The Polis
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The Polis

Pence’s Piety

The True Terror of Trump’s Triumph

Source: http://religionandpolitics.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Pence-AP254541982773-584-x380.jpg

When Donald Trump became our 45th U.S. President, there was a collective moan from most rational people, both in America and around the world. He is a barely literate, privileged and narcissistic megalomaniac. But his penchant for fighting with everyone — friend and foe alike — and his fragile ego causes him to change course on policy in an instant. Not that he has any real understanding of policy in the first place. He is a career con-man that only says what his audience wants to hear — there is no conviction behind his hateful rhetoric. Regardless, since the moment the last vote was cast in November 2016, his opposition has sought to undo the results of that disastrous election, hoping somehow to drive him from office, via impeachment or otherwise, scared that he may destroy our great democracy from the inside out. I do not believe that he will bring about the end of America, he is too stupid and irresolute. But his Vice President, Mike Pence — especially combined with the conservative coalition that owns both houses of Congress — is a different story, and is actually terrifying.

Unlike Trump, Mike Pence is an intelligent, experienced and unwavering politician. After hosting a very conservative talk radio show for several years, Pence was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served for 12 years, serving as chairman of the House Republican Conference from 2009–2011. After that, he was elected Governor of Indiana, where he passed the largest tax cut in Indiana history, as well as several bills restricting abortion rights. And Mike Pence is a supporter of the Tea Party in Congress, putting him on the far right of an already right-leaning political spectrum. Mike Pence, in other words, would be a driven, consistent and efficient threat to American democracy, a right-wing ideologue with the political skill and capital to advance a truly conservative agenda — kind of like Trump, but with intelligence and competence.

Pence is the very definition of a Christian Conservative. In fact, he describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” Born and raised in a Catholic family, Pence essentially became a born-again evangelical while he was in college and made a new “commitment to Christ.” During the 1990’s he attended the Grace Evangelical Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, which affirms the doctrinal position of the Evangelical Free Church of America, including the belief that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God.

In keeping with his faith, Pence has worked tirelessly through his political career to advance his Christian agenda, including opposing reproductive rights, embryonic stem-cell research and marriage equality. In fact, he is one of the prime proponents of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. He is an unapologetic supporter of Israel, based entirely on his Christian faith. He has stated publicly that “Israel’s enemies are [America’s] enemies, Israel’s cause is [America’s] cause,” and has made it clear that his “Christian faith compels me to cherish the state of Israel.” Of course this devotion to Israel is based on the biblical understanding that Israel is God’s chosen land, and because evangelicals believe that “God has a plan for Israel which he intends to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.” In other words, Mike Pence bases his foreign policy positions concerning the middle east on his own belief that the Old Testament is the literal word of God. He doesn’t support Israel because it is a bastion of democracy in the middle east, and a thoughtful and dedicated ally of the U.S., but because the Bible tells him to.

Additionally, and perhaps most alarmingly, Mike Pence enthusiastically signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as Governor of Indiana. Essentially, the RFRA was designed to allow citizens — and even businesses — to discriminate against people based on their “closely held religious beliefs.” The bill was obviously targeting the LGBT community, allowing business to refuse service to gay people if they asserted their religious beliefs as a reason. Thankfully, due to overwhelming criticism and the threat from several influential businesses to pull out of Indiana, Pence was forced to sign an amendment to the law granting LGBT protections. However, Pence has made it clear that he supports the right of the citizens, and their businesses, to discriminate against people based on religious beliefs. Just this year, he announced publicly that he would “not support any bill that…interferes with the constitutional rights of our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service or work.” He went on to state that “no one should ever fear persecution because of their deeply held religious beliefs.”

This is the newest mantra of the Christian-right to justify discrimination and bigotry. Christians feel they are being “persecuted” when they are told they cannot discriminate against gay couples. When public officials refuse to sign marriage licenses for same-sex marriages; when restaurant owners refuse to cater a same-sex wedding; and when bakeries refuse to provide service to same-sex couples, evangelicals like Pence rush to their defense, claiming that these righteous people are exercising their 1st Amendment right to freedom of religion. Discrimination against gay men and women is justified because the bible says homosexuality is an “abomination.” Thus, whenever there is legal backlash or public outcry against such blatant discrimination, the evangelicals claim that they are the ones being discriminated against, and have even taken to calling it “Christophobia” when religious zealots are not allowed to practice their religion at the expense of the rights of others. Not allowing discrimination by one group against another group is not “persecution.” Christians, just like every other faith, have the absolute right to practice whatever religion they desire, so long as that right does not infringe upon other people’s rights. That’s what freedom means — and it applies to everyone equally.

This United States is not a Christian Nation. In this country, while we have freedom of religion, we also have freedom from religion. But most importantly, we have separation of church and state. Not only did this nation’s founding fathers make an explicit declaration within the body of the U.S. Constitution prohibiting any religious test for public office, the Bill of Rights also contains a 2-part prohibition on the meddling of government in religious matters, what has been described as “excessive entanglements” between government and religion. If their intentions were not clear enough, Thomas Jefferson, one of the principal drafters of our Constitution, wrote a letter in 1802 declaring that the First Amendment’s Establishment clause had as its primary purpose “building a wall of separation between Church & State.” And John Adams famously proclaimed that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Despite these very clear secular ideals upon which the United States was built, Mike Pence and his Christian cronies in Congress, frequently cite their own religion as underlying public policy influences. I don’t know how such policy positions could be anything less than a violation of the sacrosanct, fundamental principal of separation of church and state that underlies our democracy. But now that the Republican party, which is dominated by Christian evangelicals, controls both houses of Congress and the White House, and will likely control the Supreme Court for years to come, I worry that Christian values will find their way, more and more patently, into U.S. laws. Even more frightening, if the Republicans continue to gain control of state legislatures, they will also have an unprecedented level of opportunity to pass Constitutional Amendments, where discrimination based on religion will become part of our core Constitutional framework, in direct opposition to the intent of the nation’s founders. I foresee attempts to re-introduce Christian ideas and programs back into public discourse and education, where religious dogma will be taught alongside science and history, and prayers to the Christian God will precede public events. While I respect everyone’s right to practice their chosen faith, I draw a line at the erosion of government secularism demanded by the Establishment Clause. And right now, with a new threat of governmental dominance by the Christian right, all Americans should be preparing for an ideological battle of biblical proportions, and Pence is not someone you want leading that fight.

I don’t know what the #Resistance thinks will happen if Trump is impeached. Do they believe that Hillary Clinton will become president, since she came in 2nd place in the election? If this is news to you, I am sorry to be the one to break it to you — but if Trump goes down, Mike Pence comes up. And if you think Trump’s demise will take Pence down as well, then there’s more bad news. First, you are probably wrong. Second, the Presidential Line of Succession, after the Vice President, is the Speaker of the House (Paul Ryan); followed by President Pro Tempore of the Senate (Orin Hatch); then we get into Trump’s cabinet, with Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo being first up, followed by Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin. If we go down far enough, Ben Carson, Rick Perry and Betsy Devos come in at 13th, 14th and 15th place, respectively. I don’t even want to think about something so bleak as a President Betsy Devos. With all this being said, if Trump has truly committed an impeachable offense, I am honor-bound to support that impeachment. But just remember to be careful what you ask for — you just might get it.

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