Congress Must Formally Acknowledge That Mike Pence Is The Batman

Photo credit: Mike Kim - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mike Kim - Getty Images

It is true that former Vice President Mike Pence chose not to unilaterally throw out the votes of millions of Americans and install himself and Donald Trump in power in contravention of the expressed will of the American people. It is true he resisted becoming an accessory to the worst possible crime in a democratic republic: using the powers vested in you as an officer of the public trust to seize those powers in perpetuity. (Because let's be clear: if you think they would have stolen one election and then returned things to regular order, you are sorely mistaken. It would have been the end. We would have had Donny Junior on the $10 bill by 2026.) Seems like a low bar, but for that he ought to be commended.

Maybe we can stop short of the hero talk, though. Jonathan V. Last is out with piece in The Atlantic Thursday headlined, "Mike Pence Is an American Hero," and it seems to be predicated on the notion that Pence's political career began on January 5, 2021. That's when, as Last points out quite rightly, Pence began to actually take something of a stand against Trump's sinister campaign to overturn the election and keep hold of power when the American people refused to give it to him. But Last goes a bit far with the eulogizing here:

Here is another idea the committee might consider: Take a moment to praise Mike Pence. Congress can name a building in his honor. The House and Senate could propose nonpartisan resolutions recognizing Pence for his service to democracy. And then Joe Biden could give Pence the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Because while Pence may not be the hero you or I might have wanted, he was the hero America needed.

Congress should formally acknowledge that Mike Pence is The Batman. And why must they put some respect on his name? Because he repeatedly did the absolute bare minimum we expect from anyone who holds elected office in this country—namely, that when they lose an election, they fucking leave.

Pence single-handedly averted the next catastrophe, and then tried to restore some sense of normal functioning to our democracy. On January 20, Pence returned to the Capitol. The trumpets played a fanfare; he and his wife, Karen, were announced, and they walked down the red carpet together, holding hands. The people assembled to witness the inauguration of Joe Biden clapped politely. When Kamala Harris made her entrance, Pence applauded her in turn.

Please clap. If you do, they'll name a building after you. The Michael Pence Center for Kids Who Can't Lose Good.

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla - Getty Images
Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla - Getty Images

OK, fine. Let's grant here that it is no easy task to stand up to Trump and his mob of enraged whites who've been told, day after day and year after year, that the country is being stolen from them. This was billed as the culminating moment in which it was being stolen via Hugo Chavez's voting machines. (It's here where we might remember Trump screamed voter fraud in 2016, suggesting he only lost the popular vote because of masses of undocumented immigrants who decided to all vote in California, where it wouldn't make a difference in the final result. Trump said there'd be widespread voter fraud before that election even happened, then declined to apply the prophecy to the swing states he won. He repeated the trick in 2020, yelling Voter Fraud beforehand to prime his people in case he lost. When he did lose, the prophecy self-fulfilled. Every swing-state Trump lost was home to voter fraud. States he won were legit.) It required fortitude for Pence to resist in the key moments on January 5 and 6th. It's just that, as Last acknowledges, there wasn't all that much resistance beforehand.

He should have been much more aggressive in repudiating Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election. But attending the inauguration—something the outgoing president refused to do—was an implicit and public acknowledgment of Biden’s victory. Last February, Pence gave a speech in which he said that Trump was “wrong” about the election. He also countered the revisionist view of January 6 as being a peaceful protest by very fine people who are now political prisoners: Pence called it “a dark day” and framed the question as being about the survival of democracy. “The truth is there’s more at stake than our party or our political fortunes,” he said. “If we lose faith in the Constitution, we won’t just lose elections—we’ll lose our country.”

Again, we're looking at a bar located somewhere in the Earth's core here. They stormed the Capitol chanting about hanging him and he calls it "a dark day." And even this non-repudiation stuff is a generous interpretation. Here's a Yahoo! News account of a speech from Michael R. Pence, sitting Vice President of the United States, on January 4, 2021:

“We’ve all got our doubts about the last election. I share the concerns of millions of Americans about voting irregularities,” Pence said at an indoor congregation at Rock Springs Church in Milner, Ga., in support of Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in runoff elections there.

Pence, who by law will be tasked with declaring a winner of the Electoral College vote, seemed to leave open the possibility that Trump could still remain in power for a second term.

“Come this Wednesday,” he said, referring to the impending certification of election results, “we’ll have our day in Congress. We’ll hear the evidence.”

Evidence of what? What the fuck are you talking about? You can say Pence was just trying to rev up the Republican base ahead of the Georgia runoffs that would decide control of the Senate, but that is not in any way exculpatory. All of these lies were pushed for political gain, to create a siege mentality and sow the seeds of reactionary backlash. And he pulled this in Georgia, where his boss called up an elections official and begged him to—then tried to intimidate him into—stuffing the ballot box to make him the winner. (Trump tried to get Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to throw out the exact number of votes he'd lost by, plus one. There are tapes. You can hear him. How is this not a crime?) This is a whole lot worse from Pence than a mere failure to push back on the Big Lie. And by the way, Pence continued with the sinister innuendo even after January 6, including in an op-ed in something called the Daily Signal on March 3, 2021:

After an election marked by significant voting irregularities and numerous instances of officials setting aside state election law, I share the concerns of millions of Americans about the integrity of the 2020 election.

Again, what are you talking about? What irregularities? Every single one of these claims was thrown out of court, including courts run by Republican-appointed judges. In truth, the election lacked integrity because it failed to produce these people's desired result, which meant that non-Real Americans got a say in choosing the president. That's it. In this case, Pence was playing on this reactionary fervor to oppose H.R. 1, a sweeping democracy reform bill that was once a priority for congressional Democrats. Again, the chance to use the Lie (and innuendo around it) for political gain is why it exists and has been fanned relentlessly. Pence made use of it actively. And even if you ignore his use of it, he and the other Republican cowards allowed it to fester for weeks and weeks knowing full well it was dangerous bullshit. It came to its crescendo on January 6, and as a personal threat to Pence, because Pence did nothing to stop it in all those weeks beforehand.

So let's tip our cap to Pence for not standing in the Senate and single-handedly tossing out the results of an election he lost by 7 million American citizens' votes. (The nerve of these people to try to exploit legal loopholes in our ridiculous system for electing presidents when they were so thoroughly repudiated by the nation at large.) But enough with the Hero stuff. This guy aided and abetted some of the worst abuses of the prior administration, and if he could have been installed in power in contravention of the people's will by some means other than his singular intervention, are we to believe he wouldn't have taken the job? If Trump had succeeded in having Michigan's or Georgia's results thrown out, and a fake slate of electors appointed to vote for him in the Electoral College, are we supposed to believe American Patriotic Democracy Hero Mike Pence would have resigned and given a speech denouncing it all? Get fucking real. He'd have smiled his Madame Tussaud's smile, returned to his residence at the Naval Observatory, and hoped that someday soon it would be him in the big chair. He still hopes that.

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