The damnably brilliant conservative writer George F’in Will has penned a piece in the Post that is making news, mostly because it has an eyeball grabbing headline. But, anyone who simply reads the headline is missing a critical message that this country needs to hear and absorb, because George takes on the single greatest threat to the nation in a blistering take-down of MIke Pence.
“Trump Is No Longer the Worst Person in Government,” is perhaps the single most important op-ed that I’ve read this year, and I recommend it to everyone. The premise is simple, Pence supplants Trump as the worst person in government because Pence will do anything to “win,” for his “side.” But George Will became George Will because he can say the same thing with an unmatched elan. Of Pence, Will states:
Because his is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.
Noting that Arpaio was in his Tempe audience, Pence, oozing unctuousness from every pore, called Arpaio “another favorite,” professed himself “honored” by Arpaio’s presence, and praised him as “a tireless champion of . . . the rule of law.” Arpaio, a grandstanding, camera-chasing bully and darling of the thuggish right, is also a criminal, convicted of contempt of court for ignoring a federal judge’s order to desist from certain illegal law enforcement practices. Pence’s performance occurred eight miles from the home of Sen. John McCain, who could teach Pence — or perhaps not — something about honor.
Gracious me, if I thought that Mike Pence would understand half those words, I might feel a little bad, that would have to sting. Fortunately, the words are harmless to a person like Pence whose vocabulary is protectively limited. More importantly, Pence simply doesn’t have the depth to appreciate the deeper principles just beyond the stated words.
In my mind, one of the single best paragraphs written by a journalist in the Trump-era followed, highlighting the real problem:
Henry Adams said that “practical politics consists in ignoring facts,” but what was the practicality in Pence’s disregard of the facts about Arpaio? His pandering had no purpose beyond serving Pence’s vocation, which is to ingratiate himself with his audience of the moment. The audience for his praise of Arpaio was given to chanting “Build that wall!” and applauded Arpaio, who wears Trump’s pardon like a boutonniere.
“Ingratiate himself with his audience of the moment,” facts and principles be damned. Clearly, if Pence cared at all about law and order, or even truth, he would reject everything about Joe Arpaio, Will notes that Pence clearly doesn’t. So, what is it that brought Pence to say such absurd things? Or feel such a need to ingratiate himself to “audience of the moment” and ingratiate himself to Trump with nausea-inducing flattery?
One word, a word Will doesn’t use in the essay, but a word that clearly embodies the entire thesis; “tribalism.” Mike Pence sees Arpaio as a valued member of his “tribe,” a person loved by the people within Mike Pence’s “tribe,” a “tribe” led by Donald Trump, and the tribe “trumps” every other label, including “American citizen. Tribalism leads one to forget about which “principles” made one a conservative in the first place (unless you are a George Will or John McCain), because facts and principles have no place in a political environment where the only thing that matters is where one fits within the tribe.
Tribalism of the type Mike Pence demonstrates is the same trait that leads many a Breitbart reader to “contextualize” Trump’s relationship with Putin. They can accept that the leader of their tribe, the president, may well have had an “understanding with Russia” and even “help from Russia.” When your “tribe” (or your “audience of the moment”) matters more than your citizenship, why would it bother the average Breitbart leader if Putin decided to help elect Republicans? To them, it merely demonstrates that Putin is also a member of their tribe, so how bad could it all be even if there is collusion with Russia? Arpaio is a hero to them, a man who stands for the rule of law. If Putin didn’t want Hillary Clinton president and chose to “assist” Trump – even if Putin expected some favors in return – is that not heroic to the Breitbart reader? After all, if you’re a member of Trump’s tribe, your only real adversary (enemy?) are the people against Trump, Democrats, principally, but yes, also people like McCain, Will, the Bush family, etc.
Gosh, it is a lot easier to establish such strong tribal lines when the leader indirectly defines the tribe in rather “comfy ways” to those long-searching for permission to wall themselves off from people they see as too “different,” from gays, from immigrants, black people, Muslims, feminists, from liberals, progressives, and Democrats. The people in that tribe, “the audience of the moment” that Will describes, the group Pence pandered to, they now truly hate anyone outside their tribe, notwithstanding the fact that we’re talking about other Americans. They hate us much more than they hate Putin, who is part of their “tribe.” They call us “leftists” (the new term of derision) or “globalists” (whatever the fuck that means), to separate us out, make us sound more threatening, less human. They are people who act like Mike Pence. They will applaud a convicted felon and self-aggrandizing thug Joe Arpaio as a member of their tribe, or an early adolescent predator in Ray Moore, while spewing vile hatred for an upstanding, moral family man and American ex-president like Barrack Obama, who did nothing but represent the best of this country with dignity and honor. But read some of the stuff from the dark nether regions where this tribe congregates and you’ll be shocked at what is said about Obama, all because Obama is definitely not in their “tribe.”
In a way, Will gives Trump himself a bit of a a pass in this area, principally because Trump doesn’t understand what he is doing, which mitigates his culpability. Not so for Pence:
Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.
Pence, like most Trump voters, looked out upon the political landscape and chose to ingratiate himself within this tribe. He now sits at the right hand of the father. For that, Will reasons, Pence represents the worst of American tribalism, and is thus the worst person in government.
One small side note. Our side is not immune from exhibiting the worst traits of tribalism, hypocrisy in the face of obvious fact. Call it out when you see it.