Tag Archives: Pence

A Master Class

In the space of a week, Donald Trump and Mike Pence have given us a Master Class in  cluelessness (Trump) and servility (Pence).

Pence was at his smarmy best when he dutifully defended Trump’s lunatic assertion that murderous “Middle Easterners” were part of that scary Caravan making its way to the border from Guatemala. Talking Points Memo named Pence their “Duke of the Week” for that one.

Every lackey willingly floating in President Trump’s orbit is handed their fair share of flak for their regular defense of Trump’s latest fallacious musings.

But Vice President and Trump hype man Mike Pence is the aide most often recruited to step in it. And this week, he dove in deep, defending Trump’s unfounded — and racist — claims that “Middle Easterners” were part of the caravan of Central American migrants heading to the U.S., spouting false statistics and then being forced to shove his tail between his leg and publicly walk back the comments.

Ever since Fox News began its non-stop coverage of the group of immigrants traveling toward the U.S., Trump and his flunkies in Congress and on TV have seized on the issue to get Republican voters worked up ahead of the midterms. Trump blamed the Democrats for “open borders” and tweeted threats to Mexico and Guatemala, signaling he’d cut U.S. aide to the countries if they didn’t block the group from approaching the U.S.-Mexico border. According to multiple on-the-ground reports, the migrants were escaping violence and poverty in Honduras and hoped to seek asylum in the U.S.

Pence insisted that during  the last fiscal year, authorities had apprehended “more than 10 terrorists or suspected terrorists per day at our Southern border. from countries that are referred to in as ‘other than Mexico.” With a straight face, he insisted that “countries other than Mexico” meant from the Middle East.  It also turned out that those apprehended were attempting to enter the country illegally at all ports of entry, not just the southern one.

So he’s a liar like Trump. (And don’t get me started about his attempt to use the term “Rabbi” to describe the Christian he trotted out to offer a prayer for the real Jews killed in Pittsburgh.)

Eventually, of course, our demented President had to admit he had “no proof” that there were people of Middle Eastern decent tagging along with the caravan. (“There’s no proof of anything but they could very well be,” Trump said, after he let Pence and others spend more than 24 hours defending his bizarre assertions).

Sure, and I could “very well” be a Martian…

Lest his “base” (in both senses of the word) miss the point of his attacks on those brown people trying to escape poverty and violence, Trump has promised to issue an Executive Order ending automatic citizenship for children of immigrants born on American soil. That’s ludicrous, of course–such a change would require a Constitutional amendment. The evidence suggests his base is too ignorant of the American Constitution to know that.

Of course, it’s entirely possible Trump doesn’t know it either–he’s given no hint of familiarity with the law or the Constitution.

Trump’s ignorance of law, facts, science, geography and the way the world works is more than equalled, however, by his inability to understand even the most basic obligations of the office he accidentally holds. I can’t say it any more plainly than Vox, in an article titled “Trump Has Passed Every Chance to Unite the Country during the Pipe Bomb Crisis.”

Once again, he has proven to be completely incapable of providing sober, mature, responsible leadership in a time of crisis.

After initially calling for “unity” in scripted remarks on Friday, the president turned his appearance at the White House’s Young Black Leadership Summit into a campaign rally.

He did his usual thing: He slammed Democrats, bashed the “fake news” media, and lambasted so-called “globalists.” Never mind that most of the bomber’s targets were top Democratic politicians, including former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and that one was CNN, one of Trump’s favorite targets for the “fake news” label.

Trump is a terrifyingly un-self-aware person; he is absolutely unable to take responsibility for anything. In a conversation with reporters, he refused to accept any blame for his rhetoric.

“Not at all, no. There is no blame. There is no anything,” he told reporters.

Asked if he would commit to toning down his rhetoric for a few days, he responded, “Well, I think I’ve been toned down. I could really tone it up. Because as you know, the media has been incredibly unfair to me and to the Republican Party.”

And when he was asked if he would call any of the targeted individuals–especially former Presidents Obama and Clinton–he said “probably not.”

