The Lowlights of the Mike Pence Speech

Plastic Flag

Plastic Flag. Photo by Callen Harty.


Donald Trump scares me, but I’m even more frightened of the prospect of him becoming President and then not finishing out his term, as that would mean that his Vice-Presidential pick, Mike Pence, would move up to the highest office in the land, and for someone like me he is very scary.

Pence has conservative cred. He fits right in with all the rabid Bible-thumping, liberal-hating, anyone-but-Hillary right-wingers, anti-government conspiracy theory citizens who have been steadily moving our country to the right. He is strongly anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-military, pro-religion and seems to be a likely candidate for trying to create a theocracy. Yay, 2nd amendment gun rights! Boo, 1st amendment freedom of religion! And the press. And human rights. He proudly and repeatedly defines himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.”

Last night he gave his acceptance speech and recited a litany of conservative dreams that would be nightmares for most of us, all while cheerleading for Trump even though he endorsed Ted Cruz in the Indiana primary. Here is a sampling of some of the things he talked about that were the most concerning:

  • “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” While the conservatives in the Tea Party wing of the Republican party (which Pence was an early supporter of) talk a great talk about loving America and its Constitution they tend to love it as selectively as they quote and use Bible passages to support their positions. Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers used the expression of “separation of church and state” as their understanding of the religion clauses of the 1st amendment. They did not want a government controlled by people whose religious beliefs would blind them to the good of the country. While many of them were Christians they did not put their religious beliefs above their governmental duties. Even John Adams, who was possibly the most devout Christian of the early founders, said, “. . . the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion . . .” This was from the Treaty of Tripoli in which he declared strongly that as a country we have no enmity against Muslims. And finally, James Madison, considered the Father of the Constitution and also the man who conceived the Bill of Rights, had this to say: “. . . religion and Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.” The founding fathers did not want a country ruled by religion. People like Pence put their religious beliefs above all else to the detriment of others.

About two-thirds of the way into the speech came the cynical part when Pence talked about all of the common Americans who are yearning for a leader like Trump to care about them. Of course very few politicians, who are almost all rich and unreachable, know anything about what common Americans think, feel, or suffer on a daily basis. Trump knows no more about the dreams of the common man than he knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the words, “You’re fired.” As easily as he bankrupted several businesses he will bankrupt the dreams of middle and working class Americans. But Pence would have us believe that Trump is the benevolent billionaire, the one man who cares about American families. He talked about some of those people Trump hopes to save.

