debacle, and his embrace of despicable Joe Arpaio.

This was after Arpaio’s contempt-of-court conviction for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop using illegal tactics to torment immigrants. The conservative columnist George Will seized on Pence’s speech to write that Pence had dethroned Trump as “America’s most repulsive public figure.”

The column didn’t say whether the book addressed the recently publicized consequences of his family gas station business’ bankruptcy, which left Hoosier taxpayers on the hook for millions in environmental cleanup costs. But Bruni does recount two illuminating episodes from Pence’s college days that evidently emerged after the book went to press:

One involved a woman in Pence’s weekly college prayer group. When she couldn’t describe a discrete “born again” experience, “he lectured her on her deficiencies as a Christian and said that she really wasn’t the sort of Christian that needed to be in this group,” D’Antonio said.

Another involved a college friend of Pence’s who later sought his counsel about coming out as gay. D’Antonio said that Pence told the friend: “You have to stay closeted, you have to get help, you’re sick and you’re not my friend anymore.”

What sort of person tells a friend who is experiencing a crisis “You’re sick and you’re not my friend anymore”?

There’s an easy answer to that question–a thoroughly despicable one.