On Jan. 6, 2021, far-right insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol Building. Sporting “Make America Great Again” — or MAGA — hats and Confederate and Gadsden flags, they made clear that their aim was for former President Donald Trump to be declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, despite Joe Biden having won both the popular and electoral vote. This protest was indicative of trends that had begun some time before, including the radicalization against and increasing disdain for democratic processes that have been emerging within the American Christian right. Although Trump had become a figurehead, this shift had begun long before he had announced his intention to run for president. The rioters’ demand that Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president, be hanged was particularly memorable. Despite Pence’s status as a target, however, I believe that he helped bring the insurrection about through his promotion of religious fundamentalism prior to and during his singular term as vice president, and that he continues to propagate the ideology responsible for its occurrence through his continued association with the far-right.
Pence has since expressed a greater willingness to condemn Trump, most notably for his willingness to speak to Nick Fuentes, a prominent Holocaust denier working to bring his neofascist ideology into the mainstream. Pence has also willingly admitted that there was no election fraud in 2020 and that Trump lost legitimately, confirmed by the committee responsible for carrying out hearings following the incident. He has since commented that he does not feel that Trump has violated any laws, but continues to distance himself from the insurrection and claims of election fraud. He even emphasizes his refusal to declare Trump victorious in his recent book, “So Help Me God.”
Pence was correct in his refusal to declare that there had been election fraud. It is also true that Pence’s life was threatened, as I genuinely believe that the insurrectionists would have hung him if they had the chance. However, as a member not only of the Republican Party, but also of its more radically religious sect, and as a prominent figure in the MAGA movement since its emergence, Pence remains complicit in the emergence of the movement that would bring the insurrection about.
Pence’s policy aims prior to his appointment as vice president have been consistent with those demanded by the MAGA movement. As governor of Indiana, he enacted a “religious freedom” law that would potentially allow increased discrimination against gay and lesbian couples seeking to get married in 2015, after gay marriage would be legalized nationally. He would also oppose a bill preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace in 2007. As a member of the religious right, he would place his anti-abortion stance at the center of his agenda since his entrance into politics was in Indiana. He stated after its dismissal this year that he yearns for a future where the abortion procedure is “unthinkable.”
Pence’s policy aims on their own have historically coincided with the sentiments of the MAGA movement since his beginnings in politics as a member of the House of Representatives. But it must be reaffirmed that, as Trump’s vice president, he did little to mitigate the rise of nationalism that Trump would promote within the conservative movement. Although he denounced Trump’s association with Fuentes, he did endorse Tom Barrett for the Michigan House race despite Barrett’s association with the far-right organization Stand Up Michigan, which has, among other things, called for the abolition of the federal government and worked to further the “Big Lie Theory,” which holds that the 2020 presidential election results were falsified.
Pence has continued to collaborate with and support a political movement whose members were calling for his execution just a few years ago. He has worked since before Trump entered politics to further the aims of the American far-right and continues to do so through his own policy advocacy, as well as through his promotion of figures connected to organizations that promote conspiracy theories that call for his death. He represents the suicidal, dogmatic tendencies of a group that remains loyal to a leader who has lost his mind and lost touch with political reality. He also represents the political mainstream’s willingness to engage with the far right. Even as he works to distance himself from the insurrection, he must continue to be held accountable for the role he played in bringing it about, as should the mainstream conservative politicians who have and continue to engage with America’s emerging fascist tendencies.
Desmond Keuper is a junior majoring in philosophy.