The election of Donald Trump has sent shockwaves through the souls of compassionate, humane people across the country and the world. Horror that a candidate who ran on a platform of open bigotry, threats against immigrants and Muslims, and blatant misogyny will soon be president is now sinking in. Trump appointed a white nationalist, Steve Bannon, as chief White House strategist — which was promptly celebrated by the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan. Bannon and other possible extremist Trump appointees, such as John Bolton, a neocon who believes the U.S. should “bomb Iran,” and the authoritarian Rudy Giuliani, are now receiving much deserved public scrutiny.
The incoming vice president, Mike Pence, has not elicited the same reaction, instead often painted as the reasonable adult on the ticket, a “counterbalance” to Trump and a “bridge to the establishment.” However, there is every reason to regard him as, if anything, even more terrifying than the president-elect.
Pence’s ascent to the second most powerful position in the U.S. government is a tremendous coup for the radical religious right. Pence — and his fellow Christian supremacist militants — would not have been able to win the White House on their own. For them, Donald Trump was a godsend. “This may not be our preferred candidate, but that doesn’t mean it may not be God’s candidate to do something that we don’t see,” said David Barton, a prominent Christian-right activist and president of Wall Builders, an organization dedicated to making the U.S. government enforce “biblical values.” In June, Barton prophesied: “We may look back in a few years and say, ‘Wow, [Trump] really did some things that none of us expected.’”
Trump is a Trojan horse for a cabal of vicious zealots who have long craved an extremist Christian theocracy, and Pence is one of its most prized warriors. With Republican control of the House and Senate and the prospect of dramatically and decisively tilting the balance of the Supreme Court to the far right, the incoming administration will have a real shot at bringing the fire and brimstone of the second coming to Washington.
“The enemy, to them, is secularism. They want a God-led government. That’s the only legitimate government,” contends Jeff Sharlet, author of two books on the radical religious right, including “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.” “So when they speak of business, they’re speaking not of something separate from God, but they’re speaking of what, in Mike Pence’s circles, would be called biblical capitalism, the idea that this economic system is God-ordained.”
One of Trump’s sons, Don Jr., reportedly said that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy, while Trump would focus on the vague mission of “Making America Great Again.” Trump’s campaign subsequently claimed the story was “made up,” though Trump has consistently denied saying things he is on record as saying, so who knows? In any case, the implications of a Pence vice presidency are vast. Pence combines the most horrid aspects of Dick Cheney’s worldview with a belief that Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” novels are not fiction, but an omniscient crystal ball.
How the GOP foisted Pence on Trump is undoubtedly a fascinating story that hopefully will some day be revealed. Obviously, Pence gave Trump badly needed credibility with evangelical voters and the GOP establishment, but Pence’s selection portends a governing apocalypse. While Trump has flip-flopped on a variety of issues, from abortion to immigration to war and health care, Pence has been a reliable stalwart throughout his public life in the cause of Christian jihad — never wavering in his commitment to America-First militarism, the criminalizing of abortion, and utter hatred for gay people (unless they go into conversion therapy “to change their sexual behavior,” which Pence has suggested the government pay for).
He supported making the Patriot Act permanent and wants to ban the burning of the U.S. flag. Pence does not believe federal law enforcement agencies should have to get a FISA warrant to conduct domestic surveillance and voted against requiring any warrant for domestic wiretapping. As governor of Indiana, he did quietly sign a bill to limit the use of Stingray devices by local law enforcement, though it was during the early stages of the Snowden revelations and the public concern about government surveillance was intense.
Pence supported giving retroactive immunity to telecom companies implicated in warrantless surveillance. He does not want congressional oversight of CIA interrogations — which Trump believes should include waterboarding and other torture “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Pence has paid lip service to the illegality of torture but said that “enhanced interrogation” has saved lives. He has characterized relationship-building, non-coercive interrogation strategies as “Oprah Winfrey methods.” Pence is against whistleblower protections that would prohibit retaliation for reporting crimes or misdeeds. In 2002, the ACLU gave him a 7 percent rating on civil rights.
