Bring On Pence

Sunday, May 21st, 2017 Politics / Writing


Should Mike Pence become president, the Left will surely lead us in a national chorus of “Whew! Back to normal.” Correct? After all, our friends in the Democratic party have been saying for many months that President Trump is not normal, that he is uniquely unfit for office, that his brand of mendaciousness, volatility, poor character, and immaturity have no precedent in the Oval Office, that he is a Nazi sympathizer and even a fascist, that he is an extremist who exists outside the bounds of ordinary political disagreement.

Kyle Smith in National Review Online
(with gratitude to Yastreblyansky, who discusses the article here)

To believe in America is to believe in democracy, and to believe in democracy is to believe in democratic systems, meaning, constitutional systems (including all the correctional mechanisms—the creation and enaction of laws vs. the voters’ referenda and all of that). It’s a sliding scale because any system can be gamed, its weaknesses found and exploited over time—whether it’s courtroom rules (where, say, computers allow impossibly fast retrieval of case law for objections, or where software-based or audio-recorded testimony can challenge the accuracy of stenographic court reporting) or basketball rules (where, over decades, the arrival of taller and taller players changes the timing of play so completely that the “shot clocks” and other new constraints have to evolve), the idea is that if you’re going to do the thing at all, you have to stick with the template you started with. (The taller basketball players aren’t the only biological change that’s relevant to how systems work—increasing human longevity makes “lifetime appointments” mean something very different now than it did 241 years ago, so those rules may eventually have to change, too.)

Along that sliding scale, messing with voting machines or voter rolls, or taking advantage of bad ballots (as in Florida in 2000) is not OK; breaking into your opponents’ campaign headquarters is not OK (as in Washington DC in 1972). Gerrymandering districts or refusing to hold confirmation hearings on a Supreme Court nominee are on the edge—technically, that’s working within the system, but it’s still dirty pool. And, in general, technology changes it all, as with my previous examples of how Fascism or just bad democracy results from media shifts—Leni Reifenstahl or Joseph Goebbels or Roger Ailes getting monstrous results from film, radio and television, or (just to argue the other way) local Democratic candidates getting “unfair” boosts in funding across state lines thanks to DailyKos.

So, Pence is not “as ‘abnormal’ [or, illegitimate] as Trump” (as has been argued). There are just too many things that are fundamentally wrong with Trump’s election—some of which, as I’m saying above, barely skate by as “legitimate” (not just the Electoral College but the Comey letter and the tweetstorms) but so much of which involves hacked email servers and corrupt self-dealing in international business contexts and unprecedented foreign interference and other elements that are totally beyond the pale; that have nothing to do with how the Founding Fathers set the thing up or how it carefully nurtured its own painstakingly slow evolution over the centuries. (I’m not making an “Originalist” argument—at least, I’m pretty sure I’m not; the parsing of 18th Century language through a modern lens altered by shifting social values is different from the obliteration of 18th century physical mechanisms by computers and cable televisions and international money-laundering schemes.)

Mike Pence is evil, as Yastreblyansky argues, but he’s a doctrinaire politician; an elected official legitimately vetted by the systems of our democracy; and (perhaps more important) a man who (like Gerald Ford) could never have gotten onto the national stage or into the Oval Office by himself. (I would never say of Pence that he is “not my President”—as the Right did of Obama, for their own reasons involving crackpot racist theories of his imaginary foreign birth or “allegiance” to the Muslim world, which Trump first came to the national stage by exploiting and promoting.)

We’re on the edge of serious darkness and chaos with Trump. Too many of our basic principles of democratic rule are rattling and straining under dangerous pressure, because of Reality Television and microtargeting and hacked computers. And, since I’m being called out by The National Review (as a self-appointed representative of “the Left”), I have to hold my head up high and say, Yes, if Mike Pence becomes President I will lead “a national chorus of ‘Whew! Back to normal’” —I will continue to believe what I’ve always believed and stand by what I’ve always stood by as a patriotic American. I will repeat the Gerald Ford lines about how “our system works—this is a government of laws and not of men” and I will watch lame-duck Pence and his party be decimated in the midterms as the basic, cherished wheels of American democracy grind away the last remnants of this horrible freak mistake.