In other words, he doesn’t even want to do the bare minimum a president is expected to do here: speak with the people targeted by a terrifying bomb threat and tell them he’s happy they’re safe.

Trump wasn’t interested in making a phone call–after all, that doesn’t generate media exposure. But he was insistent on going to Pittsburgh, a trip that would be covered by the media he pretends to despise, despite requests from the mayor and the community that he stay away and refrain from distracting from the funerals.

Like I say–a Master Class.

Did They Really Have Souls To Sell?

A few days ago, I was on the treadmill watching “Morning Joe,” and heard Presidential historian Jon Meacham, from all indications a deeply religious man, respond to questions about the Trump Administration’s “biblical” defense of separating parents and children in order to deter asylum seekers. Meacham predicted a “day of reckoning” for Evangelical Trump supporters, and put it in stark terms: They sold their souls for a Supreme Court seat, and they’ll have to decide whether it was worth it.

Of course, in order to sell a soul, you first need to have one.

Later that same day, The Washington Post reported that Mike Pence (aka “Mr. Piety”)has turned the Vice-President’s office into “a gateway for lobbyists.”

About twice as many companies and other interests hired lobbyists to contact the vice president’s office in Pence’s first year than in any single year during the tenures of Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Richard B. Cheney, filings show.

Speaking of selling one’s soul….(Since this is Pence, one assumes the sale price reflects an appropriate and substantial discount…)

A couple of observations: first, Sessons’ use of a biblical reference to justify a governmental policy is profoundly anti-American. As several commentators have pointed out, America isn’t a theocracy.  Public policies must be attacked or defended with secular reasoning and argumentation, not appeals to theology.

More generally, however, what Sessions and Pence both exemplify is the cynical use of religion to advance personal and political ends–to justify bigotry, to claim privilege, and to reassure a frightened and angry “base” that its hostility to the “other” is God’s will.

As regular readers of this blog know, I am not religious. But I have friends who are genuinely religious people, and there is a huge difference between the devout people I know, who tend to be both humble and kind, and the “faux religious” and “holier than thou” hypocrites who are supporting and excusing the behaviors of this administration.

Meacham may be right when he predicts a day of reckoning. If I had to hazard a guess, however, I’d predict that reckoning will consist only of recognizing the strategic failure of efforts to find religious justifications for Trump’s unholy behaviors.

Somehow, I don’t see the Mike Pences and Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions of this world looking deep inside themselves and reckoning with the truly important questions: have I been a good person? Have I been honest? Kind? Have I read my holy book in its entirety, or have I cherry-picked and “interpreted” it in order to convince myself that God dislikes the same people I do? What is the nature of my obligation to my fellow-man and woman? What is justice? What is mercy?

Do I have a soul? Have I sold it for a mess of pottage?

“Pro Life” Really Isn’t

Those of us who champion individual autonomy and the right of a woman to make her own reproductive decisions often point to the hypocrisy of a movement that labels itself “pro life,” but expresses concern only when that “life” precedes birth.

Many of the same people who express touching concern for a blastula or fetus consistently oppose measures to ameliorate threats to the lives and health of the already-born. This disconnect strongly suggests that their real goal is control of women, not protection of life or the unborn.

Well, we have a new bit of evidence strengthening that claim of hypocrisy, and –unsurprisingly–it involves Mike Pence, Indiana’s contribution to the disaster that is the Trump Administration.

A bipartisan effort to stabilize the U.S. health-insurance markets collapsed last month after anti-abortion groups appealed directly to Vice President Mike Pence at the 11th hour, The Daily Beast has learned.

Amid opposition from conservatives in the House of Representatives, a group of pro-life activists met with Pence to lobby the Trump administration against supporting a health-insurance market-stabilization bill on the grounds that it does not contain sufficient language on abortion restrictions, according to sources with direct knowledge of the meeting. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was also in attendance at the Dec. 19 meeting, three of the sources said.

The next day, key lawmakers involved in crafting the legislation announced they were punting on the issue until 2018.

