Who can forget how well dressed and well mannered Mike Pence looked during that vice presidential debate? He didn’t strut around the stage. He didn’t lurk and loom ominously behind Kamala Harris. True, he said silly things. But his comportment was in line with his comportment over the four years of his vice presidency: decorous, soft-spoken, respectful.
But there was a fly sitting on his head. As far as I can recall, it was sitting there through the entire debate. According to the camera and the clock, perhaps, it was not there the whole time. But in the order of timeless truth, the fly was sitting there, an essential and portentous element in that picture. That fly. That little creature which, everywhere it sits and feeds, vomits up its stomach contents about whatever new fleck of offal it has found to ingest, and then sucks in the mix of vomit and crap. Vomit, suck, repeat. The life of a fly. This little insect, divinely ordained on October 7, 2020, to signal the truth about Mike Pence, was the perfect parable of what he had deliberately become in his role as sycophant-in-chief to the vilest president this nation has ever elected.
And now, in 2022, a year and a half after this nation recovered its balance sufficiently to decisively not-elect Trump (and Pence) to a second term, and after it has been demonstrated in public, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Donald Trump knew that he had lost, and had decided to try to stay in office anyway, and had been told by all his advisers that this attempt would be illegal, and persisted in it to the point of stirring up a violent and dangerous—though ludicrous, as everything about him has been ludicrous for years—attack on the US Capitol, it has become clear that on that day, while Trump seethed and raved and watched his seditious plot unfold and then collapse, Mike Pence, in his perfect suit, under his lovely kempt (not faked) hair, stood firm. Behold the man! Bullied and threatened by Trump, his life very much in danger from the ragtag army of violent fools that Trump had sent to kill him, he stood firm. He did his duty. An American indeed! We should all be grateful.
But don’t fail to notice the fly still sitting there on his head. Mike Pence could have got up this morning, or yesterday, or the day before, or last week, and told what he knows to the select committee investing January 6. Last week, or last month, or last year, or four years ago, or the morning after the revelation of the Billy Bush video, or at any of a thousand moments along the way, Mike Pence could have stood up in front of a microphone and a camera and spoken the truth that he knew about the character, actions, and aims of Donald Trump. He could have spoken from his heart about his own patriotic values, and his Christian values, and repented of ever having subordinated them to his ambition to ride the coattails of that vile man, and eventually to succeed him in office. But he did not. And he still has not. The fly is still sitting on his head. In fact, to all appearances—and on what other basis can we judge the tree than by its fruit?—he has long since become the fly. Like Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, and more thoroughly than Jeff Goldblum’s Seth Brundle, Mike Pence has transformed himself into a giant insect.
It is not too late. While he lives and breathes there is hope of repentance. Pray for him. And while you’re at it, pray for yourself, and for me. Because we all—including myself, I am very aware—have the same potential vulnerability to self-deception in service of ambition. Pence will never be fit to serve in public office again: he has forfeited that fitness, and it can never be restored. But, given the grace of repentance, he can become an honest human being. He can be saved.
Over the last several years I have followed a trinity of conservative Christian political commentators who have amazed me by always being right about almost everything: Michael Gerson, Peter Wehner, and David French.
I say “amazed” because, while I was formed in the matrix that shaped their political views, I have come to believe that the conservative Christian Republicanism from which they emerge, including its emphases on low taxation and (severely) limited government, was always—in continuity with the documents and institutions of our nation’s founding—warped by a blind commitment to preserving the power and privilege of abundantly propertied males of Western European descent. I know how hard it is to begin to see things differently, but Gerson, Wehner, and French have done so.
But I say “almost” because I don’t think they have completely escaped. I still respect Ronald Reagan’s Berlin address to Gorbachev and some other moments in his presidency, but Reagan was a major figure in the devolution of the Republican Party from Goldwater to Trump. The Republican Party in the whole post-Eisenhower period has been in the process of revealing itself more and more openly to be an instrument of white “Christian” nationalism. In my view, if the Republican Party is to be redeemed, it has to roll things back at least to Eisenhower, and really all the way back to Abraham Lincoln. Its apostasy from its ideals—s capitulation of the spirit of the Confederacy—began the moment Lincoln was shot. So to the extent that Gerson, Wehner, French, and other conservative Christian Republicans or former Republicans have been slow to recognize that fact, they have not yet fully grappled with the truth about the Republican Party. I have become a registered Democrat. They have not. I may be misreading but to me they still seem to think that a righteous phoenix can rise from the ashes of the Republican Party. I don’t. And I worry a little about what mischief that wee bit of optimism on their part might enable. Might it, for example, serve the idea that a person like Mike Pence might be a good candidate for president in 2024?
I always read David French’s Sunday letters, which offer mature Christian reflection of the best evangelical variety to bear on current event. Today’s letter is subtitled “How right and left get Pence wrong.” You should read it. Maybe go do that now and then come back to me.
You’ve read it? Notice the application to Mike Pence of the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. What are we to make of that? David French accepts it and commends it. He acknowledges that Mike Pence was Trump’s chief enabler, the person who made it OK for Christians to support such a morally wrecked person. (On that point, though, don’t forget Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, and others.) But he says we should be thankful for Pence’s faithfulness on January 6, 2021. And he does not even raise the question of Pence’s failure, from January 7 of that year to the present day to speak up with courageous honesty.
David French, I see your Daniel 6 and raise you Luke 17:
[W]hich of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.
Thank God that on January 6 Mike Pence did not attempt, in violation of Constitution and federal law, to set aside the determination of the electoral college and the American people and hand the election to his evil master.
Thank God. But do not thank Mike Pence. Do not congratulate Mike Pence. And do not for a moment consider suggesting that he has a future in government. He is an unprofitable servant, which he surely knows. Every Christian who ever does anything right and good is likewise, according to our Lord Jesus Christ, an unprofitable servant. But some servants are becoming daily more conformed to the likeness of their master. Some are stuck. Pray for Mike Pence to repent and become unstuck. “The left” (I became a Democrat, but I do not identify myself as “left”) is not wrong to point out that the fly still needs swatting.