He wants the U.S. to resume the practice of holding new prisoners at Guantánamo Bay or, as Trump put it, they plan “to fill it up.” Pence also supports expanded use of the military tribunal system.
Pence has claimed that he wants to “economically isolate” Iran rather than engage in a military attack. But should Israel decide to conduct pre-emptive strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities, he said in 2010, “if the world knows nothing else, let the world know this: that America will stand with Israel.” He supported a failed legislative effort to make it U.S. policy “to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force.” Both in rhetoric and policy, Pence has compared “radical Islam” to the “evil empire of the Soviet Union” and said that he and Trump will “name the enemy” and “marshal the resources of our nation and our allies to hunt them down and destroy them before they threaten us.”
As has been widely reported, as governor of Indiana, Pence signed a law requiring fetal tissue from abortions to be buried or cremated, making his state one of the most medieval in its approach to reproductive rights. The fetus burial law, which Pence claimed would “ensure the dignified final treatment of the unborn,” was suspended at the 11th hour by a federal judge, who said it was likely unconstitutional. Pence has been at the forefront of the movement to defund Planned Parenthood. “We’ll see Roe v. Wade consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs,” Pence promised. He has long sought to have 14th Amendment protections applied to fetuses, arguing that they should be declared persons. In Congress, Pence voted to criminally punish doctors who performed late-term abortions, except in cases where the woman’s life was in danger. A doctor who “kills a human fetus” faces up to two years in prison, according to that law.
Pence opposed efforts to widen hate crimes laws to include attacks on LGBT people. He tried to block federal funding of HIV treatments unless they came with a requirement to advocate against gay relationships. Pence opposes non-straight people serving in the military. “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service because the presence of homosexuals in the ranks weakens unit cohesion,” he said.
Pence believes “the only truly safe sex … is no sex” and once (falsely) claimed on CNN that “condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases.”
Pence supports the “wall” Trump has said he will build, believes in self-deportation, and has staked out one of the most virulent positions against the U.S. taking in refugees from Syria. In defending a proposed ban on Syrian refugees entering Indiana, Pence said it was necessary to “ensure the safety and security of all Hoosiers.” He has advocated for greater militarization of the so-called war on drugs, including escalated military patrols. Pence denounced activists and others protesting recent police killings of unarmed African-Americans, charging they “seize upon tragedy in the wake of police action shootings.” He said he found it offensive to “use a broad brush to accuse law enforcement of implicit bias or institutional racism and that really has got to stop.” He has said that “police officers are the best of us.”
Pence is a strong supporter of stop-and-frisk programs, which in New York were used overwhelmingly against people of color. “It’s on a sound constitutional footing,” said Pence, who added that he wanted the practice expanded nationwide. “Stop-and-frisk literally saved lives in New York City when it was implemented, and it’s been implemented in cities around the country.”
One interesting difference between Pence and Trump centers on the First Amendment. Trump has made clear he believes in waging war against a free press and has encouraged hostility toward journalists covering his campaign. While in Congress, Pence was a major force behind trying to get a federal shield law to protect journalists’ rights to maintain confidential sources. A former radio talk show host, Pence said he was inspired to act by the case of then-New York Times reporter Judy Miller, who was imprisoned for refusing to answer questions about her sources during the scandal over the outing of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. No such law was ever passed and the bill provided wide latitude to nullify the protections of journalists in national security situations.
When he joined the ticket with Trump last summer, Pence claimed they were internally reviewing the campaign policy on the treatment of journalists covering Trump events. If anything, the situation worsened as the campaign moved forward.
On health care, Pence is now on board with repealing the Affordable Care Act, though as governor he did embrace the law in a pretty bold act of hypocrisy. He also supported denying non-emergency care for people who cannot afford a Medicare co-payment and opposed expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Pence is what might be termed “climate change curious,” though earlier in his political career, he wrote an essay in which he asserted, “Global warming is a myth. The global warming treaty is a disaster. There, I said it.” More recently, Pence has kind of acknowledged the fact-based nature of human action contributing to climate change but opposes ending any of the industrial, governmental, or corporate practices responsible. He has consistently advocated withdrawing from climate change agreements and treaties. Pence has an impressively atrocious record on environmental issues and a slavish devotion to big energy and big oil companies.
