Opinion: A primer for President Pence, from a Hoosier

Caleb Owens / Mike Pence
Mitchell Patterson /THE REVIEW
Former EIC Caleb Owens speculates on a hypothetical, post-Trump-impeachment Mike Pence in the White House.


This is already fanciful, and in rather direct violation of my own policy of avoiding national politics in these pages. But, when both your mayor and former governor might become president within the next year or so, this historically unprecedented moment in which to be from Indiana is to be somewhat relevant cannot be sat out on, and I happen to have column. I also haven’t seen any pundits claim openly that Republicans (Republicans, not conservatives) are going to hell, as I here intend to. Therein lie my unique contributions.

So, as a Hoosier having once lived under Pence’s creepy, nihilistic, Deep Red authoritarian fist, I’d like to entertain the prospects of what will follow the graceless downfall of our current corrupt authoritarian, offering a primer for the next one.

Pence’s sinister contempt for the law and democracy is best explained through a piece of personal history. I grew up under two all-star public educators, a principal and a teacher, both employed in “The Region” — the northwest, post-industrial region of Indiana that runs adjacent to Chicago’s South Side — and remember vividly the day, in 2012, when Glenda Ritz was democratically elected as the state superintendent of education in Indiana.

The buzz, the energy, the optimism at the dinner table, were real. Ritz, herself a public educator, was the long-awaited antidote in a state that had, under Republican incompetence, devoted its energies to completely uprooting public education and stripping educators of any remaining dignity post-No Child Left Behind.

The protests in Indianapolis, the renewed union activity, had finally paid off. Fears of school shutdowns, fears of charter school overhaul, of arbitrary evaluations and test standardization, could finally rest. At minimum, the fight became a real one.

At least for a few days. Though the people spoke, Pence didn’t give a damn.

Instead of respecting the constituents’ will, respecting the office of a woman who won more total votes than Pence did, he defied it. Through some crafty, manipulative collaboration with his buddies in the legislature, he managed to, under a thin and precarious veneer of constitutionality, strip an elected official of her democratic authority by inscribing a new, incompetent and otherwise useless committee into existence that superseded her authority. (This is the rough summary, at least.)

This flagrant disregard of constituent demands, of the democratic process, of responsible and just governance, is but one among many cases. Take his unconstitutional “religious freedom” law, effectively the (re-)legalization of arbitrary discrimination. Take his neglect of his own citizens — predominantly hispanic and/or black, predominantly poor — who, in East Chicago, suffered (and continue to suffer) from a lead crisis on par with Flint’s. Take his other unforgivable public health mishap, his failure to prevent and address an HIV outbreak in Scott County. Take his repeated attempts to dismantle unions, and his other assaults on worker’s rights across the state.

Behind that cold, heartless, unmoving face, always feigning prayer and God’s grace, is an even colder, more heartless, morally bankrupt soul. Hardly the God-fearing Evangelical he portrays himself as, Mike Pence, paralleled only by maybe Stephen Miller and Mitch McConnell, is the purest incarnation of Satan that American politics has seen since Henry Kissinger.

None of this is good. Should Trump fall, expect no reprieve from constitutional breaches and overreaches. In fact, expect it all to increase, just more discreetly, with more strategy, and with even less outcry from “Never Trump” Republicans. With fewer tweets will come a more driven, more ideologically motivated, more calculated assault on America’s best qualities from its worst progeny. Without their juggernaut for 2020, Republicans will be desperate, ready to crank up their corruption and attempts to disenfranchise the majority.

So, expect someone who, like Trump, will cling onto power at all costs, and do so with more behind-the-scenes support, more contempt for the democratic process and even less regard for the Constitution. Expect more attacks on women’s reproductive rights and appeals to a flawed morality and theology to do so. Expect more intentional, motivated assaults on the civil liberties of ethnic minorities and the LGBTQ+ community than even what we’ve seen under Trump. Expect more talk of another religious crusade in the Middle East, and a more overt attempt at theocratic overhaul to emanate from the highest reaches of the Land of the Free.

In other words, expect the U.S.A to become Indiana.

This is terrifying. But there’s a reason why I remain optimistic, and it has everything to do with the fact that, by the end of his term, in Indiana — a state that just scrapped one of the finest members of the Senate, Joe Donnely, for a veritable piece of radical-right rot, Mike Braun — Pence would have been blasted into oblivion in a re-election effort.

This might be hard to quantify — there may be some polls, I don’t know — but again, some personal history is instructive. In 2015 and 2016, a trip south of Highway 30 — unswerving and unapologetic Trump country, these days — yielded a sight more beautiful than even the rolling acres of corn. “Fire Pence” signs lined the lawns of the simple modular homes. Across the state, only the untouched and incompetent Hoosier Bourgeoisie could muster even faint praise for the man, and never outside of the high-end Republican Party country club events.

Pence was, indeed, about to get fired.

Trump, in an uncharacteristic turn, spared him that much. But Trump’s impeachment could bring new life to Pence’s short-circuited termination process, this time on the national stage. While many will find a Trump departure relieving, find it easier to sleep at night, enjoy the reprieve from Twitter-based foreign policy, a Pence presidency will mandate scrutiny and resistance exceeding even that required of the Trump presidency.

And the cult-like popular support that Trump commands will be absent, meaning that abuses of power will again be taken seriously and inflict real damage. As more damning Trump material rolls out, culminating in impeachment, Republicans will be pressed to justify their complicity in this nation’s democratic crisis, struggle to fit their evil intransigence into an even halfway-redeemable ideology and position. Though they will be strong, still controlling the minds of millions via Fox and friends, they will be unusually vulnerable, led by a thoroughly unlikeable creep, one who will require supervision any time he meets with the Speaker.

The opportunity for Democrats to expose the deeper, more pernicious elements of the Republican Party — those that antecede Trump, and that have led Republicans to tolerate the man, and which will be fully and conspicuously embodied in President Pence — will never be better, and the chance to crush this authoritarian, deeply undemocratic party once and for all will present itself more clearly than the Trump presidency would and could ever allow. Impeachment is the first, necessary step in what must be considered a larger, more urgent project of decimating the modern Republican Party.

Because, as things currently look, even if we weather out Trump, the xenophobocic, theocratic, misogynistic, morally disingenuous and depraved life-blood that has enabled and maintained his presidency will be as Red and juicy as ever, still plotting the demise of representative government and our planet.

The prospect of a Pence presidency makes me viscerally nauseous, but it’s an opportunity to bury the modern Republican Party unlike any other. And like Pence — who is, I’m sure, praying hard right now that he’ll be in the Oval Office by October’s end — I too am praying that the country will avail itself of this opportunity. That Pence and the Republicans might get a taste of the righteous hell that, should their theology be correct (which, fortunately for them, it’s not, at least according to this Christian), they will surely inherit in the next life.

Caleb Owens is the current development officer and former editor in chief of The Review. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent the majority opinion of The Review’s Editorial staff. Caleb may be reached at calowens@udel.edu.

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