by Richard Cameron
The Mike Pence CNN Town Hall And Why I Was Troubled By It
I watched as much as I could take of the CNN Town Hall with former Vice President Mike Pence, hosted by Jake Tapper. I’m going to be very frank and candid about my reaction to it and some of might resonate with you and what doesn’t – we have a comment section for and you are more than welcome to disagree and point out where I am off base. Fair enough?
I will admit that I had certain expectations of what would be the tone and substance of Pence’s comments and responses to Tapper’s and the guest audience’s questions. Let’s just say the bar was low and Pence seldom ever cleared it despite numerous opportunities to do so.
One thing we should get out of the way before proceeding further. I know the reader, some at least, will want to establish Pence’s handling of matters on January 6th. That is to say that we should give him credit for not knuckling under to Trump and violating his oath to be faithful to the Constitution. OK, I think that is reasonable, even if one might conclude that in most other contexts we might not consider it remarkable, but rather an individual simply doing what is expected and required.
I always think of the people interviewed on television that committed an act of bravery in rescuing someone’s life and they, more often than not, demur by responding that “I don’t think of myself as a hero, I just did what I knew I needed to do.” In other words, “don’t put me on a pedestal, just do what you know is right, when you face a similar challenge.”
But, for the sake of the argument, let’s concede the point that Pence exhibited a rare moment of courage and resolve and it belongs to him and his legacy and no one can take it away from him. That said, I just found myself frustrated and unnerved by what I perceive the phony sanctimoniousness and exhibitionist piety of Pence.
Mike Pence wants us to see him as the benign and reasonable version of Republicanism and he strives to project that image. It may be that I don’t buy it because I don’t believe there is any authenticity to it. Let’s come back to that in a moment, but in the meantime, Pence reminded me of why I don’t trust him.
The main reason is that he cannot let his guard down and admit that Mike Pence knowingly and intentionally stood by silently as Donald Trump turned the office of the presidency into a cesspool of criminal behavior and corruption, the likes of which arguably have never been seen in our history. He could apologize to the American people for that, and if it was convincing, I for one, would accept it.
More disturbingly however, is that his bizarre, sycophantic, milquetoast, submissive, passive, deferential, docile and obsequious capitulations to Trump for 4 plus years are framed by him as some pious obligation stemming from his notion that Christians are expected to cave in and capitulate to indecent behavior by people in authority usurping the power of their office, as if he signed some sort of contract with the Almighty to remain silent and nod his head.
From there, things didn’t get much worse, but they didn’t get much better. Pence was asked about if he was angry that Trump endangered his and his family’s life on January 6, 2021. Pence struggled to portray anything that even began to resemble authentic fury or rage.
Yes, I get that the moment is over, but regardless of what other issues I have with former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, can you even imagine what his response would be if he had been Vice President and Trump had set him up for an execution by a mob that Trump had incited? Let me tell you, there would have been some expletives involved that would have kept the producers of the live broadcast feed busy.
But alright, fine – you say that is just not in Pence’s character. Even with that, I have difficulty – the same difficulty I have with Ted Cruz, whose wife Heidi, was spoken of disgracefully by Trump. When Ted Cruz, capitulated to Trump for nothing more than the relatively worthless motive of being re-elected to the Senate, I knew the man was a pathetic coward. I could not have been more disgusted and I remain so.
Cruz is repugnant to me. I was the product of a different code of masculine honor and any piece of human garbage that insulted my wife or any family member in that manner, would have in me, an enemy to the grave.
Pence is either trying to deceive us or he is deceiving himself, if he actually believes that Trump had even a solitary moment in which he regretted his actions. Either explanation doesn’t present itself as a qualification to hold the office of the president.
Trump, being the malignant narcissist that he is, never regrets his personal conduct toward others. Pence would have to be a fool to believe otherwise. There is nothing in the record of Donald Trump or the Trump lineage that suggests that there is even the capacity for remorse.
Mike Pence related to the audience how he frequently told Trump that he was “praying for him” – this even after Trump caused his and his family’s lives and the lives of his staff to be in peril.
“In the five days following January 6, I — I made no effort to contact the president. He had said the things publicly that I believe needed to be said, committing to a peaceful transfer of power, condemning the violence that had taken place.