You may be wondering what the stabilization measure–which is intended to prevent thirteen million people from losing their health insurance due to a provision of the tax bill–has to do with abortion. And of course, in a sane world, the answer would be, nothing. But the supposedly “pro-life” activists who met with Pence last month were opposed to the bill because some of the subsidies in the stabilization legislation (known as cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments) might go to health plans that fund abortions.

This is how Pence’s Party–formerly known as the GOP–protects “life.”

These lawmakers are willing to see thirteen million Americans lose their health insurance if that’s what it takes to prevent private-sector insurance companies from covering abortions (many of which are medically indicated in order to save the life or health of the mother).

There are numerous studies which estimate the number of deaths that are a direct consequence of lack of health insurance.

A 2012 familiesUSA study shows that more than 130,000 Americans died between 2005 and 2010 because of their lack of health insurance. The number of deaths due to a lack of coverage averaged three per hour and the issue plagued every state. Other studies have shown those statistics to be high or low, but all studies agree: In America the uninsured are more likely to die than those with insurance.

So how, exactly, is blocking a measure that would prevent these very predictable deaths “pro life”? Elevating the value of the unborn over the value of existing men, women and children isn’t “pro life”–even if you believe that human life begins at the very instant that a sperm and egg unite–it is rather obviously “pro fetal life.”

More accurately, it’s a war on women’s autonomy. And like all wars, it will take the lives of many innocent, already-born people.

There are certainly people who are truly pro-life. They oppose abortion–but they also oppose the death penalty. They support full funding for CHIP.  They support programs to feed hungry children.

Fanatics like Pence aren’t pro-life in any meaningful sense. They are anti-women and pro-paternalism.

Charles Pierce Identifies It–What Are We Going To Do About It?

My mother used to recite a rhyme that I don’t recall entirely, but the gist of it was that the only difference between men and boys was the size of their toys.

Americans are being “governed”–if you can dignify what is coming from the White House as governing–by a boy with a nuclear toy. (If there were any remaining doubts, Michael Wolff’s new book should dispel them.)

Who among us would ever have anticipated having an occupant of the Oval Office tweeting “mine is bigger than yours” at another, equally demented, world leader? (Do you suppose we could settle this by putting the two of them in an examining room, and measuring their “parts”?)

I used to attribute Trump’s unbelievable lack of self-awareness to privilege. We all know people whose money or power insulates them from contact with people who will tell them the truth; the longer their isolation from ridicule or dissent, the less grounded they become. But I think Charles Pierce has a more accurate evaluation of the problem.

Pierce’s column analyzed Trump’s recent interview with New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt. Schmidt had intercepted Trump on a golf course, where are no aides to constrain the free flow of what Trump apparently regards as sentences, and reaction to that interview has been shock and (terrified) awe.

Pierce dismissed criticisms of Schmidt’s conduct of the interview as irrelevant to what it exposed:

In my view, the interview is a clinical study of a man in severe cognitive decline, if not the early stages of outright dementia.

Over the past 30 years, I’ve seen my father and all of his siblings slide into the shadows and fog of Alzheimer’s Disease. (The president*’s father developed Alzheimer’s in his 80s.) In 1984, Ronald Reagan debated Walter Mondale in Louisville and plainly had no idea where he was. (If someone on the panel had asked him, he’d have been stumped.) Not long afterwards, I was interviewing a prominent Alzheimer’s researcher for a book I was doing, and he said, “I saw the look on his face that I see every day in my clinic.” …

In this interview, the president* is only intermittently coherent. He talks in semi-sentences and is always groping for something that sounds familiar, even if it makes no sense whatsoever and even if it blatantly contradicts something he said two minutes earlier. To my ears, anyway, this is more than the president*’s well-known allergy to the truth. This is a classic coping mechanism employed when language skills are coming apart.

Pierce gives several examples from the transcript of the interview–boasts that embarrass rational people, non-sequiturs that most observers (reasonably enough) attribute to ignorance, and Trump’s trademark, repellant grandiosity, which Pierce sees as the desperation of a man who is losing the ability to understand the world around him.