  • “It’s union members who don’t want a president who promises to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business. Those miners want an American energy policy and they know that Donald Trump digs coal.” Forget about the bad pun. Setting aside the idea that we really need an energy policy that relies on renewable sources of energy this cynical appeal to union members is about as low as it gets. Pence, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Michigan’s  Rick Snyder, and others of their ilk (the adopted children of the Koch Brothers) all hate unions and want to destroy them. They don’t want coal mines to succeed for the workers and union members, but for the owners, so that those rich industrialists can keep extracting coal from the earth, leaving devastation behind, and making money as long as they can. The only reason miners get a share of the wealth that comes from coal mining is because they have strong unions that have fought for fair wages and working conditions. The Tea Party wing of the Republican Party would be just as happy to strip workers of their rights as to strip the land for coal.
  • “It’s African-Americans, who remember generations of hollow promises about safe streets and better schools, and they know Donald Trump will fight for equality.” The three or four African-Americans the cameras could find in the audience seemed to be in agreement. The more than thirty-five million others in this country know better. Despite the pandering from Pence they will not be turning out in droves for a man who did not disavow the KKK earlier this year, who was sued by the Justice Department for not renting to blacks back in the 70s, who worked hard to keep the Obama birther movement going, and more. And this doesn’t take into account his feelings about women, Muslims, Mexicans, and other minority groups.
  • “And he loves educational choice.” This is code for school vouchers, a system whereby the government pays for citizens to go to private schools (often religious ones) with money that is taken from our public schools. Eventually there will be little to no funding for public schools as the voucher system continues to expand. It is a long-range ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) plan to eventually privatize education (like they want to privatize everything, from schools to prisons). This achieves two conservative goals: 1) It creates a new industry from which investors can get rich, and 2) It sets the agenda for what is taught in the schools. Goodbye science and higher learning. Hello, pseudo-science, religious studies, and social brainwashing.
  • “And it’s Hispanic Americans, who respect the law, want jobs and opportunities for their families, who know that Donald Trump will uphold the law and get this economy moving for every American.” He was clear to define Hispanic Americans who respect the law, because when it comes to illegal immigrants there is no love. Pence supports building the wall that Trump wants to build on our southern border.
  • “You know, in so many ways the Democratic Party has abandoned those it used to protect. Maybe they’ve become too entrenched in power, so comfortable at times that they lose patience with the normal legislative process. It’s so much simpler to impose their values by executive order or court action.”  Never mind that because a party holds the Presidency it doesn’t mean they are entrenched in power, especially when that President is virtually held hostage by a Congress controlled by the other party. It’s amazing that Barack Obama was able to get anything done in his eight years. Yes, he did sign Executive Orders, as has every President–Democrat, Republican, or other party–for a couple centuries. George Washington was the first to do it and signed eight during his two terms. Barack Obama is still well behind the number signed by either George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan (As of July 20, 2016, according to The American Presidency Project, Obama had signed 244 Executive Orders. The junior Bush signed 291 in his two terms and Reagan signed 381. For the record the senior Bush signed 166 and Bill Clinton 364.) As for imposing will by court decisions Pence proceeds to speak a moment later in his speech about how important it is for Trump to win the election because the next President will determine the nature of the Supreme Court for the next 40 years. So is he saying it’s bad for Democrats to appoint justices who are in line with their political worldview, but it’s okay for Republicans? The judiciary was intended to be independent. While you can’t pretend to be completely objective–we all have our worldview–the goal is to make it as objective and independent as possible. Whenever a federal or Supreme Court decision is decided against conservatives they scream and shout about judicial activism, but those same people cheer and celebrate the courts when decisions go the way they want. You really can’t have it both ways. The role of the Supreme Court is simply to decide the constitutionality of laws. This is all part of the balance of powers set up by the founding fathers that the Tea Partiers claim to hold in such high regard.
  • “So let me say, for the sake of the rule of law, for the sake of the sanctity of life, for the sake of our Second Amendment and for the sake of all our other God-given liberties, we must ensure that the next president appointing justices to the Supreme Court is Donald Trump.” Just a little look at the code words included in this. Rule of law refers to the idea that the law as written should be the governing force of a nation, as opposed to tyrants and dictators imposing their will upon the populace. The Tea Partiers tend to think of Obama and Clinton as dictatorial types because they are smart enough to use the rule of law to their benefit, but they are okay with Presidents doing that as long as it’s the ones they elected. Of course the sanctity of life refers to fetuses even when they are not viable outside of the womb. It doesn’t refer to the sanctity of black lives, the sanctity of a convict’s life, the sanctity of the homeless and of starving children, the sanctity of lives lost in other countries from American bombs and drones–we need to make the military stronger and show the world how tough we are! The only ones that really matter to these people are the unborn fetuses that may grow up to some day be the black man shot by police, the person condemned to the death penalty, the woman sleeping in the park in winter, the hungry child with no hope of a meal, or the family killed by a misguided bomb. And there he goes with the 2nd amendment again. Why is it that the other 26 amendments are ignored by these people? Yes, we have the right to bear arms in this country, but that shouldn’t mean that we have the right to military grade weapons that can kill masses of people at one time. We shouldn’t have AR-15s any more than we should have nuclear weapons, tanks, and other military gear available to the general public. And while the regular folks out there in Tea Partyland are simply afraid of having their hunting rifles and pistols for self-protection taken away (which nobody wants to do) politicians like Pence are die-hard 2nd amendment backers not for you and me, but for the manufacturers who are making a mint off of our paranoia and our fear of our fellow citizens. Maybe it was at one time, but the NRA is not about hunters and individual gun owners rights. It is there to protect the weapons manufacturers’ income.
  • I’m not even going to quote the Benghazi line. Give it a break. Hillary Clinton was exonerated by a Republican committee investigating what happened there. The Republicans and right-wingers around the country have tried to make it an issue for years with no success. It is time to let it go.
  • “History teaches us that weakness arouses evil.” Pence meant to imply that American military weakness (despite us still having the largest, most powerful military in history) is what has led to the rise of terrorism in this world, and he also managed to blame Obama and Clinton for it at the same time. Not that killing civilians in far-off lands would have anything to do with it, or overthrowing governments worldwide, or attempting to make the whole world in our image (which maybe we’ve succeeded at too well). No, the blame lies entirely with that darned Obama and Hillary will make it worse. “Weakness arouses evil.” While this is a scary line it is also true. The weak economy and government in pre-World War II Germany, the fear of “other”, and the loss of faith in their government is what allowed Adolph Hitler to rise to power by promising a renewed military strength, national pride, jobs, and more. This has been the pattern of every dictator–play on people’s fears, find or create an enemy, and then come in as the savior. Donald Trump is not a savior and Mike Pence is not either. He is merely a sycophantic tagalong hoping to rise to power alongside the most surprising candidate to be nominated by a major party in recent memory.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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