But when his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law came to my office, as I write in “So Help Me God,” and asked on that following Monday if I’d be willing to sit down with the president, I — I told them I wasn’t looking for a meeting, but if he had something to say to me, I’d hear him out.
And I walked down to the Oval Office, that you’ve been to many times, into that back hallway, in the small dining room, where the president and I had spent so many productive hours working through issues at home and abroad, the progress that we had made — we’re a stronger, more prosperous country — a lot of it had happened over that small dining room table.
But I walked into the room, and the president’s chief of staff was present, but he quickly left. The president looked up at me and he asked if Karen and Charlotte were OK. And I said tersely, “They’re fine, Mr. President.” And he said, “Were you scared?”
And I said, “No,” I was angry. I was angry about the differences we had, and I was — I told him seeing those people ransacking the Capitol infuriated me.
But we sat for more than an hour and a half, and I was candid with the president about my disappointment. And I must tell you that I sensed the president was deeply remorseful in that moment. And I know that’s at odds with people’s public perception about him. But I want to tell you it was true. I could tell he was saddened by what had happened. And we spoke through it that day.
And I encouraged him to pray. He told me many times that he was a believer, and I told him, “Well, turn to Jesus,” hoping that he would find the comfort there that I was finding in that moment.
In the days that followed, I made my way back in that office for another meeting. And the president, days later, was still what I would call downcast. His voice was fainter than I ever remember at any time in our four and a half years together. And after we finished talking through some end of the administration business, I — I reminded him that I was praying for him. And he was dismissive about it.”
There is a faction within Christian circles that views the notion of forgiveness as unilateral, that is to say that the offending party is under no obligation to offer or demonstrate contrition of any sort. Mike Pence appears to be one of these.
Some might say I have no standing to call this into question, given that I lapsed on my subscription to Christianity (and religion generally), a few years back and have no intentions of renewing it, but that does not mean that after 44 years inside the snow globe, I do not have a keen understanding of what distinguishes New Testament orthodoxy from popular church trends that contradict scripture.
In this case, forgiveness is not cheaply attained or sprinkled around like confetti. Witness the teaching from Jesus to the disciples in Luke 17: 3-4:
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
“If he repents.” This one from Matthew 18:15 – 17, is also illuminating:
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
Now, I think there is a lot of wisdom and practical value to this, even in a secular context, and some would argue that verse 16 is very reminiscent of the basics of a court proceeding, dealing as it does with witnesses and evidence.
The main takeaway from these is that forgiveness does not take place in a vacuum, it is instead, very much transactional. One party brings sincere repentance and sorrow to the table and the other brings acceptance of reconciliation.
I was so pleasantly surprised when Jake Tapper contradicted Pence’s implication that forgiveness has no prerequisites, that I cheered aloud. Tapper told Pence:
“So, I come from a different faith tradition that also believes in forgiveness, but it also believes in people seeking forgiveness when they have done wrong to someone.”
There is a strong element of accountability in it. Minus the accountability, you have a recipe not only missing an essential ingredient, but one that creates the potential for moral hazards.
People who wrong others and are provided a means to evade social liability through forgiveness without conditions, often come to believe they have license to continue. There is no more prototypical an example of this than Donald J. Trump himself. This is why our criminal justice system incorporates penalties that are cumulative for repeat offenses.
I also perceived that Pence was leveraging Christianity as political coinage with evangelicals with his seemingly incessant references to his personal religious orientation. In my view, this is problematic. It is a means of signaling to Christian Nationalists among the electorate that Pence, in the long shot event that he might be elected to the office of the presidency, would not govern for all Americans, but instead, place special and exclusive emphasis on the desires and interests of Christians for governance that conforms to their cultural demands.
Further indications of this line of appeal, surfaced in October, when speaking with Larry Kudlow on Fox Business, Kudlow’s remarked, “these lefties want to scrap religion, Mike Pence, and I think it’s a terrible mistake,” to which Pence replied, “well, the radical left believes that the freedom of religion is the freedom from religion. But it’s nothing the American founders ever thought of or generations of Americans fought to defend.”
