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Op-eds, Opinions

Sloan ’23.5: Pence isn’t a ‘patriot.’ Please, stop lionizing complicit Republicans

By
OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Last week, Democrat House impeachment managers presented piercing arguments to the Senate in their bid to convict former President Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. In doing so, however, they repeatedly struck a curious chord: lavishing praise on former Vice President Mike Pence. Perhaps they were trying to appease the obstinate Senate Republicans whose votes were necessary for impeachment, or to bring the former president’s misconduct into even sharper relief. “The mob was looking for Vice President Pence because of his patriotism,” said Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett. House Representative Joaquin Castro said, “He’s a man who upholds his oath, faith, his duty and most of all upholds the Constitution. And Mike Pence is not a traitor to this country. He’s a patriot.”

Really?

To be sure, Mike Pence’s refusal on Jan. 6 to stymie the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory was an important affirmation of U.S. democracy. But simply following his Constitutionally mandated duty — and only once Trump had clearly failed in his other attempts to overturn the election — merits no praise. It also doesn’t excuse Pence’s four years of enabling, equivocating and actively participating in the Trump administration’s regressive, racist reign. The bipartisan adulation Pence is receiving reveals a larger trend that has quickly emerged amid Trump’s departure: the celebration of longtime Trump associates for breaking with him in his final days. Complicit politicians and government officials should not be commended for jumping ship only after their leader committed unambiguous treason. Failing to hold these elected representatives accountable legitimizes their malfeasance and will invariably damage U.S. democracy down the line.

         Even after the dust had settled in Washington, Pence tellingly retreated back into his natural state of dangerous, hand-wringing inaction. In a letter, Pence said he would not “play political games” by removing Trump via the 25th Amendment. But the president, after months of seeking out and spreading anti-democratic falsehoods, had just emboldened a violent mob to attack the heart of U.S. governmental power. This reality leaves little room for interpretation: Either Trump was too mentally unfit to discern between truth and fiction, or he was willfully encouraging sedition. Among these facts there are no “political games” to play. Yet, Pence allowed Trump to maintain power for two weeks. That was two weeks during which Trump had access to classified security briefings. Unchecked pardon power. Authority over martial law. Sitting back and watching the American people dangle from the cliff of tyranny, reassuring them someone else will soon come along and pull them up, cannot, and must not, be mistaken for courage.

         Nor should Pence’s astounding history of complicity be whitewashed in the wake of his climactic break from Trump. Despite growing Republican efforts to portray Trump’s election interference and the storming of the Capitol as shocking aberrations from an otherwise admirable presidency, Trump’s autocratic aspirations have long been clear. If Pence is a true Constitutional champion, a patriot for the ages, where was his dissent a year ago, when Trump tried to blackmail a foreign leader into disparaging a political opponent? Where was Pence last summer, when protesters’ Constitutional rights to peaceful assembly were being routinely violated by police? Or when an antifa activist was gunned down in the street by an extrajudicial federal death squad (which Trump then boasted about)? Or the months it took for Pence to stop downplaying COVID-19 and publicly wear a mask — naked political capitulations to Trump’s ego that cost hundreds of thousands of lives? Hiding from accountability in Trump’s shadow, and waiting until the last moment to do the right thing, is in no way heroic.

However, Pence is not the only one receiving praise for doing the bare minimum. Since the Capitol storming, conservative figures have been basking in the positive press they get for scolding Trump, or for simply stating that a fair election was, indeed, fair — and, in the process, are burnishing their political futures. Former Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to entertain spurious voter fraud allegations changes nothing about his tenure marked by shocking corruption, public deception and dangerous misuse of federal agents. Former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plaintive Senate floor speech denouncing Trump (after voting to acquit him) in no way absolves the senator of years of power-hungry Trump enablement. Chris Christie. Ben Sasse. Nikki Haley. These former Trump sympathizers are leaping from the train right before it crashes; they shouldn’t be allowed to get away scot-free.

After an event as unsettling as the Capitol insurrection, it may be tempting to direct fury toward the Trump caucus and accept the about-faces of his former GOP allies. Despite Trump’s Senate acquittal, it remains unclear whether or not top Republicans will tolerate his continued presence in the party. But no matter what happens to Trump, Americans must not lose sight of the danger ahead: As long as we keep normalizing the Republican Party’s rightward wrenching of the window of acceptable political discourse, we run the risk of elevating future proto-fascists who seek to drain the lifeblood of our democracy. And next time, they will not fail.

Sacha Sloan ’23.5 can be reached at sacha_sloan@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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