Don’t be distracted by our new leader, despite his herculean efforts to draw all eyes to himself. With his regular Twitter ejaculations, he inexorably rivets our attention as he reacts viscerally to all manner of issues. Many of his obsessions are not the usual business of presidents, but all of them share his concern to protect his own ego. Despite his distracting performance, the man to watch—in terms of the direction of the administration—is Vice President Mike Pence. While our leader tries to pull your attention toward him, his Vice President will quietly work to accomplish an agenda dear to the hearts of a minority of religiously-inspired Americas.
Let me be clear: most religious—even most Christian—Americans do not endorse the Pence agenda, which is the purview of only a minority of Christian believers. Most voters who embrace a form of Christianity do not share the extreme views of this group, although other Christians might occasionally find common cause with it on particular points.
The right-wing, born-again Christian minority group that counts Mike Pence as a member reads the Bible as a straightforward guide to all of human life. Undeterred by the fact that the United States is committed to keeping church and state separate, they see the government as the most likely vehicle to accomplish their religious agenda. To beat back claims that they have no right to hijack the government to promote their religion, they assert that the U.S. was originally a Christian nation. In their view the separation has been overplayed and was never intended—despite founders’ statements to the contrary—to negate the Christian commitment of the United States.
In addition to the assault on LGBTQ and women’s reproductive rights, watch for public education—especially science education—to be gutted.
Based on this misreading of history, they pursue a multifaceted agenda aimed at denying individual rights and undermining public services long performed by government.
That agenda includes overturning all protections for LGBTQ individuals. Their reading of the Bible tells them that all the relationships, families, sexualities and identities encompassed within that acronym are unacceptable, and that the government ought to do nothing to support or protect them. The Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, though a relatively conservative development (in that it can be seen as “pro-marriage,” a position conservatives usually embrace), helped to galvanize their opposition. The Obama administration’s efforts to protect these communities also fanned the flames. Pence hopes to use his position to launch a full-bore assault on the advances made under Obama and indeed before.
Abortion rights will be similarly targeted. Although this group of Christians were relative late-comers to the anti-abortion crusade (which was originally the project of socially-conservative Roman Catholics), they are now fully behind the idea of ending access to abortion. The assault on Planned Parenthood, which of course does not apply any federal funds toward abortions, effectively leverages the abhorrence of abortion within this community. That women—especially young women—can receive care without recourse to parents, husbands or other authority figures enrages Christian conservatives. Objections to women’s rights explain the campaign to close off access to all sorts of sexuality-related health care.
In addition to the assault on LGBTQ and women’s reproductive rights, watch for public education—especially science education—to be gutted. Replacing universal public education with Christian schools that proselytize students and promote religious values has long been one of their goals. Betty Vos, the pick for Education secretary, is on record as opposing public schools and hoping to channel money away from public schools to religious charter schools.
[Pence] is headed to the White House alongside a president who appears to have no patience for the day-to-day burden of governance, happy to leave that work to [him].
Science will come under attack because this literal-minded group of Christians cannot reconcile their understanding of biblical teaching about creation with scientific fact. As a result, they seek to undermine the teaching of science and to gain support for a curriculum that teaches a bible-based alternative understanding of creation. Creationism, like charter schools, is therefore on the agenda.
With hopes of assaulting the LGBTQ community, women’s rights, education, and science, people who share Pence’s religious views found voting for Trump attractive once the former Indiana governor was added to that ticket. Trump’s transparent pretense of religiosity—donned during the campaign to appeal to voters—suddenly didn’t matter to these particular Christian votes, once he had Pence standing by his side. As uncomfortable as Pence appeared to be during the campaign, he stuck it out hoping for the day that has now dawned: He is headed to the White House alongside a president who appears to have no patience for the day-to-day burden of governance, happy to leave that work to Pence.
Pence’s agenda is too marginal to have earned him the Presidency on its merits. He gained power to pursue these goals by joining the Trump team. It may have been a deal with the devil, but Pence hopes to accomplish much as a result. Don’t let Trump’s exhibition distract you from the real work that is underway.