He opposed government assistance to U.S. workers who lost their jobs because of free trade agreements and has supported every neoliberal trade program since his time in public office. Pence was a loud proponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership until he joined Trump on the ticket, and now he claims to be pondering the “wisdom” of the agreement.
Mike Pence was raised Catholic, in a Kennedy Democrat household, but he has been a devout evangelical since being converted at a Christian music festival in Kentucky while in college. Pence now describes himself as “a Christian, a Conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” Even his political action committee’s name gives off a crusader vibe: Principles Exalt a Nation.
Pence opposed imposing restrictions on no-bid contracting, which may help explain his close relationship to Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater. In December 2007, three months after Blackwater operatives gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, Pence and his Republican Study Committee, which served “the purpose of advancing a conservative social and economic agenda in the House of Representatives,” organized a gathering to welcome Prince to Washington. But their relationship is not just forged in wars. Prince and his mother, Elsa, have been among the top funders of scores of anti-gay-marriage ballot initiatives across the country and have played a key role in financing efforts to criminalize abortion.
Prince has long given money to Pence’s political campaigns, and toward the end of the presidential election, he contributed $100,000 to the pro-Trump/Pence Super PAC Make America Number 1. Prince’s mother kicked in another $50,000. Ironically, Erik Prince — who portrays himself as a mix between Indiana Jones, Rambo, Captain America, and Pope Benedict — is now working with the Chinese government through his latest “private security” firm.
The Prince family’s support for Pence, and the Christian supremacist movement he represents, has deep roots.
Erik Prince’s father, Edgar, built up a very successful manufacturing business in Holland, Michigan, and became one of the premier bankrollers of what came to be known as the radical religious right. They gave Gary Bauer the seed money to start the Family Research Council and poured money into James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. “Ed Prince was not an empire builder. He was a Kingdom builder,” Bauer recalled soon after the elder Prince’s death. “For him, personal success took a back seat to spreading the Gospel and fighting for the moral restoration of our society.” Erik Prince’s sister Betsy married Dick DeVos, whose father, Richard, founded the multilevel marketing firm Amway and went on to own the Orlando Magic basketball team. The two families merged together like the monarchies of old Europe and swiftly emerged as platinum-level contributors to far-right Christian causes and political figures.
The Prince and DeVos families gave the seed money for what came to be known as the Republican Revolution when Newt Gingrich became House speaker in 1994 on a far-right platform known as the Contract with America. The Prince and DeVos clans also invested heavily in a scheme developed by Dobson to engage in back-door lobbying activities by forming “prayer warrior” networks of people who would call politicians to advocate for Dobson’s religious and political agenda. Instead of lobbying, which the organization would have been prohibited from doing because of its tax and legal status, they would claim they were “praying” for particular policies.
The Princes consistently poured money into criminalizing abortion, privatizing education, blocking gay rights, and other right-wing causes centered around their interpretation of Christianity. The family, especially Erik, was very close to Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man,” Watergate conspirator Charles “Chuck” Colson. The author of Nixon’s enemies list, Colson was the first person sentenced in the Watergate scandal, after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in the investigation of the dirty tricks campaign against Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War. Colson became a born-again Christian before going to prison, and after his release, he started the Prison Fellowship, which sought to convert prisoners to Christianity to counter what Colson saw as the Islamic menace in U.S. prisons. Erik Prince funded this as well and went on prison visits with Colson.
All of these figures, bankrolled by the Prince family, are the ideological and theological ascendants of Mike Pence, who called Colson “a dear friend and mentor.” Colson and his allies viewed the administration of Bill Clinton as a secular “regime” and openly contemplated a faith-based revolution. In the early ’90s, Colson teamed up with conservative evangelical minister-turned-Catholic priest Richard Neuhaus and others to build a unified movement. That work ultimately led in 1994 to the controversial document “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.” (Note: I wrote extensively about this in my book “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” and drew heavily on that for this story.) Pence has described himself as “a born-again, evangelical Catholic.”
