With Donald Trump in Asia plugging his golf resort and telling his hosts “I never knew we had so many countries,” the leaderless United States has had a week to try out President Mike Pence. Make that Pastor Pence.
It’s not a problem that Pence is a sycophant in chief, perhaps the greatest bootlicker to take up residence at the Naval Observatory. His little stunt, on Trump’s orders, of flying halfway across the country to walk out on people exercising their First Amendment rights at a football game cost taxpayers a pile. So. Veeps are expected to be slavish.
Nor am I overly troubled that Pence reportedly calls his wife Mother or refuses to dine with a woman alone who is not Mom. (Angela Merkel, bring your chaperone.) Ronald Reagan called his wife Mommy.
The big problem with Pence is the vast empty space between his ears and the articulation of thoughts formed in that space. His biblical bromides make Ned Flanders of “The Simpsons” sound like Voltaire. And because his mind is closed to rational thought outside his theocratic construct, everything he says comes out like platitudinous mush.
Take the last week. (Please.) At least, take the part that started on Sunday with a man using a semi-automatic rifle to murder eight children among his 25 victims at a church in Texas. This outrage should stir conscience-stricken leaders to do something — anything — to ensure that it never happens again.
Pence’s response? “We grieve with you and stand with resolve against evil,” he said. I’ll grant him the grieving part. But the resolve has translated into squat. His best solution to the scourge of mass killings, as he told heartbroken families in Texas, is more prayer.
Not even six weeks ago, Pence had a similar answer to the massacre of 58 people in Las Vegas. In a radio interview, he dwelled on how great it was that people sang “God Bless America” just before they were slaughtered by a civilian who converted his rifle into a machine gun. Moving forward, Pence offered this suggestion: “I have to tell you, we find comfort in the Good Book.”
The host, Storme Warren at Sirius XM, asked Pence if we could be assured of never seeing this kind of thing again. Pence fumbled for an answer, then said, “We’re united in our resolve to end such evil in our time.”
But there is no resolve. No legislative action. No executive action. Nothing but meek, passive acceptance of the great horror that makes the United States stand out from every other civilized country. Oh, and since Pence expressed resolve to end evil after Las Vegas, more than 900 Americans have lost their lives to guns.
In Texas this week, Pence told families, “We are working with leaders in Congress to ensure that this never happens again.” That’s a lie, which should be surprising for a man who wears his faith on both sleeves. But it is not unusual for Pence. PolitiFact rated 48 percent of his statements false or mostly false. He has learned from his master.
Here’s what the administration is actually doing: In one of his first acts as president, Trump signed a bill making it easier for the mentally ill to buy guns.
Pence can sound insipid on any topic. When the tape emerged last year of Trump boasting about how to be a sexual predator and get away with it, Pence urged his ticket mate to pray. His piety is the cover for Trump’s amorality.
I’m not against people of faith in public life. The left should be faulted for intolerance of those who express belief in a higher power or religious tradition. But I’m with the first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, who famously said, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” In that, he stands with the Constitution.
Pence calls himself a Christian first, a conservative second and a Republican third. Since taking the oath of office, he’s supposed to be a citizen first. But Pence is a theocrat — one who hasn’t had a new thought in years — and that’s why he sounds so vacuous.
As governor of Indiana, he signed a measure that legalized discrimination against gays and made his state a pariah. It was only under pressure from the business community that he was forced to retreat. Still, his long record of anti-gay actions prompted even Trump to joke that Pence wants to “hang them all.” The White House denied the quote.
As Jane Mayer documented in her portrait of Pence in The New Yorker, he is also the ultimate corporate tool. The Koch brothers own him. He has called climate change “a myth” and has helped to plant fossil-fuel toadies in crucial Trump administration posts.
Pence learned gasbagging for God as a talk-radio host, calling himself “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.” It’s a job that requires someone to fill hours of empty air with hours of empty nonsense. As vice president, he has refined the role.
Tim Egan is a columnist for The New York Times. Reach him c/o The New York Times, Editorial Department, 620 8th Ave., New York, NY 10018. © 2017 New York Times News Service