And as he points out, this lack of capacity is oh-so-useful to Congressional Republicans.

In Ronald Reagan’s second term, we ducked a bullet. I’ve always suspected he was propped up by a lot of people who a) didn’t trust vice-president George H.W. Bush, b) found it convenient to have a forgetful president when the subpoenas began to fly, and c) found it helpful to have a “detached” president when they started running their own agendas—like, say, selling missiles to mullahs. You’re seeing much the same thing with the congressional Republicans. They’re operating an ongoing smash-and-grab on all the policy wishes they’ve fondly cultivated since 1981. Having a president* who may not be all there and, as such, is susceptible to flattery because it reassures him that he actually is makes the heist that much easier.

If we had a Vice-President and Cabinet who actually gave a rat’s ass about America rather than their own prospects and assorted zealotries, we could hope for invocation of the 25th Amendment.

If we had Congressional Republicans who were willing to put country above party, we could hope for impeachment.

If the President is seriously mentally ill–and it’s hard to argue with that diagnosis (a number of psychiatrists have already concurred)–that explains his terrifying behaviors.

What’s everyone else’s excuse?

Truer Words Were Never Spoken

A column by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post is unkind, but deadly accurate.

Actually, the subhead says it all: Trump is crazy. What’s Pence’s excuse?

Cohen’s lede:

When history holds its trial to account for the Donald Trump presidency, Trump himself will be acquitted on grounds of madness. History will look at his behavior, his erratic and childish lying and his flamboyant ignorance of history itself and pronounce the man, like George III, a cuckoo for whom restraint, but not punishment, was necessary. Such will not be the case for Mike Pence, the toady vice president and the personification of much that has gone wrong in Washington.

On any given day, Pence will do his customary spot-on imitation of a bobblehead. Standing near Trump in the Oval Office, he will nod his head robotically as the president says one asinine thing after another and then, maybe along with others, he will be honored with a lie or a version of the truth so mangled by contradictions and fabrications that a day in the White House is like a week on LSD.

Those of us who have known Pence prior to his unlikely ascension to the Vice-Presidency aren’t surprised by his acquiescence; Pence is not particularly intelligent, thoughtful or self-aware. The adjective Cohen uses– “toady”– is entirely apt. (In fact, when I see him doing his “bobblehead” routine, or especially when he is proclaiming his Christian piety, I always think of Dickens’ Uriah Heep–the smarmy character who was always proclaiming his humbleness.)

What is worrisome about Mike Pence isn’t that he is, in Cohen’s words, “clueless.” It’s that he is entirely typical of today’s GOP officeholders.

I don’t feel an iota of sympathy for Pence. He was among a perfidious group of political opportunists who pushed Trump’s candidacy while having to know that he was intellectually, temperamentally and morally unfit for the presidency. They stuck with him as he mocked the disabled, belittled women, insulted Hispanics, libeled Mexicans and promiscuously promised the impossible and ridiculous — all that “Day One” nonsense like how the wall would be built and Mexico would pay for it….

The president cannot be trusted. He cannot be believed. He has denigrated the news media, not for its manifest imperfections but for its routine and obligatory search for the truth. He has turned on the judiciary for its fidelity to the law and, once, for the ethnic heritage of a judge. Trump corrupts just about everything he touches.

From most of the Republican Party comes not a whisper of rebuke. The congressional leadership is inert, cowed, scurrying to the White House for this or that ceremonial picture, like members of the erstwhile Politburo flanking Stalin atop Lenin’s mausoleum. They are appalled, but mute. They want to make the best of a bad situation, I know, and they fear the voters back home, but their complicity ought to be obvious even to them.

This captures the situation perfectly. Here in Indiana, the Republicans we’ve sent to represent us in Congress are all doing their best imitation of Pence’s “bobblehead.” They’ve traded whatever honor and integrity they had (and in some cases, that wasn’t much) for more visible committee assignments and financial help from the RNC in the next campaign.

I don’t know how they sleep at night.