The ECT manifesto declared:
The century now drawing to a close has been the greatest century of missionary expansion in Christian history. We pray and we believe that this expansion has prepared the way for yet greater missionary endeavor in the first century of the Third Millennium. The two communities in world Christianity that are most evangelistically assertive and most rapidly growing are Evangelicals and Catholics.
The signatories called for a unification of these religions in a common missionary cause, that “all people will come to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” They asserted that religion is “privileged and foundational in our legal order” and spelled out the need to defend “the moral truths of our constitutional order.” The document was most passionate in its opposition to abortion, calling abortion on demand “a massive attack on the dignity, rights, and needs of women. Abortion is the leading edge of an encroaching culture of death.” It also called for “moral education” in schools, advocating for educational institutions “that transmit to coming generations our cultural heritage, which is inseparable from the formative influence of religion, especially Judaism and Christianity.”
The ECT signers, according to author Damon Linker — who worked for Neuhaus for years — “had not only forged a historic theological and political alliance. They had also provided a vision of America’s religious and political future. It would be a religious future in which upholding theological orthodoxy and moral traditionalism overrode doctrinal disagreements. And it would be a political future in which the most orthodox and traditionalist Christians set the public tone and policy agenda for the nation.”
In November 1996 — the month Clinton crushed Bob Dole and won re-election — an organ of what Linker termed the theoconservative movement, Richard Neuhaus’s journal First Things, published a “symposium” titled “The End of Democracy?” Acknowledging that it might be viewed as “irresponsibly provocative and even alarmist,” the symposium bluntly questioned “whether we have reached or are reaching the point where conscientious citizens can no longer give moral assent to the existing regime.” A series of essays raised the prospect of a major confrontation between the church and the “regime,” at times seeming to predict a civil-war scenario or Christian insurrection against the government, exploring possibilities “ranging from noncompliance to resistance to civil disobedience to morally justified revolution.”
Chuck Colson authored one of the five major essays in the issue, as did the extremist judge Robert Bork, whom Reagan had tried unsuccessfully to appoint to the Supreme Court in 1987. Colson’s essay was titled “Kingdoms in Conflict.” “Events in America may have reached the point where the only political action believers can take is some kind of direct, extra-political confrontation of the judicially controlled regime,” Colson wrote, adding that a “showdown between church and state may be inevitable. This is not something for which Christians should hope. But it is something for which they need to prepare.”
Dobson said the essays “laid an indisputable case for the illegitimacy of the regime now passing itself off as a democracy,” adding, “I stand in a long tradition of Christians who believe that rulers may forfeit their divine mandate when they systematically contravene the divine moral law. … We may rapidly be approaching the sort of Rubicon that our spiritual forebears faced: Choose Caesar or God. I take no pleasure in this prospect; I pray against it. But it is worth noting that such times have historically been rejuvenating for the faith.”
Today, Pence and his allies have warded off the return of another secular Clinton regime that their ideological and theological prophets once contemplated overthrowing. They will now have the opportunity to build the temple they have long desired. “Secular viewers forget that King David wasn’t always such a nice guy in the Bible, but he was God’s chosen man,” said Jeff Sharlet. “So there’s a coalescing idea that somehow, obviously, God is doing something with Trump.”
Donald Trump’s grasp of the bible is certainly not up to the standards of Pence and the religious zealots behind him. “Two Corinthians 3:17, that’s the whole ballgame,” Trump declared — in the same way he spits out “Make America Great Again” — in front of an audience at an evangelical college on the campaign trail. People laughed. At him. It is Second Corinthians.
Perhaps that episode is telling. The radical religious right doesn’t need to save Trump’s soul. As they saw in the campaign, Trump has staked out a hateful agenda — one that tracks quite well with the crusades of Pence and his fellow apostles. Even if elements of Trump’s vile rhetoric and his various threats were a psychotic form of performance art, or mere opportunistic political strategy, as some suggest, they have set the stage for the pursuit of a civilizational war that poses a dire threat to vulnerable populations throughout the world. President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and a slew of prominent Democrats have publicly said that Americans should give Trump a chance. With Mike Pence seated at the right hand of the father, running foreign and domestic policy, they will do so at their peril.