Mike Pence would have to include Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the principal co-author of the Constitution among the ranks of the “radical Left.” That’s because both men were very public about religious freedom not meaning that citizens were obligated in any way to participate in religious activity, Christian or otherwise.
Jefferson wrote in his 1776 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom that:
“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
Madison, for his part, was also very unambiguous and emphatic in an 1819 letter, writing:
“The settled opinion here is that religion is essentially distinct from Civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connexion (sic) between them is injurious to both; that there are causes in the human breast, which ensure the perpetuity of religion without the aid of the law. A legal establishment of religion without a toleration could not be thought of, and with toleration, is no security for public quiet and harmony, but rather a source itself of discord and animosity.”
Mike Pence and those of his theocratic philosophy, utilize the term “Religious Freedom” as code for whatever Christian fundamentalists define freedom to be – which, as we have seen, to them, means imposing their moral order on everyone whether it is welcome or not.
Contrary to that, in my estimation, the Constitution’s Bill Of Rights benefits each and every one of us, equally – Christians of all denominations including Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Agnostics, Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists, LGBTQ, Naturists, etc.
Pence should have been called out on his assertion that Christians enjoy pre-eminent status under our system of laws, but I wasn’t surprised that he was not.
Aside from that, Pence also did not give a satisfactory accounting or explanation of why he has not participated in the efforts by Congress to determine what led up to the attack on the Capitol on the 6th and who was responsible and his silence both prior to and after that singularly horrific event, telling Jake Tapper and the viewers that “Congress has no right to my testimony,” and that it would set a “terrible precedent” for a congressional committee to summon a vice president to relate discussions between Trump and himself.
This was an attempt on his part to make the specious case that speaking to the committee would violate the separation of powers and “erode the dynamic” between a president and vice president.
“And I truly do believe in defense of the separation of powers and to avoid what would be a terrible precedent – the very notion of a committee on Congress, in Congress, summoning a vice president to speak about deliberations that took place at the White House, I think, would violate that separation of powers.”
Were the subject matter of the meetings having to do with day to day issues and strategy, there might be some validity – but deliberations dealing with an attempt to subvert the Constitution? Sorry, that is not under the umbrella of executive purview or privilege and Pence is undercutting the good will he earned by his actions on that fateful day in January.
Pence also cast shade on the legitimacy of the January 6th Committee, by labeling it as “partisan.” Tapper rebutted that assertion, pointing out that it was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that withdrew participation on behalf of Republicans, merely because two of his appointed selections Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.) were declined on the grounds that they would be prone to disrupting the purpose of the panel’s inquiries.
As it turned out and Pence declined to acknowledge, there were two GOP Representatives on the committee – Liz Cheney (R-WY), who played a prominent role and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill).
The last item we will unpack here, is the obvious hypocrisy of Pence having traveled across the country, stumping for election deniers, which he was taken to task on by Tapper during the interview. The following are media accounts that document this:
AP: “Last month, Pence was in New Hampshire for Senate nominee Don Bolduc, a retired Army general who also spent his primary campaign telling voters the race was stolen from Trump.”
Washington Post: “Pence has said Trump was ‘wrong’ to pressure him to reject the electoral college votes… But as Pence has begun laying the groundwork to run in 2024, he isn’t seeking to make opposing Trump core to his political brand. Last week, Pence appeared in Phoenix to endorse Senate candidate Blake Masters of Arizona.”
Washington Post: “Pence also led a fundraiser for Burt Jones, the Republican nominee for Georgia’s lieutenant governor who was part of the effort, now under local and federal investigation, to submit phony electors claiming Trump won the state in 2020.In a recent local news interview, Jones said he stood by signing the false certificate, explaining that he understood it as a procedural measure in case the Trump campaign succeeded in court, and he wouldn’t acknowledge Biden as the legitimate winner.”
Washington Post: “[Pence] also helped raise money for Lee Zeldin, the Republican running for governor of New York who in Congress voted against certifying the electoral college results.”
It’s hard to take Mike Pence seriously that he laments the rotten fruit of the “stolen election” mantra in his party, if he doesn’t have the resolve to disassociate himself from the purveyors of it. It’s hard to take him seriously at all – but we do need to.